New developments on Phu Quoc appear on a daily basis as the island transforms into a major international destination. Michael Tatarski and Vinh Dao visit the island’s still-hidden areas and look at what the future may bring. Photos by Michael Tatarski.
While the southern part of Phu Quoc is where you will find the bulk of the tourism infrastructure, there are still some secret locations hidden among this area’s many resorts. Long Beach is where most of the action happens and where I stayed. In an attempt to find some local knowledge on the island, I headed to Winston’s Burger and Bar, which has the reputation for the best burgers in town. Not only do the burgers live up to the reputation, they could easily hold their own if he ever decided to open a location in Ho Chi Minh City. I’d probably be the first person in line. Winston is a fountain of knowledge and suggested that I take the southwestern road that leads to the southern tip of the island.
The next morning I jumped on my rented scooter and followed the road south. Upon making a right at the Grand Mercure sign (Winston’s directions), I could see that there are big plans in the works. To the right were pristine beaches, swaying palm trees and turquoise blue waters. On my left were corrugated metal fences with signs advertising developments from hotel chains such as the Intercontinental, Novotel and Grand Mercure. Driving a few kilometres brought me to the pearl farms, where I stopped off to look at some overpriced jewelry and was given a demonstration of how pearls are cultivated.
A little further down the road, a certain smell hinted of what was around the corner. Rows upon rows of anchovies drying in the sun meant that I was at the fish sauce factory! While the smell was pretty intense, it was great to see the inner workings of the magical sauce that makes Vietnamese food so tasty.
After driving a while, I needed a break so I headed to Bai Sao, a white sand beach located on the southeastern end of the island. Considered one of the best beaches on the island, the sea here is relatively shallow and you can walk through the water for up to 100 metres before you have to swim. Thankfully, there isn’t much development at Bai Sao, with only two places to stay, and it was nice to sit back on the pristine sand and watch the waves lap up and down the beach. That is, until a waverunner crossed into my line of sight towing along a banana boat full of Russian tourists.
Stretching north up the spine of Phu Quoc is the Duong Dong – Bai Thom road, a stunning patch of tarmac which skirts the national park. While the southern half of the island is being taken over by massive resorts, much of the north remains largely untouched. The road is almost empty, with one petrol station and a couple of shops spread over several kilometres.
The silky-smooth road dips and dives along the undulations of the park, while dense forest sprawls on either side. On this particular day swarms of cicadas were extremely active, emitting a piercing, metallic chirp as we blasted along the deserted road.
Eventually the highway runs out of island and a red dirt road branches off to the right through the scruffy village of Bai Thom. Dogs and cows lounged in the shade of trees while most of the people napped through the midday dry season heat.
Past the village are a couple of open-air restaurants and even a house for rent looking out onto the blue sea and Cambodia in the distance. Farther down the road we came upon a sign pointing towards something called Hon Mot Island, so we took the sandy path that way.
Hon Mot is a speck of earth sitting about 20 metres off the coast, connected to the rest of the island by a trash-strewn footbridge. A path rings the islet; otherwise, there is nothing but lush, dense vegetation. The surrounding water is too rocky to go for a swim, but the views are pristine and it is beautifully quiet, with the only noise coming from the crashing waves and wind through the trees.
After exploring the remote northeast it was time to head over to the better-connected northwest. After taking another dirt road branching off the highway we had a 20-kilometre run to Ganh Dau. Unfortunately I wiped out on my motorbike just outside of town, thanks to a chunk of washed out road. I limped into the Peppercorn Beach Resort on the damaged bike and the incredibly friendly owner and staff immediately offered medical aid. I washed out my wounds in the ocean, and even through the agonizing pain I was able to appreciate the stunning beauty of the area, with its crystal-clear water and soft white sand. This wasn’t exactly the ending to the trip I had imagined, but even with all of the new development, Phu Quoc retains plenty of room for exploring and misadventure. Don’t let the headlines scare you away.