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Phu Quoc has had an interesting history dating from the 17th century where the locals earned their living from sea cucumbers, through to the French occupation in the late 19th century when rubber and coconut plantations were cultivated. During the Vietnam War the island was a base for a prison of war detention camp holding up to 40,000 communist prisoners. I was interested in the history of the island and decided that it was worth a visit.
We were flying Vietnam Airlines ($78 each way, look for specials to get cheap flights – off peak can be as low as $40). The propeller plane flew low over the sea as it approached the island and we could see the vibrantly colored fishing boats sleeping peacefully in the harsh sunlight. It bounced down onto the tarmac amidst screams from the local passengers and then applause as the plane steadied itself and headed along the runway towards the airport building.
It is a twenty minute drive through Duong Dong (the largest town on the island) from the airport along narrow roads bounded by low lying scrub. There has been recent growth in the type of accommodation offered on the island and most of them take advantage of the idyllic beach location. The traveler can discover everything from inexpensive backpacker’s rooms to eco-resorts and a range of hotels to suit most budgets.
Whatever your chosen accommodation you are sure to be within a few feet of the turquoise sea and the yellow sandy beaches rimmed by dark green vegetation where banana palms and hibiscus tangle with unidentifiable creepers and shrubs. We had arrived in the dry season which runs from December to May, with the hottest months being April and May. July through to September is dominated by the monsoons and has a very high rainfall. The early mornings and evenings were extremely pleasant and we enjoyed visiting many of the local restaurants where the specialty is inevitably the range of seafood which is found in the surrounding waters. The seafood, particularly the prawns, is so delicious and fresh that they are sought after by mainland restaurants. One restaurant menu we visited had a very interesting menu comprising
“Sautéed frogs stomach with chive flowers, Jumping snail and green mango salad, Zebra snails and banana flower salad, Painted sweet lips head hotpot and Pork porridge with century old egg.” We opted for a plain barbecued fish with stir fry vegetables.
We spent the majority of the weekend relaxing on the beach and swimming in the warm sea water. There are lots of boating activities and we hired a canoe one day and a catamaran the next, a great hit with the children. The beach has been netted to keep out the jellyfish that abound in the warm waters although we did see one very big one on the beach that had escaped the confines of the net.
Phu Quoc is predominantly a National Park and the surrounding sea is full of fascinating marine life which serves as a paradise for the enthusiastic scuba diver or snorkeler. Small boats traverse the beaches every morning collecting those intrepid amphibians and dropping them off in the late afternoon.
If you want to explore the Island there is the local fish sauce factory, the product being sourced from the quantities of anchovy that are found around the island. The smell is extremely overpowering so best to make it a quick visit. There are also small black pepper farms along the roadside, when we visited the pepper had been picked and was drying in the sun on large plastic sheets. A stall had been set up and the enterprising pepper grower was selling a range of pepper products to tourists. In the garden the Star Fruit bushes were laden with fruit and were picked off, cut into wedges, and sprinkled with salt before being offered to customers.
There is also a pearl farm where a beautiful array of locally produced jeweler is available for viewing and sale. Taxis are easy and cheap to hire to get to all the local attractions.
It was a very relaxing weekend, a destination ideal for the romantics and for a family with children.