Here are some ideas that could be useful to persons travelling to Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam. Having been there in 2007 and now in 2015, the difference is amazing, not really a good thing as I prefer the less-developed version with its small airport in the main town of the island. Things have changed as you will now fly in through the international airport, see a big amusement park (near Vinpearl Resort) and experience prices that are way too high to be reasonable in Vietnam. Wow, for an expat living in Saigon, prices will amaze you in comparison with the rest of Vietnam, foreign tourists however, might not notice it if they continue to convert local prices to euros, dollars, pounds, etc.
1. Dinh Cau Night Market
Though it sounded like the typical tourist trap, we had fun visiting the place, a simple 200-300 meter aller with sea-food vendors on one side and restaurants in the other. I guess the kids had the best time as they could marvel at the different sea-creatures on display, from sharks to sea-snakes, almost every living animal in the surrounding seas is on display and you can get them cooked in the restaurants across the street.
We chose to just order from the menu and that is when you realize that the prices here are aiming for the tourist (as you will discover much cheaper places to eat elsewhere on the island, see below). To get a reference, let’s say that any dish with shrimp (grilled, fried, with tamarind, etc.) cost the lump sum of 250.000 VND. When you see the size of the shrimp on the plate, that is definitely a mouth-watering experience, they are huge, you wouldn’t eat those in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) without spending a fortune. It is better to go for the simple dishes (grilled, boiled or fried) and avoid noodles with beef or other more elaborate ones.
2. Pepper farms and the famous Phu Quoc pepper
Our friends were on a mission, to buy the local grown pepper that had been requested by their pals back home. Phu Quoc pepper is quite famous and you will find many small farms along the main road going from North to South of Phu Quoc island. One handy thing to know is that the very first pepper farms sell theirs 20% more expensive than the ones you will find further along the road (going South), so, if you are impatient and purchase immediately, you will end up paying 100.000 VND instead of the 80.000 VND (medium-sized jar) you would pay just a few hundred meters further down the road. You can also purchase local coffee at around 100.000 VND for 250 grams.
3. Sao Beach, South of Phu Quoc Island
Definitely a winner if you have to choose one beach to go to, I recommend you look for the restaurant My Len next to the Beach House (or is it Beach Club) restaurant. This beach is famous for its white sand and turquoise water, the best for the kids being that the shore is really shallow so they can run around with just a bit of water so they feel safe while playing in the sand.
Prices are a bit lower than at the night market but you still end up paying 215.000 VND for a plate of shrimps, once more, they are huge and delicious! A cocktail like a Piña Colada or a Long Island Ice Tea will set you back 90.000 VND. At the Beach House next door, you can have pizzas and some more western fare if you are looking for it. They also have two nice rooms for rent, all wooden with new and elegant bathrooms, for 60 USD/night. Honestly, the days of finding a room for 30-40 USD seem to be long-gone on this island. At the resort further down after those two, they have nice and new bungalows right on the beach front, 1.500.000 VND/night for one double bed and 1.800.000 VND/night (around 85-90 USD) for a bigger room with two double beds. Be careful as it seems they are constructing behind the front-line of beach bungalows and apparently from 9 am, the hammers and other construction noises will be merciless.
By the way, “Sao Beach” means “Star Beach”, it is very close to the remains of the old French prison (also called Phu Quoc prison, Coconut prison, Coconut tree prison) that was used to hold dissidents during the Indochina colonial period but also during the Vietnam war when North Vietnam fighters were imprisoned and tortured there (called Nhà tù Phú Quốc or Nha Lao Cay Dua Prison in Vietnamese).
4. North-West of Phu Quoc island and the best seafood restaurant of all
It is quite far from where we were staying (Duong Dong, the main town in the middle of the western coast) so getting there cost like 580.000 VND but it was well worth it. We had a terrific lunch of sea-food, not only did it cost almost half the price (700.000 VND) of all the other places we had eaten before (night market, Sao beach), this place serves a very particular “salt/pepper/lime” mixture, home-made and very different from other restaurants. I definitely recommend the grilled calamari and grilled shrimps in butter and garlic. At another table they were having fried and battered calamari, it looked pretty tempting too.
Here are some pics of the restaurant as well as the address:
After a delicious lunch, we headed for Dai Beach, not far from this small port and restaurant. Note that the taxi might leave at the very beginning of the Dai Beach, you might be a bit discouraged as, without shade or a proper place to sit down, the glaring sun can put you off, this is what we found at the beginning of the beach:
So, after some disappointment when we first arrived to the beach, we walked some 150 meters further and low and behold, paradise! A deserted beach-front restaurant with plenty of hammocks and straw-thatched roofs to lazily see off the day under.
5. An Thoi port, South of Phu Quoc island
The second largest city in Phu Quoc, An Thoi has a more authentic touch to it as you will not see many tourists wandering around. It is a good place to buy the also famous Phu Quoc fish sauce. However, the main reason that will bring you to An Thoi is to get on one of the boats leaving from An Thoi port. This is definitely the major port in the island with its array of Vietnamese coast guard boats and rows of tourist sight-seeing boats (do not join the super cheap “snorkelling and island visiting” tours that will load up to 40 tourists on the same boat, these cost around 17 USD/person, go for the ones that are slightly more expensive, 20-25 USD/person and you will not be more than 12 people on the boat, double-check this when purchasing your ticket). If you don’t have a boat to get on to, not much to see at the the An Thoi port.
6. Other tips if you’re visiting Phu Quoc Island
6.1 Riding a motorbike in Phu Quoc Island
I ride a motorbike in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) so I’m used to Vietnamese traffic and road customs, this being said, riding a motorbike in Phu Quoc must never be taken lightly.
I have quite a few friends who are airline pilots doing the route HCMC-Phu Quoc, they tell me that most times when returning to Saigon (HCMC), they have a foreigner being attended to by medical personnel on the plane since he is being evacuated after having had a motorcycle accident in Phu Quoc. We saw ourselves two European girls being evacuated from their hotel after having had a bike accident in Phu Quoc. Some people don’t even know how to ride a motorbike and think that all is fun and games when doing so in Phu Quoc….if you are lucky you will just get “asphalt kiss”, if not your holidays are over…permanently.
As we were travelling with kids, we preferred to spend a fortune on taxis (you can pay 600.000 VND and they will take you on a round itinerary either to the North or the South of the island, they will wait for you at any stopping point like the beach, total time 4 hours, each hour after that, 100.000 VND). If you want to rent a motorbike, you will see signs everywhere, a normal motorbike (Yamaha Nouvo, full automatic) in non- pristine condition will set you back 150.000 VND, if it is in premium condition, you might have to pay 180.000 VND. If you rent over several days or you are renting more than one bike, haggle the prices down, that is the way it works!
6.2 Other places to go in Phu Quoc
I liked the Drunk’n Monkey Bar, friendly staff and patrons, the manager Steph
an (UK) is great.
Le Bistrot, French restaurant is a nice place to go too, the “patronne”, Nhu, very friendly and nice too. They have a very reasonably priced menu (did not try it though).
And here is a simple map to get around the main parts of the Island