Phu Quoc – where my heart stays

Whether you just want to stop by for a while or spend the whole week, whether you are travelling with your family or trekking alone in the golden forest or sailing the silver sea, Phu Quoc will never disappoint you.

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PHU QUOC – INSPIRATIONAL TRAVEL

wanderlust-tips-Thang-11-va-nhung-cung-duong-hoa1Central Island

I chose to stay in a resort which is about 1 kilometre away from Ong Lang beach, and the whole precinct was layed out as a garden. Early in the morning, with light sunshine and sweet floral scent, I rode my bicycle around the quiet green foliage to enjoy the clear morning, while some other tourists were swimming in the pool.

We stayed in the central area, which is quite far from both the North of Phu Quoc Island (about 20 kilometres) and the South of Phu Quoc Island (about 30 kilometres). However, I could drive a motorcycle through the streets, past restaurants and night markets. Phu Quoc cuisine is really famous.

As staying in the central area, I only had to travel about 6 kilometres to Dinh Cau Rock, where the sunset only lasted for a few minutes but was really spectacular. You should arrive early because you might miss the sunset. Located on the large rocks protruding from the sea, Dinh Cau is a restored ancient temple.Islanders often call it the Temple of Sea Gods. There is a Tutelary shrine near the gate leading to the temple. The road to the temple includes 29 stone steps and there is an alter of “heaven” outside the Temple of Sea Gods. Not only is the symbol for peace for fishermen, Dinh Cau is also a tourist attraction. Some people go swimming at the beach at the foot of the Rock, while others are fascinated with aromatic barbecue stalls along the road which sell Vietnamese grilled pork sausages, grilled pork rolled in guise leaves, grilled girdle cake with egg, and baked manioc cake on hot coals. There is also a large restaurant nearby where guests can sip beer and watch Dinh Cau at sunset.

After admiring the red glowing sun diving into the sea, we went to Bach Dang night market, a busy night market which is just less than 4 kilometres away from Dinh Cau; anyone who visits Phu Quoc cannot miss this destination.

wanderlust-tips-Thang-11-va-nhung-cung-duong-hoa1The south of Phu Quoc Island

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To explore the South of Phu Quoc Island where Sao beach and famous Ham Ninh fishing village is located, we rented a private car for only VND400,000 for the whole trip. There are a number of tourist attractions people often visit for shopping such as the fish sauce factory, pearl farms, black pepper gardens, and supermarkets selling products made from rose myrtle fruit. We tried the aromatic rose myrtle wine and sweet, clear rose myrtle honey before deciding to buy as gifts. The most impressive place is the fish sauce factory. You will immediately be overwhelmed by the smell of fish sauce that is normally faint but becomes really pungent and fishy in the thick air, which is kept in barrels made from litsea and golden oak to ferment anchovies with salt by means of the straining method. After 9 to 15 months, people will extract the fish sauce from the barrels using a professional extraction method. Phu Quoc fish sauce has a natural clear and reddish brown color thanks to the method of fresh fish fermentation and long fermentation time in wooden barrels. Soaking a few kilograms of fragrant Phu Quoc green pepper in this famous fish sauce will create a really fascinating flavour.

Visiting Phu Quoc prison was a quite emotional experience for me. Fortunately, the richness and beauty of Phu Quoc’s nature helps to lessen the darkness and pain of the world such as that associated with the prison. This is especially true when visiting the Tranh Stream tourist attraction. Unfortunately, we didn’t go in the rainy season and could not admire the stream. The scenery however, was still poetic and fresh, a big contrast to the world outside. I really liked the cool feeling when walking on the huge stone slabs, with moss covered at covering some corners, among the green forest canopy.

Then we went back to Ham Ninh and visited Sao beach to enjoy the blue sea and white sand. Most of the beaches have coarse, light yellow sand, and the sandbank is very narrow and steep, while the water is reddish brown, not as blue as the Sao beach.

wanderlust-tips-Thang-11-va-nhung-cung-duong-hoa1The north of Phu Quoc Island

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We spent a day riding motorcycles to the North of Phu Quoc Island to experience the sunshine of Phu Quoc. The feeling of wandering the red dusty streets, admiring the mangrove forests and the white cotton plants far away was very special. Particularly, the entrance to Vinpearl Safari Phu Quoc is surrounded by soaring trees.

People often ask me if they should go to Vinpearl Safari because they think it’s like a zoo, just to look at the animals. However, I felt it was really spectacular. It’s not just another visit to see animals in cages at a zoo but much more than that. It’s a journey of experiencing a semi-wild world, where visitors have to adapt to the natural environment of the animals. White tigers, white camels, a herd of antelope, rhinoceros and lions all roam free in their space. Humans are just guests who need permission to go in and admire the animals in their natural habitat. In addition, the food in the restaurant is quite delicious, with pizza, pasta, salads, and fried chicken very suitable for visitors to enjoy when they get exhausted after travelling under the hot sun. Though the Vinpearl Land entertainment area is not far away from here, you will not be able to experience it to the fullest if you visit both areas on the same day.

The North of the Island is home to many construction projects, so there are quite a few messy places with markets, temporary shelters for workers, muddy roads after the rain, and also the trucks carrying construction materials driving on the road.

PHU QUOC CUISINE – UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCES

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Just by stopping on the sidewalk in front of any restaurant, you can experience the flavor of Phu Quoc in the spreading smell of its well-known fish sauce. All the restaurants have similar menus, but each of them have their own distinctive ways of cooking dishes and making sauces. Some restaurants add garlic and chilli peppers into the sauce while some others prefer adding passion fruit syrup. There are different types of sauces to serve with steamed seafood, fried rice, and grilled foods.

We usually had lunch at big restaurants in the centre area and dinner at the bustling ones at Bach Dang night market where we do not need to bargain because the prices are reasonable. When visiting Phu Quoc, make sure that you have savored all the seafood specialities such as fresh and sweet steamed shrimps, aromatic lobsters grilled on charcoal, fried mantis shrimps with salts, or grilled oysters with green onion.

Most importantly, do not forget to try the distinctive dishes here – sea urchin porridge and herring salad. Looking at the pieces of raw fish or spiked, black seaurchin might make some people feel uncomfortable. However, Phu Quoc people have made them into dishes featuring the gastronomic soul of the Pearl Islands. Herring salad is often the first choice of tourists because everyone wants to taste the sweet of the fresh fish fillets mixed with the scent of green wild vegetables. Fresh fish pieces have a certain fragrance, sweetness and crispness. Some restaurants arrange fish, onions, grated coconut flesh, roasted ground peanuts, chilli, jungle vegetables, green bananas and star fruits separately so the customers can squeeze lemon, mix and roll the ingredients themselves when eating. Some others will mix all kinds of ingredients in advance and customers just need to roll up the rice paper with a little vermicelli, dip it into the spicy and sweet pepper fish sauce to enjoy. It costs about VND110,000-150,000 per dish.

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After satisfying your taste buds with all sorts of fresh seafood, the last dish will often be aromatic sea urchin porridge enough for 3-4 people at the price of VND80,000 – 100,000. The porridge is cooked to be slightly watery with extremely delicious flavours; it seems that this dish in every restaurant, no matter how large or small, has its own tasty flavor. The white porridge with a bit of black sea urchin meat and yellow sea urchin eggs, a little onion and black pepper will make the diners want to eat more even when they are full. After having a meal, you can go for a walk in a market, watch a magic show, stand in front of a restaurant with young people singing or dancing; or admire the Thailand ice cream roll seller showing off special techniques in his or her stall. A VND30,000 cup of blueberry or strawberry ice cream rolls will be a good choice for dessert.

When visiting Phu Quoc, going to the market and cooking are also great experiences. Phu Quoc Market is open during the day, located near the Bach Dang night market. The seafood here is quite cheap and fresh. You can easily cook a seafood meal with shrimp, squid, and blue crab dip with vegetables and water lily flowers for only VND200,000 – 300,000.

W.TIPS

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WEATHER

Phu Quoc’s most beautiful weather is in the dry season from October to April, and this is not even the peak tourist season. Humidity levels are not high, at around 70-80 percent. The average temperature is about 27 – 28oC. It is hot during the day but cool in the evening.

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SHOPPING

The Souvenirs can be bought at many places, especially in the South Island tour: pearls, products made from rose myrtle, fish sauce (all you need to do is give the factory your home address, and they will deliver it for you), black pepper, or you can buy dried seafood when visiting the fishing village.

Necessities or everyday items can be bought at many grocery stores, mini marts (Nguyen Trung Truc, Duong Dong), K-Marts (provincial road 45, Duong To, Duong Dong).

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VEHICLE

– Currently, to travel to Phu Quoc, you can take a flight from Hanoi or Saigon. Or you can take a 2.5-hour speedboat from Rach Gia to Phu Quoc with prices ranging from VND300,000. What’s particularly convenient about traveling by high speedboat, you can take motorcycles to the island if you want.

– There are many choices for tourist to travel in Phu Quoc such as taxis, motorbikes or bicycles.

– As the South of the island – where there are many tourist attractions that might take you a whole day to visit – is quite far from the centre, it is recommended to rent a car with prices ranging from VND400,000 to VND800,000 per trip. I went there in the low season so the prices were quite reasonable, but you should negotiate and discuss in advance with the driver about the destinations.

– In the North of the island, there are tropical forests, amusement parks, zoos and the distance is not too far so you can rent motorcycles for about VND150,000-200,000 per day.

– If you ride a bike, it is better to travel in the early morning because in the afternoon the windy and sunny weather combined with the slopes and dusty roads are not suitable for cycling. Resorts often offer free bicycles.

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ACCOMMODATION

Phu Quoc Island has many kinds of accommodations ranging from small, cheap hotels (far from the sea, normal comforts) at the price of few hundreds VND, to bungalows with gardens, pools and even kitchens, but excluded private beach like where I stayed at, with the price of above VND1 million per night. You also can find hotels with private beaches and swimming pool along Tran Hung Dao coastal street with the price of about VND2 million per night. The 5-star hotels in Phu Quoc will cost you VND2 million or more. Famous 5-star hotels include Novotal Phu Quoc, Chen Sea, La Veranda, The Shell, Vinpearl and Long Beach.

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OTHER NOTES

– Phu Quoc is hot and quite dusty, so you should take glasses, hats, gauze mask and sunscreen. It is also recommended to take a jacket because it may be cool in the evening.

– In addition, there are many mosquitoes, especially in the evening and in the green areas, so you should carry mosquito repellent, burn essential oil and close the doors as well as windows in the afternoon and the evening. At Vinpearl Safari, if travelling with children, you can rent baby strollers for VND50,000.

Nhat Minh | Wanderlust Tips

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