Phu Quoc Island
Soaking in the sun, water, and sand
In a practically undiscovered Vietnamese Island paradise
For once, I think I got to be somewhere awesome that was just on the cusp of becoming too touristic and overcrowded. Phu Quoc, a Vietnamese island located in the Gulf of Thailand, not far from the Cambodian coast, has all the makings of being the next Phuket. It's beautiful, safe, and boasts many beaches and activities around the island. If you look around, you'll notice that the island is built up like it expects a ton of visitors but none have shown up yet. The airport is nice and new, there are dozens of massive half-built resorts, a large mall covered in LED lights you'd expect to find in Vegas, and even a huge water park/Disneyland that hosted only a handful of happy people sliding down water slides solo. It's kind of an eerie sight seeing such infrastructure go largely unused, but I have a feeling within a year's time the island will be appropriately filled. There was even talk of building another port.
I know I make it sound strange but it was so refreshing to come across beautiful beach after beautiful beach and only see a dozen or so people sharing the sand. It felt like a true island paradise. It didn't take us long to find a bar on our local beach, Long Beach, near some rocks to watch the sun set with a few beers and new friends mixing up mojitos behind the bar, the occasional puppy running across the sand to play.
There's surprisingly a lot to do and see on Phu Quoc. We rented a motorbike from our hostel and planned a route so we could beach hop around the island. We were staying near the capital, Duong Dong, which is on the northwestern side, so we planned a path starting clockwise covering the north first before heading down to the southern part. The first beach we stopped at was Vung Bau beach, a white sand crescent shaped beach with a laid-back atmosphere. I would have liked to have stayed longer but we were getting hungry and headed to Rach Vem, a small fishing village.
One long and bumpy dirt road later, we pulled up to a dozen shacks hoisted on stilts over the shore. Hammocks swayed unoccupied in the breeze, chickens and turkeys pecked lazily at the ground as their young kept close. After milling about for a bit, an old man gestured for us to come out onto a long, rickety pier. Once you stepped out, you can see that there are about twenty skinny, shaky piers jutting out into the water to host a couple small shacks and one restaurant. The walk down the pier looked out into shallow waters where hundreds of orange starfish dotted the sea floor. As we got closer to the end where the restaurant is, we could see a couple fishing boats coming back in or going out to catch, as well as a few large nets in the water hosting large shrimp and fish. Inside, locals enjoyed a few beers and played cards. We ordered the black kingfish cooked in a clay pot, and I'm pretty sure at that moment they fished one out of the net and filleted him. It was deliciously fresh meaty fish not unlike swordfish and the shallot-tamarind sauce went amazingly with the rice. Lunching in a small fishing village in the middle of the ocean watching the water sway around us is something I'll cherish.
Heading south, we drove all the way to the southernmost tip to visit the popular Sao Beach. Bia Sao is a uniquely shallow beach- you can walk out about 200 meters and still only be in water up to your knees! The water is completely clear and tinted turquoise. In the distance you can spot several of its southern islands. It's a beautiful spot to swim or finish a book on the beach, minding the stray dogs running through the surf.
On the way back to the hotel, Dain suggested I try to drive the motorbike for the first time so I'd have some experience on uncrowded roads before we tried to buy some heading north. Truth is, he makes it look so easy! I sped off in the parking lot nearly knocking him off the back as a tour bus looked on at our soap opera. I'm sure he was terrified but he guided me onto the highway and although it was shaky, we made it the 30km back to the hostel. I'm unsure if I can handle the literal crossfire that is the streets of Vietnam, but at least I know what I'm up against!
On our last day, we dove Turtle Island off the northern coast. Known for its expansive reef and shallow depths, it's a relatively easy dive and felt manageable for a newly-certified diver. There's so many different kinds of coral to see, from fan coral to brain and tube coral in every color, shape and size. Schools of small fish swept past us intermittently and enveloped us in shimmering scaly glitter bombs. Not a lot of large marine life, but we were able to spot a tiny purple eel peeping out from a rock. We spent the dive splashing anemones and watching them hastily close themselves up.
Overall, I left Phu Quoc so grateful that I came when I did. I feel spoiled to have had those beautiful beaches and small local restaurants serving fantastic food almost entirely to myself. Stay original, PQ.