I’m on the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc. Just a one-hour flight from hectic Ho Chi Minh City, I feel cut off from the chaos and noise of mainland Vietnam.
There are no motorbike horns, a barber is cutting a man’s hair out on the pavement under the blazing sun, and the shouts from the kids playing in the nearby harbour proclaim their love for life. Lost in it all, I snap back to coherence. I notice a set of eyes peering up at me from underneath a conical hat; the adjoining lips offer a greeting of: ‘Sing Chào.’
The pace of life here on the island is blissfully dull, something that is increasingly hard to find in Vietnam. The distance between Phu Quoc and Vietnamese mainland is a mere 12km, astonishingly preserving the Vietnamese charm that has been attracting tourists, both foreign and local, to the island for decades.
Phu Quoc Island is yet to become an established stop on most Vietnam backpacker itineraries but it fast becoming a hot topic in hostel common rooms and dorms. The island offers a plentiful array of white sandy beaches with crystal clear water that is sure to put a smile on any travellers face.
When is the best time to visit Phu Quoc Island?
High season in Phu Quoc runs from November to March when the weather is at it’s best with sunny days and little rain. Many hotels are booked up during this time and activities such as diving and boat trips run daily.
If you plan to go during this time, it’s wise to book flights in advance as they can fill up fast. (Phu Quoc is only a short one-hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City and flights are very reasonable at generally around $40-$70 USD.)
If you want to avoid high season, April to June is a good time to visit, especially if you’re keen on getting cheap deals on hotels and cheaper prices on tours. At this time of year, it can be really hot so a room with AC will help.
July to October is considered the monsoon season in Phu Quoc, with October being the least rainy. During this time the sea can be rough with winds and rain battering the beach daily. It’s the least popular time to visit the island.
Two of our ambassadors recently visited the island during August and despite some cloudy days they were still able to enjoy the beautiful, white sandy beaches. Just be slightly more prepared to suddenly take cover at a local beach bar until the storm passes or spend a rainy afternoon in a local spa!
Where to Stay in Phu Quoc Island?
The breadth of lodgings on Phu Quoc is quite varied. Seasonal prices and the number of current visitors can drastically ebb and flow the per-night price. By Vietnamese standards, the prices may be a bit higher (mainly when compared to the larger urban cities Saigon and Hanoi) but you’ll be getting a grand trip out of the experience.
The three main areas to stay are Ving Bau Beach, Ong Lang Beach and Long Beach. Long Beach seems to have the most variety of resorts. I chose Cassia Cottages, solely because the staff harvests their own cinnamon then use it for cinnamon ice cream and cinnamon lattes!
The Best Phu Quoc Backpacker Hostels – Top 3
Phu House Hostel – From $7 US per night – Located on Long Beach, this great hotel offers dorms and privates. They have clean and comfortable dorm rooms with privacy curtains on each bed and free breakfast. The rooftop bar is a big hit with travellers as are the social events, pool table, free beer and jacuzzi! All in all, it’s a great place for backpackers in Phu Quoc!
Orchid Guesthouse – From $14 US per night – A lovely guesthouse with a lovely big swimming pool that’s popular amongst travellers, located near to the Muon Pagoda in Duong Dong. The Orchid offers double and family rooms (two double beds), restaurant, bar, free wifi and bike hire. The smiling staff make for a pleasant stay!
9 Station Hostel – From $9 US per night – 9 Station Hostel in Duong Dong is more like a luxury resort that’s been converted into a backpacker hostel. There’s a spotlessly clean swimming pool, a TV room, a restaurant, bar with pool table and a great happy hour with cocktails. A really good breakfast is included in the price and you can book tours or rent a motorbike to explore the island here, all at reasonable backpacker prices. A great place to socialise.
Things to do in Phu Quoc Island
Visit Bai Sao (South Beach)
On the southern tip of the island a visit to the beautiful Bai Sao Beach should be ticked off the list first! The arduous dirt-road route deters hordes of tourists from the area, which makes for a mix of foreign and domestic vacationers soaking up the sun and listening to the waves. The water is so clear in this area and you’ll definitely want to take a boat trip to the nearby An Thoi Islands for a day of snorkelling!
Bai Sao Beach has a small but ample selection of beach bars offering both Vietnamese and American cuisine, all at very reasonable prices.
If you are looking for great food and a lively atmosphere head to Rory’s Bar. This newly opened beach bar was previously located on Long Beach. If you are looking for a lighter snack be sure to grab some fresh fruit from one of the local sellers. Nothing beats devouring a ripe, juicy mango sat on the water’s edge.
It is possible to hire a sun bed and shade for a small price. This beach also has the infamous palm tree swing, which is gracing the Instagram grid more and more frequently!
If you are visiting during November to March I would recommend visiting Sao Beach for sunrise. You can easily arrange early morning transport through your accommodation reception. Be sure to check the weather forecast the night before as the 4.45am get up will not be as easy to swallow when you are sat in the rain or trying to hunt out the sun behind the clouds!
Visit Duong Dong Market
I found the market in Duong Dong (the islands biggest town) to be quite fascinating. If you like old world markets this will be a huge highlight for you. I tried to count on my hands how many food items which I could not identify, and I ran out of fingers. Don’t make any sudden movements as motorbikes intertwine with the sea of people walking about.
The Dinh Cau Temple
The Dinh Cau Temple also in Duong Dong is a nice place to visit. This temple/lighthouse is an odd combination but the views of the sea are top-notch. The restaurant just down the beach from Dinh Cau Temple serves phenomenal iced Vietnamese coffee, so grab one and head to the second-floor terrace to catch the sun setting over the harbour.
Duong Dong Night Market
I actually found the night market to be less interesting than Duong Dong’s daytime market but there are still some fun things to do at it. Looking at dehydrated bats to crush up into tea or playing carnival style gambling games sure beats sitting in your hotel room.
Tour the Pepper Farms and Bee Farm
There is also a large number of pepper farms on the island. These are well worth a visit and I would suggest combining this with a visit to the Phu Quoc Bee Farm. It is a great opportunity to learn about the conservation of bees and the production of local honey.
It is set in a beautiful location and the staff were so clearly passionate about eco-tourism. It also has the added bonus of its very own café! On the menu is a selection of hot and cold drinks (including mocktails!) that use the honey produced on site. A great little stop off point to refresh and unwind!
To enjoy Phu Quoc from above make sure you visit Chuon Chuon Bistro and SkyBar. This bar has a wraparound terrace area that give you unrivalled views of the island. Be prepared to pay a little more for drinks here as you are paying for the view. This is a great spot to watch the sunset and the vantage point gives you a great feel for the island. We spent our last evening here and it was a fantastic way to reflect on our time spent on the island and take in the last few hours of sun.
Don’t Miss Long Beach!
An absolute must during your stay on Phu Quoc Island is a trip to Long Beach to catch the sunset! Picture this… rolling waves crashing at your feet creeping up the sand, an ice cold drink in your hand and the sea breeze gently tickling your face. This is an experience engrained in my memory. It created the perfect environment for us to, sit back, and enjoy the chilled out atmosphere of the island.
How to get to Phu Quoc Island
By Plane – Vietnamese Airlines offers flights from Ho Chi Minh City from $45-$70 US. The flight takes less than an hour to reach the island.
By Boat – Three ports on the east side of the island are linked to Ha Tien on the Vietnamese/Cambodian Border and ferry trips between are made twice daily.
Where to go next?
The price to take a bus from Ha Tien to Sihanoukville costs roughly $20 US, during research no reputable outfits offered reliable transportation from Phu Quoc into Cambodia. You can also easily return to Vietnam and continue your journey North or take some time to explore Ho Chi Minh City.