A stormy departure from Ho Chi Minh, bumping through the rain clouds, I’m always a bit tense in the small plane and turbulence scenario so it was a relief to head down to Phu Quoc. It’s a short flight, around one hour in the air.
Meet and greet at the airport and off to the resort, a couple of hours late after the cancelled flight earlier from Con Dao. I’d chosen the Daisy resort, small chalets on the hill above the road into Phu Quoc. Very pleasantly surprised by the resort, it was lovely, fairly new, well designed and a lot of care had gone into the planting out of the terraced gardens.
Motorbike hired from the hotel, a quick change and we were off out. Since my visit in 2013, the change was apparent, development of hotels and resorts and the associated small shops and restaurants that come with tourist infrastructure.
Very late in the day we pushed off to a small ecological island we had read about towards the North east. It’s an hour at least by motorbike and once off the main road the track is pretty difficult, a heavily rutted mud-bath, but a daily journey for the local villagers.
After several wrong turns, we finally found the island, which appeared to be closed. Climbing over the barrier, no-one around, so no-one to stop us, there was a slightly dangerous rickety structure over the tide channel onto a small causeway leading to the island. What had obviously been an idea to make money had turned into an overgrown abandoned idea. Carefully treading along the path we reached the furthest point, deciding to follow a different path back, we ended up fighting our way through jungle to regain the causeway. With grass and shrubbery waist-high, all I could think about were mosquitos carrying dengue fever, lying in wait for my tasty British ankles..I was very relieved to get off it !
The next day taking the coastal track to the North west tip of the island, which in 2013 had been an insight into the life of the small fishing villages, was a complete shock.
The track was appalling, huge trucks carrying for construction had churned the surface into deep ruts and the rain had made it into a mud bath. As a passenger, it was a pretty awful ride. Soon there were “No entry” and “Turn back” signs , but as usual we had to go and see why.
The track ended abruptly, a massive storm had washed the road away, but along the beach there was a strip of sand that looked as if it could just take the bike.
And it did … soon we were back on the dire track, startling locals as we skidded along. What was noticeable was that most of the small communities had gone, vast tracts of land were fenced off with land clearance and massive construction in progress, with guards and no entry signs and then finally a vast development stretched down to the beach, cutting the track off completely. Managing to negotiate the worst bit of track we had seen so far, I did get off and walk at this point, we hit the main road at the side of what appeared to be Vietnam’s answer to Disneyland.
A massive them park has been built and constructed since our last visit and was open for business . It was quite unbelievable to stumble across it. Huge hotels, a massive ferris wheel and rides, Safari park, golf courses all under construction. It will be vast when complete. Lining the sides of the roads were scooters, in every direction, the workers transport.
Pushing on past, through the vast area under development, we finally reached the small village at the tip of the island. Here, life took a step backward, poor and undeveloped, the village had grown but it was still a ramshackle existence.
The beautiful beach at the point was now on the tourist path, the restaurant had expanded and a villa resort was now occupying part of the coastline. The food hadn’t changed, wonderful Vietnamese prawns, cooked with tamarind, scallops with garlic , a lovely rest looking over the Gulf towards Cambodia’s islands only a few miles away.
An elderly Viet shouting and pointing as we moto’d off after lunch,the drama was identified a puncture, kind gesticulating found us at one of the little repair shops on the side of the road and finally the puncture was repaired so it was a trip back on the main road.
Passing acres of pepper farms, prevalent on Phu Quoc with a roadside stop for home-grown peppercorns to bring home, then onwards through a swamp area, I noticed people and shacks in a forested part. Slowing down to see why there were people in this inhospitable flooded area, there was a small settlement, families living on rickety platforms with plastic and shreds of tarpaulins protecting them from the rain. Behind this was a massive rubbish dump and realizing we were seeing people living in an existence we could not imagine, we drove on, quietly saddened to see such extreme poverty.
Heading back through town to dinner at the Night market and noticing a shop selling live fish and molluscs, a quick stop to check out the wares.
Duong Dong town is large, the fishing port is the centre and there is a busy night market, now expanded to include gift stalls as well as the fish restaurants lining the sides of the road.
All the stalls have their wares displayed to choose from and it was a hive of activity. Choosing prawns,squid and a mollusc named Volute, the food was perfect. The Volute was an experiment, and the beautiful shells were chosen to come home with us. Stir-fried with greens and spices, it was delicious .
The Harbour area is bustling, locals and tourists, working or passing the time of day. The port is constantly busy, roadside vendors selling fish, food, trinkets and prayer items for the small shrine on the rock by the sea.
On the last morning, the skies were heavy with rain, so it was decided to head to the other end of the island, escaping from the storm clouds. A trip straight across to Rach Ham to walk out on the jetty into the bay. It’s about one km long, the bay is too shallow for the larger fishing boats and on the last visit it was a hive of activity. Not so this day, but it was a breezy walk away from the humidity onshore.
Around the jetty there are small stalls selling all sorts of fish, dried fish, fungi,wood, roots. I was dying to know what they were used for, but no-one around spoke enough English to tell me. Coming across several stalls selling live sea-horses, I finally found someone who told me they are deep-fried as a snack…. hmm, well, everything is eaten in Vietnam, but seeing them floating around, waiting to be sold and fried made me decide it was time to move on before I started to save the seahorses.
Calling into the ferry port of Bai Vong for a quick drive around the jetty to check out the ferries, all wonderfully named “Superdong”, plenty in port waiting for their sailing times to the mainland ports of Rach Gia (2 hr 30 mins journey time and Ha Tien (1hr 30mins journey time) on the mainland. then another developed road, where two years ago it had been a mud track leading down to the busy port below An Thoi.
Phu Quoc is famous for it’s pearl farms and pearl jewellery, some fabulously expensive items for sale in various exclusive shops, but I wanted to add something to the golden pearl earrings and pendant I had bought previously. Phu Quoc pearl farm was revisited, where I had met an Aussie expat, managing the fishery part. Two years on he was still there, thinking of moving on, the same thoughts as in 2013. The Pearl collection was added to, my visa card took a beating so we wandered outside for a free drink (customers who bought, benefit). It’s all slightly scruffy but with magnificent views down Long Beach back up to Duong Dong town where we could see massive clouds gathering and rain spreading down the coast towards us.
Leaving the farm, resigned to getting wet, we headed into the black thunderclouds and narrowly escaped a soaking. It was time to pack, dine and head back to the airport to catch the flight to Ho Chi Minh for the Dubai connection.
A Business Class upgrade on Emirates was a perfect end to the trip and I will be returning to explore more of this fascinating country. Central and North Vietnam are waiting for me !
Phu Quoc’s transit from sleepy island to Vietnam’s jewel in the Gulf of Thailand reminds me of the development of Cyprus into a tourist island.Cyprus has been my home since 1987, when I arrived the development was fast and frantic, concrete structures rising along every inch of the Kato Paphos coast line. The whole town turned into a tourist industry and Phu Quoc in the Duong Dong area will eventually be similar. It’s happening now but it’s at the start, it is a place to visit now, a few years hence it will be somewhere quite different.
Flight Dubai-Ho Chi Minh-Dubai:
Emirates fly daily from Dubai at 09.40 arriving 19.40 Tan Son Nhat international airport (SGN)
Return departure 23.55(SGN) arriving 04.50(DXB).
Alternative Emirates route with a connection in Singapore is also available.
Airlines flying to Phu Quoc from Ho Chi Minh:
Hahn Air Systems, Vietjet, Jetstar, Vietnam Airlines.
I chose Vietnam airlines for timings to suit my journey.
booked on booking.com
Motorbike: available from hotel for a cost.
Ferry timetable link for Phu Quoc to mainland: