Touching down in Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island brought a huge wave of dejavu.It was almost as if the short 40-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City to this relatively unknown island had transported me back to many of my earlier jaunts to beach getaways such as Bintan, Krabi or even the Gili Islands.
With newly-tarred roads, a four-year-old international airport and the skeletal scaffoldings of new hotels, the island looked set to be as promising as its regional counterparts.Phu Quoc, a 574 sq km island off the southern coast of Vietnam has only recently opened up to tourists. Its international airport started operations on December 12, 2012, and the island already has two operational hospitals.With basic infrastructure in place, Phu Quoc is fast transforming from its past as a prison-island to an emerging resort island destination.
Here are 4 things you can check out before the hordes of tourists descend on this island paradise.
1. Coconut Tree Prison
Call it Alcatraz if you will, Phu Quoc was once known as Vietnam’s prison island after French colonists built the facility to house colonialist insurgents. During the Vietnam War, the facility was expanded to detain more North Vietnamese prisoners-of-war. It was eventually closed off after the war.The locals call it Coconut Tree Prison, but it is nothing as idyllic as its name suggests. Entering the barbed, high-security prison was like taking a step back into its terrible past. A small museum at the entrance showcases records of prisoners’ portraits and even displays torture equipment once used in gruesome ways.A tour around the barracks revealed how 120 starved and beaten prisoners squeezed into a single corrugated room. One room even opened up to a long underground tunnel, a stealthy feat that took the prisoners six months to burrow through to make their daring escape.
2. Suoi Tranh Waterfall
The Suoi Tranh waterfall is a one-tiered waterfall just a 10-minute drive away from Duong Dong, the island’s main town. The falls are a 15-minute hike up a rocky footpath from the park’s entrance.While it is not as dramatic as other falls in the region, the rapid water flows into a series of rock pools and streams which offer visitors a cooling respite from Vietnam’s humid climate.When you’ve reached the main pool, simply strip and dive into the turquoise waters, or fire up a barbeque to grill some delicious fish and corn like the locals do.
3. Ham Ninh Fishing village
The fishing village used to be a refuge for fishermen and pearl divers, but has since transited to a row of street stalls selling fresh seafood and trinkets for tourists.Tuck into a Phu Quoc specialty while you’re there. The Vietnamese are known for their rice paper rolls, but the villagers in Phu Quoc have their unique spin on the traditional dish.The locals serve up a fresh raw herring dish, tossed with grated coconut, raw onions and chopped peanuts. Simply spread out a sheet of damp rice paper on your palm, slather on a mix of anchovy fish sauce, pepper and green chili, add lettuce and herbs and then slap on a generous spoon of the herring salad.Roll up the rice paper neatly and take a hearty bite off that deliciousness.We noticed a few children trying to sell starfish around a nearby restaurant. These marine creatures may look exotic, but our guide warned us against buying them as they would decompose quickly and give off a bad stench.
4. Sao Beach
A surefire way to tell how fine the sand is, is from the way the white powdered finery “squeaks” beneath your feet.Bai Sao beach opens to a sweeping, almost untouched coastline – dotted only by the occasional windswept coconut trees along the beach. The waters at low tide are so shallow that you can walk as far as 100m into the sea and still be able to stand waist-deep in the waters.Beachgoers can rent a jetski for 450,000 dong (S$27) for a ten-minute ride, or 100,000 dong for a kayak to take around the coast. Some operators also offer short trips to the surrounding An Thoi or Ong Lang Cape.The best part of the beach has to be northern tip, since the southern part of the coast has been taken over by a series of restaurants. The beach there has also been swept yellow from garbage by inconsiderate beachgoers.Yet another reason to visit before pollution takes over the island – but remember to take your trash with you when you leave!
There are no direct flights from Singapore to Phu Quoc island at the moment but Vietjet Air currently offers the fastest route. Travellers from Singapore can take a two-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City before getting on a quick 40-minute flight to the island.With daily flights from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh, getting to the island paradise is a lot more convenient now.
The low-cost carrier also offers daily promotions like “It’s time to Vietjet”, a campaign which offers air-ticket prices from as low as $0.It can’t get any more affordable than this.
This trip was sponsored by Vietjet Air. Visit www.vietjetair.com for flight details.
Images & Content by Deborah Wong – AsiaOne