Phú Quốc, the small Vietnamese resort-island 10km off of the mainland of Cambodia, will be the first Vietnamese location to re-open to tourists in 2021. Is Phú Quốc for you?
If you are reading this, chances are you aren’t the type of tourist who loves Mega-Resorts. If so, you may think that Phú Quốc doesn’t have a lot to offer, being dominated by the Sunworld and Vinpearl resorts.
However, there are lots of hidden gems on the island, far away from the Disneyland-esque mega-resorts. In this post, we go over some of our favourite DIY things to do on Phú Quốc that get you out and interacting with the real Phú Quốc outside the cushy resort walls.
1) Rent a Motor-Bike and Circumnavigate the Island
Step one to any meaningful adventure on Phú Quốc is to rent a small 100 CC motorbike. Prior to covid-19, they cost approximately 5 USD per day, and were available any where in Phú Quốc town, from coffee shops to hotels to dedicated mechanic shops.
There is one major route that goes around the northern bulge of the island, with plenty of small local roads radiating out to far-flung villages on the coast. The route can be down in one day, but that would be rushed and too frenetic to enjoy all the hidden gems of Phú Quốc.
Instead, take at least two days, with at least one overnight on the less-touristy east-side of the island. Take time to wander town local roads, stop at different beaches, rest during the long hot tropical high-noon. Bring lots of water and a collapsible beach umbrella.
2) Hammock Cafes on Phu Quoc
When driving through rural Phú Quốc, one of favourite things to do is rest and drink at the “hammock cafes” (such as here ). If Hanoi is famous for its 1-foot plastic dinning chairs, Phú Quốc is iconic for its love of hammocks, even while drinking beer or coffee or fresh coconut.
There is simply nothing more relaxing, after several ours traveling under a hot tropical sun, than swinging in a breezy hammock, surrounded by palm trees, and sipping on a Vietnamese ice-coffee.
3) Fishing Villages on Phuc Quoc
Visit the many unique and old-timey fishermen villages that are scattered in far-flung places away from the mega-resorts, such as Rạch Vẹm (often referred to as the “Floating Village”). Exploring such tiny villages evokes a wonderous sense of what Vietnam was like before it’s explosive economic boom and modernization.
The people are friendly and accustomed to a growing trickle of adventurous tour-groups who want to eat fresh seafood on floating restaurants.
For the truly adventurous, you may be able to find bespoke boating or snorkeling tours — just be very cautious with safety equipment and don’t expect any English-translation!
4) Hidden Beaches on Phu Quoc
For an island, it can be surprisingly difficult to find good clean beaches when you leave the safety of the mega-resorts or the Dương Đông town beach-strip. Many of the east-side beaches are more industrial, or despoiled by discarded fishermen gear, or too rocky.
But, upon finding a nice undeveloped beach to swim and bath, such as Starfish beach, Phú Quốc can be very rewarding.
Be sure to bring your own beach umbrella — shade can be hard to find.
Popular Beaches on Phu Quoc
5) Visit the Night Market in Dương Đông
Visit the bustling night market in Dương Đông town . The place is famous for lots of food stalls where you can try a wide variety of delicious street foods and spicy hor d’oeuvres.
There are too many delicious items to list, but one of our favourite foods were the Cassava Cakes: baked fresh on the spot!
The night market also has all the usual tourist souvenirs, and domestic stalls where you can find bargains in clothing, hand-bags, hats and more. Weekend nights have lots of locals partying and enjoying food and drink.
6) Homestays on the East-Side of Phu Quoc
Stay at a random home-stay or farm-stay on the eastern side of the island, far away from the mega-resorts. Such places give you a more personal experience and a glimpse into authentic Vietnamese culture.
The quality, comforts and amenities may very widely, but that is part of the appeal: unlike the carefully manicured resorts, the homestays offer variety and a little adventure. You’re not really staying in some-one’s home; rather, they are more like a combo of Airbnb’s and boutique hotels.
7) Cao Đài: An Unusual Vietnamese Religion
Learn about a strange religion that originated from Vietnam, called Cao Đài. The religion combines various Eastern and Western religions under one spiritual pantheon. For example, they worship Confucius, Buddha, Jesus Christ and Muhammad, as well as many others. Even Victor Hugo is revered as a saint.
You can visit and learn about the interesting religion at the Phú Quốc Cao Dai temple.
8) Hiking Đỉnh Núi Chúa along Phu Quoc’s Mountain Summit
At 600m above sea level, the hilly interior of Phú Quốc isn’t necessarily so high. However, there are some decent hikes to be had along the snaking streams, valleys and ridges.
The most popular and easily accessible hike is to Đỉnh Núi Chúa , the highest point on the island. It has nice views of the north west coast and forest.
9) Diving on Phu Quoc
Diving and snorkeling is possible in An Thới, the southern island archipelago (a UNESCO biosphere reserve) which is a few kilometres south of the southern-most tip of Phú Quốc. There is one PADI dive-shop which can arrange trips and gear; learn more at https://www.padi.com/dive-shops/phu-quoc/
The best time to go diving is during October to April, in which the water is clearer due to lower rain and island run-off.
If you are more of a DIY traveler, you can take the cable-car from the Phú Quốc mainland to the archipelago, and look for rocky-headlands on the periphery of public beaches. It will be very difficult to find good snorkelling gear on Phú Quốc, so plan ahead and bring your own.
10) Clean Beaches Along the West-Side Resort Strip
Finally, for simple beach bathing and swimming at nice clean beaches, as well as a host of amenities, go to the west-side tourist strip just south of Dương Đông town (see map location here ).
South East Asia has a lot of problems, historically, with garbage-ridden beaches, as can be evidenced by the state of the east-side beaches. But, the west-side strip has the picturesque beaches with umbrellas to rent and coconuts to drink, like the dream SE Asian retreat.
Why is this a top 10 thing to do? We like the west-side strip because it has the benefits of being in an actual Vietnamese town, with all of its cultural quirks and amenities, but youYou aren’t trapped in an artificial mega-resort.
Special Foods to Try on Phú Quốc
Phú Quốc is especially famous for its seafood. You’ll find various exotic and flavourful dishes with snails, sea cucumber, sea urchins, grouper, mackerel and more than you can imagine. On more conservative side, try the grilled mackerel.
If/when you get tired of sea food, here are some other delicious foods to find on Phú Quốc:
- Casava Waffles – Bánh khoai mì (south) / bánh sắn (north) – these slightly-sweet fried casava-waffles really hit the spot. Filling, simple yet exotic. We couldn’t stop eating these.
- Bánh canh – this isn’t a Phu-Quoc specialty per se, but they do it very well on the island. These thick savoury noodles are a staple. They come with various vegies, herbs, and meats that make for highly satisfying combinations.
- Vegetarian Buffet – if you tire of seafood, try the amazingly done faux-meats at the various vegetarian buffets in Dương Đông town. They make unbelievably convincing meat-substitutes, as well as a wide variety of other spicy vegie dishes. The popularity of such Vegetarian restaurants isn’t to accomodate Californian tourists; rather, many Vietnamese choose to be vegetarian on auspicious days, like the first and 15th day of the Lunar-calendar months. Read more here.