Lying on the southern coast off the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang, Phu Quoc has become one of the top holiday destinations in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s largest island has recently been named one of the most beautiful places in the country by U.S. news site CNN.
However, the beach paradise has kept its best secrets awaiting to be discovered. With the summer vacation season calling, allow us to plan you a four-day trip to catch the best of the amazing island, dubbed 'Vietnam's Maldives'.
For a castaway-esque experience, head east to one of the oldest fishing villages on the glamorous island that lies just 20 kilometers to the south of Duong Dong Town, the capital of Phu Quoc. It is no exaggeration to call Ham Ninh a priceless jewel with pristine charm and beauty that has luckily escaped the tourism boom raging on Vietnam’s largest island.
Locals still live in the same thatched houses and catch shrimp, fish, pearls and sea cucumbers to earn a living.
Travel tip: Sunrise is the best time to stroll around Ham Ninh, and don’t forget to bring your camera with you to capture the best of the fishing village.
On the second day, wake up early to make your way to Sao Beach, one of the top beaches on Phu Quoc and dubbed as “crown jewel” of the pearl island by the U.K.'s Telegraph.
From the downtown, hop in a taxi for around VND300,000 ($13) to get to the beach that boasts crystal blue water and stretches of soft white sand. A bit of advice: buy a package tour for VND550,000 ($24) per person for hands-on experience. The tour includes a 30-minute motorboat ride, snorkeling on the coral reef and squid-fishing at night.
The breathtaking beauty of Sao Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Phu Quoc. Photo by Vnexpress/Ngoc Thanh
Once branded "Hell on Earth" for its notorious jail, Phu Quoc Prison is living witness to the most horrifying scenes of oppression during war time that have left mysterious and creepy stories behind. A tour here will render every heart heavy, but will make your trip a lot more memorable.
And don’t miss a chance to drop by Dinh Cau (Cau Temple), which is just 25 kilometers from the prison. Get lost and allow your breath to be taken away as the sun goes down over the shimmering water.
Prepare to take your wallet with you for a night trip to Phu Quoc night market, which has around 50 food stalls serving a wide range of Vietnamese seafood. It is a great place for anyone who wants to go out for a late bite.
The charming beauty of sunset on Vietnam's largest island Phu Quoc
Leaving the noisy downtown behind, pack up and head north around 20 kilometers to Ganh Dau Cape, one of the few inhabited and secluded gems on Phu Quoc. It would be a waste of a trip not to set foot on Ganh Dau and enjoy the fresh air and peaceful atmosphere.
Tourism is not yet a popular term here, so services are still underdeveloped. Don’t expect a fancy world of restaurants and bars, but instead try little homestay facilities willing to treat you to exotic seafood dishes.
After that, take a trek through the primitive forests in Phu Quoc National Park which is home to a rich variety of fauna and flora.
If you have enough time, try to conquer Chua Mountain at a height of 565 meters above sea level, considered the roof of Phu Quoc.
It’s not difficult to find all the local specialties in markets on Phu Quoc. Among them are honey, pearls, fish sauce, pepper and Rose Myrtle wine.
If you’re a fan of straight-from-the-sea food, the best time to touch down in Phu Quoc Island is between May and November which is the fishing season.
But if you wish to get a true taste of Phu Quoc’s culinary world, do not miss a noodle soup called "bun quay," or stirred noodles, at the intersection of Tran Phu and Cach Mang Thang Tam, raw herring salad served with Phu Quoc’s fish sauce on Tran Hung Dao Street, and thick noodles with mackerel on Bach Dang Street.
Plus, several famous restaurants in Phu Quoc that you should note down are Com Bac 123 on April 30 Street, Hello on Tran Hung Dao Street, and Quoc Anh on Bach Dang Street.
From Hanoi and Saigon, the best way to reach Phu Quoc, which was named among the top 10 destinations in Southeast Asia by the U.K. travel magazine Rough Guides, is flying.
Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet Air have direct flights to Phu Quoc every day. Return tickets usually cost VND1 million ($44) from HCMC and VND2 million from Hanoi.
Phu Quoc International Airport stands around five kilometers (three miles) from the downtown. You can take a shuttle bus from the airport or call a cab to get into the town center.
Those who start their trips from HCMC can also opt for a sleeper coach to Rach Gia or Ha Tien, and then take a high-speed boat. It takes six to eight hours by coach and costs from VND150,000 to VND190,000.
High-speed boat tours are available at 8 a.m. and 8.45 a.m. every day with tickets priced at VND340,000 per person. A bit of advice: book your tickets in advance during the peak travel season to avoid higher costs.
Once in town, you can hire motorbikes for VND120,000-150,000 per day or book a car for around VND750,000 per day if you're traveling in a group of five to seven. You can ask your hotel or homestay to help you with this.
For accommodations, a number of four-star hotels and resorts scattered around Duong Dong Town, the capital of Phu Quoc, cost from VND1.5 million per night for two people.
For cheaper options, take a look at the hotels on Nguyen Dinh Chieu, April 30 and Nguyen An Ninh streets, with prices ranging from VND300,000 to VND500,000 per night.
Homestay services are also worth consideration. You can choose from D'Hotel, 9 Station Hotel and 88 Hilltop Hostel & Villa on Tran Hung Dao Street, and Cottage Village and Peace House along Tran Hung Dao Street. Prices range from VND150,000 to VND300,000 per night.
The best time to make a trip to Phu Quoc is between October and May, with the rain long gone and the sun shining down on crystal blue waters.
Avoid the crowds and beware of the heat and scorching sun.
Phu Quoc is also home to other places of interest, including Nguyen Trung Truc Temple, Ho Quoc Pagoda, Khem Beach, Long Beach and the Rach Vem fishing village.
Story by Khuong Van
Photos by Nguyen Thanh Luan, Vi Trieu, Goday, Ngoc Thanh