INTRODUCTION TO PHU QUOC
120km (75 miles) W (over sea) from Rach Gia (Rach Gia is 250km/155 miles S of Saigon by road)
The same size as Singapore, the island of Phu Quoc lies off the west coast of Vietnam's Mekong Delta. At times claimed by Cambodia and Thailand, the island is now like an armed fortress of the Vietnamese navy, and 80% of the island is protected as the Phu Quoc National Forest.
Exploring the dirt-track byways of the forested isle, among picturesque pepper plantations and long stretches of deserted beach, is a hoot. A visit to Phu Quoc is a good, affordable opportunity to relax, spend time on the beach, and snorkel or scuba-dive. Get there soon and someday you'll be able to say, "I went there before it was touristy."
The pepper industry on Phu Quoc has just gotten back up to speed after a long gap since the days when every French table had a shaker of Phu Quoc's finest. Phu Quoc is most famous for production of nuoc mam, the noxious fish sauce that is part of any meal in Vietnam. U.S. pilots flying over the island during the Vietnam War joked that the fumes from nuoc mam factories of Phu Quoc were enough to blow out the torch on a jet engine. Find a guide on the island, and you'll be able to get up-close and personal with the aromatic production of Vietnam's most versatile condiment.
Phu Quoc was for many years an off-the-map tourist destination, but the developers, led by Saigontourist's large Saigon Phu Quoc Resort, are coming in droves. Still, services remain limited, and dining is more or less available only at small seaside resorts on Long Beach. The quiet, undeveloped quality of this beach escape -- just a short, easy hop from Saigon -- is the real attraction.
The Six Senses group, popular developers of Evason Ana Mandara Resort and Evason Hideaway Ana Mandara in Nha Trang, plans on having a large resort here in the near future, and developers are lined up, wringing their hands and ready to build. Thanks to red tape, this quiet island is still a dirt-track backwater, with bungalows and little in the way of infrastructure. But plans are underway for expanding the airport and including international flights.
Weather on the island, thanks to cool ocean breezes, is always temperate and thus a great escape from sultry Saigon. The coolest time to go to Phu Quoc is from December to February. Note: The island is quite rainy and exposed to monsoon storms, from May to November.