PHU QUOC ISLAND – VIETNAM’S MAGICAL EMERALD

by Dwight Z.

Phu Quoc Island

BEACH – PHU QUOC ISLAND

An isolated romantic beach is not so easy to find in recent times. Starting 3 decades ago, travelers spoke of the exotic beaches on Koh Samui and Phuket Island, Thailand; and in the future they’ll probably talk of secluded beaches of Cambodia – just now being discovered.

In Vietnam, the stretched sandy seashores of Da Nang’s China Beach and the palm-bordered beaches in Nha Trang are famous ever since travelers began to come in the 1990s, but have you ever heard of Phu Quoc or much less visited there?

Phu Quoc is a island haven at the outmost Southwest corner of Viet Nam close to the Cambodian border. In fact, Phu Quoc includes 26 islands and is part of Kien Giang Province, which is part of the wide Mekong Delta.

With about 85,000 residents, Phu Quoc is a large island covering 573 square kilometres (about the size of Singapore) .

Besides numerous beautiful unspoiled beaches, the island is home to mountainous Phu Quoc National Park , which boasts many unusual flora and fauna of a natural jungle. That is why Phu Quoc is referred to as “the Emerald Island”.

Situated in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc Island is about 45 km west of Ha Tien on the Vietnamese mainland and some 15 km south of the coast of Cambodia.

Phu Quoc at one time was known by the Cambodian name of “Koh Tral”.

These days, Phu Quoc is famous for its high-quality fish sauce and arguably boasts of some of the best seafood in Vietnam. Fishing is the main occupation on the island, but you will now find many plantations producing high quality pepper for domestic use and export.

Another distinguished native of Phu Quoc is it’s “razor backed” dog, which was in actual fact a wild dog and only recently tamed. Having a line of erect fur running along back, it’s sharp teeth and razor- like claws are also unique to the breed.

Duong Dong is the government center of the Island and is located on the banks of a river with the same name. There are plenty of fishing boats and sail junks to serve the central market with fresh seafood each day, while fruit and vegetables, , and various consumer products are transported from the mainland.

Stay in Duong Dong and you’ll be closer to the local activity and cultural attractions of the island, including the Cao Dai (“Holy Eye”) Temple.

Astonishingly, Vietnam has a diversified mix of religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Ancestor Worship, Taoism, Confucianism, and Islam. The principal religion is Buddhism, but Christianity is also strong as a result of years of French colonial rule.

A relatively new religion, Cao Daism is a combination of all the existing world religions – founded in 1926 by Ngo Minh Chieu and now flourishing with an estimated 2 million faithful, mainly in the among the people of the Mekong Delta.

On the beach, it is easy to reach other attractions by walking, such as the newly renamed MGallery La Veranda Resort& Spa. Its 43 rooms and villas, including 6 suites in a colonial- style atmosphere, demonstrate the new pride of Phu Quoc – is just 3 km from the Duong Dong Airport.

While you enjoy a seafood dinner in the tropical garden setting, review travel guides that reveal countless sightseeing options on the island.

From Voi-Vong Guesthouse it  is an easy to stroll downtown to explore Duong Dong’s significant temples, such as Sung Hung Co Tu, a huge park-like expanse, where a sparkling white statue of Kwan Am is revered.

Be sure to take in the ancestral shrines of Dinh Than Duong Dong and Dinh Cau, which is close to the busy port. Both temples tell fascinating accounts about the original Vietnamese settlers of Phu Quoc Island.

Another excursion takes travelers to the South to visit a well-known pearl farm in Duong  To Village, operated by Grant Johnston of New Zealand. Some 32 km south from Duong Dong Airport, you the port of An Thoi, gateway to a handful of coral islands – known for their reef diving.

An Thoi is home to a large Christian church and offers a bustling fish market.

Also, there is the  Cay Dua prison from the French Colonial Era with a characteristic colonial architecture that was put back into service in 1967 to imprison Communist rebels. These days it’s a tourist attraction.

Coming to the eastern side of the island, you are able to visit Bai Sao Beach, where the Swiss Family Robinson could have been marooned. Already, there are 10 rustic bungalows for $10 a night and a captivating seafood restaurant for fine dining.

The tour might also include a stop at Ham Ninh fishing village, where sea turtles and the protected “dugong” will be regularly sighted in a wonderfully clear natural environment. Be sure to enjoy a fie crab dinner.

Coming back to Duong Dong, there will be a visit to a fish sauce (Nuoc Mam) factory, the Sim winery, and a stop at the lively Night Market.

Traveling on the north side of Phu Quoc will include a visit to Ganh Dau, where people remember Nguyen Trung Truc, a national anti- French hero (1838- 1868).

Cape Ganh Dao is just 5 km from the Vietnamese-Cambodian sea border and near Sihanoukville in Cambodia.

A excellent seafood restaurant is named “Gio Bien” (known for it’s shrimp dinners) located on one of the close by beachfronts. Tourists can enjoy the traveling through the jungle rainforest on the way back and maybe stop to visit one of many pepper plantations.

Try your hand at “night fishing” by heading to the sea to catch fish and squid on an organized fishing trip in the evening. Night fishing is a time tested method when the boats use lights to attract the fish. In some places you’ll see the lights from the boats across the night horizon.

The relaxing activities will assure you that Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s Emerald Island.

Phu Quoc is accessible by air (several flights a day from Saigon) and the combination of sea and land. The Can Tho ferry is very popular and reasonably priced. You can travel back and forth to Saigon by minibus.

copyright 2010 – your vietnam tour guide.

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