|Ideal getaway: Thanh Kieu Resort is one of a handful of resorts on Duong Dong beach, complete with tiki-style umbrellas from where you can enjoy the occasional dip in-between cocktails.
by David Mann
With around 57,000 travellers pouring into Phu Quoc in the first quarter of this year, Viet Nam's largest island is fast becoming the gem in the country's tourism crown. In the past six months alone, it has been connected to the national power grid, been rated third on the US-based National Geographic Magazine's Best Winter Trips of 2014 and seen construction begin on a handful of five-star resorts.
With things set to get even busier in the not too distant future, now is the best time to experience what this island paradise has to offer. Here are some tips how.
1. Ditch the hotel, stay in a bungalow
There are few joys in life greater than lying in a comfy hammock on the porch of your own private beachfront bungalow only metres from the sand of Duong Dong Beach (Long Beach). And while many hotels on the island will boast proximity to the water, they don't guarantee privacy, a sea view or private walls without costing an arm or a leg.
Luckily, there is large selection of reasonably priced, two and three star resorts dotting the main stretch of Duong Dong and punching way above their official ratings. A charming, thatched-roof ocean-facing bungalow at Thanh Kieu Resort will cost around US$65 per night, including breakfast, an outdoor shower and the usual amenities. The resort also boasts the nicest private beach on the main strip, complete with tiki-style umbrellas from where you can enjoy the occasional dip in-between cocktails.
2. Binge on seafood
|Seafood hub: Nestled in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc is famous for its fresh seafood and tasty beachside barbeques.
Nestled in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc is famous for its fresh seafood and beachside barbeques. Therefore, no trip to the island is complete without feasting on a banquet of freshly barbecued prawns, crabs, scallops, fish, lobsters, squid or even sea urchins.
Take a leisurely sunset stroll along the main beach and you'll find swathes of vendors hawking their produce freshly plucked from the surrounding waters that day (and probably still moving). In terms of cost, a group of three (or a ravenous couple) can feast on a dozen prawns, a dozen scallops, two squid, one fish, vegetable skewers, garlic bread and drinks for about VND200,000 per person.
A visit to the town's bustling night market is also a must, but if you're in the mood for something different, visit Itaca Restaurant Lounge on Tran Hung Dao for authentic Spanish cuisine and some top-notch sangria.
3. Spend the day(s) at Bai Sao
|Beach paradise: Bai Sao's title as Phu Quoc's best beach isn't undeserved. The water is a bright aquamarine, warm and the flat surf is ideal for small children or first-time swimmers. — VNS Photos David Mann
Many travellers know full well the heartbreak that comes with realising the idyllic beach they saw online was either photo-shopped or taken in some far-away place like Zanzibar. Thankfully, that isn't the case with Bai Sao beach or Phu Quoc in general. In fact, travellers will find it almost impossible to capture the sheer natural beauty of Bai Sao - even in their Instragram photos.
Bai Sao's title as the island's best beach isn't undeserved. The water is a bright aquamarine, warm and the flat surf is ideal for small children or first-time swimmers. There are also a handful of bars and cafes along the beach that will let you camp out on deck chairs for the day while you down iced coffees and plates of calamari.
4. Go snorkelling
Most resorts will offer packages to go snorkeling around the island's southern or northern tips. A half-day snorkeling trip will likely include a stop at one of the island's many pearl farms, a floating fishing village, a few hours of snorkeling and a final trip to Bai Sao, all for around $20.
Depending on swell, snorkeling can reveal a vastly untouched underwater landscape heaving with fish and brightly coloured reefs. Lunch is provided on board and includes a mix of local cuisine and the chance to try sea urchins cooked in the local style for about $1 each.
You can also choose between cycling tours or trips to the island's famed fish sauce factories. Otherwise, motorbikes are available for around $10 per day to explore Phu Quoc's rustic back roads and villages.
Tips for planning
Bring mosquito repellent
Phu Quoc mosquitoes are a pesky breed that can find their way through even the tiniest gaps in a mosquito net. Insect repellent is a must and tuck in your bed nets.
Daily flights to Phu Quoc run from Can Tho, Ha Noi and HCM City and sell out regularly, particularly during national holidays. You can save around 30 per cent if you book at least a few weeks in advance.
Avoid the rain
Temperatures in Phu Quoc average between 25 and 35oC throughout the year, but the island becomes inundated by monsoons from July onwards. Aim for the dry season, between November and March, or between April and June if you want to avoid the crowds. — VNS