Visitors to Dinh Cậu Rock on Phú Quốc Island, Kiên Giang Province. — VNA/VNS Photo Lê Huy Hải
Bồ Xuân Hiệp
HCM CITY — If you like to dive into reefs, kayak in bays, hire a motorbike to explore, or just lounge on a beach, Phú Quốc Island is what you are looking for.
Blessed with white sand, turquoise beaches and balmy weather almost all year round, with two-thirds covered in tropical forests, Phú Quốc, nicknamed "pearl island", is a holiday-goers’ paradise.
The island district in the Mekong Delta province of Kiên Giang has become an international beach holiday, eco-tourism and entertainment destination after the local government began an ambitious plan to develop it into an island city, a unique concept in Việt Nam.
Phú Quốc is the largest island in the country at some 590,000sq.km, almost the same size as city-state Singapore.
It is known for white-sand beaches and resorts, most of which are located along its palm-lined south-western coast.
More than half of the island is part of the Phú Quốc National Park, which has mountains, dense tropical jungle, hiking trails, and wildlife.
Dương Đông is the largest town, with day and night markets selling handicrafts, fish and all kinds of other items.
Phạm Văn Nghiệp, vice-chairman of the Phú Quốc Island District People’s Committee, said: “What attracts tourists most are the island’s wild beaches, its warm weather which allows them to bathe in the sea almost all year round, and its diverse landscapes from mountain to forest to sea.”
Since the island was connected to the national power grid and a policy that allows foreigners a visa-free stay was adopted in 2014, foreigners have been flocking to it.
Apart from its natural beauty, Phú Quốc Island also attracts visitors with its luxury resorts, golf courses, an animal safari, and casinos.
It expects to have 12,000 five-star hotel rooms by the end of this year and become a leading tourism resort city in Southeast Asia.
Phú Quốc is close to most of Southeast Asia and part of international freight routes, and less than two hours by air from many capitals in the neighbourhood.
It has had an international airport since 2012 and travellers who fly directly to the island can enjoy a 30-day visa-free stay. International airlines operate both commercial and charter flights to the island.
Phú Quốc International Airport. — VNS Photo Nhật Hạ
Kiên Giang authorities are collecting public feedback on a draft proposal to convert the island district of Phú Quốc into a city.
Phú Quốc City will have a population of more than 177,500; two wards, Dương Đông and An Thới; and six communes, Hàm Ninh, Dương Tơ, Gành Dấu, Bãi Thơm, Cửa Dương, and Cửa Cạn.
Phạm Văn Nghiệp, vice-chairman of the Phú Quốc Island District People’s Committee, said feedback could be sent to the portals of Phú Quốc District and Kiên Giang Province at phuquoc.kiengiang.gov.vn and kiengiang.gov.vn over the next 30 days.
The province is planning to submit the proposal to the National Assembly for approval.
If approved, Phú Quốc will become the first island city in Việt Nam.
“The island district has experienced tremendous economic and social growth and urbanisation,” Nghiệp said.
Phú Quốc Island. — VNS Photo Nhật Hạ
But it is facing issues related to its growing population, education, healthcare, trade, tourism, and safety and security, and becoming a city would enable Phú Quốc to address these issues, he said.
“The establishment of a city will play an important role in asserting the country’s sovereignty over its waters and islands.”
In 2018 the government allowed Kiên Giang to hire a foreign consultant to draft a master plan to develop the island into a special administrative and economic zone.
Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc recently resumed the 30-day visa exemption for foreigners visiting the island effective from July 1.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has identified Phú Quốc as the optimal place to revive international tourism after the pandemic is contained in the country.
According to the ministry, the task of opening up the island has been handed to the Việt Nam National Administration of Tourism and Việt Nam Tourism Association.
Conditions will possibly apply, like PCR swab tests being carried out at the island’s international airport and visitors requiring to undergo 14 days’ quarantine.
Fish market on Phú Quốc Island. — VNS Photo Nhật Hạ
Under a master plan to develop Phú Quốc into a special administrative economic zone, many incentives have been offered to investors to help the island achieve its full potential.
Phú Quốc will have the best mechanisms and incentives in the whole country, according to provincial authorities.
Its corporate and personal income taxes are the lowest in the country, land rents are waived for the first four years and cut by 50 per cent for the next nine.
The island is seeking approval to offer 99-year land leases to investors.
These incentives have drawn large investments from both local and international firms.
Phú Quốc is set to become one of the country’s three special economic administrative zones along with Vân Đồn in the northern province of Quảng Ninh and Bắc Vân Phong in the south-central province of Khánh Hòa.
There are 304 investment projects on Phú Quốc worth VNĐ361.054 trillion (US$15.55 million), according to the Kiên Giang Provincial People’s Committee.
Of them, 215 are in tourism, 23 in urban development and eight each in agriculture and forestry, it said.
Phú Quốc welcomed more than five million visitors last year, up 30 per cent from 2018, including 541,600 foreigners. — VNS
Sao Beach in Phú Quốc Island is wildly popular due to its beautiful white sand and turquoise waters. Photo courtesy of vntrip.vn