Phu Quoc island in South Vietnam: A traveller’s dream destination?

With plenty of luxurious resorts, chic bars, and quaint cafés to cater to even the most pernickety punter, here's why you should give this place a go in 2024

By Neeta Lal

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Published: Fri 5 Jan 2024, 6:31 PM

As the sun dips in slomo into the emerald waters of the Gulf of Thailand, painting the skies in soft hues of periwinkle and purple, Phu Quoc Island appears magical. Childlike glee is appropriate, whatever your age!

Located in Vietnam, the country’s largest island has been voted by TIME magazine as one of the world’s ‘100 most amazing islands’. And it’s no hype. From the moment I land on Phu Quoc’s velveteen white beaches, stunning coastal scenery, coral reefs brimming with over 150 species of tropical fish and cool oceanic water lapping at my feet fill my stay with countless pinch-me moments.

Despite a flourishing network of modern facilities and infrastructure along its 150-km coastline, however, more than half of this tropical island is still a Unesco-listed national park. Phu Quoc National Park, a breathtaking landscape of exotic flora and fauna, boasts the natural resources of both jungle and sea. For those seeking immersive cultural experiences, there are the highly Instagrammable Cao Dai and Buddhist pagodas, atmospheric markets, traditional fishing villages, and lush pepper plantations. Also hiking, camping, photography and bird-watching. What’s not to love?

Phu Quoc's expansive coastline also makes it Vietnam's most popular destination for an array of adrenaline-spiking watersports. Trekking in doughty mountain ranges that pepper the island like confetti makes for great photo ops. But even short walks through evergreen forests are rewarded with gurgling waterfalls, rock pools, and caves!

Located 45km west of Ha Tien, Phu Quoc’s north is relatively untouched due to its status as Unesco heritage. Still there are plenty of luxurious resorts, chic bars, and quaint cafés to cater to even the most pernickety punter. My abode for three nights was the ocean-fronted Premier Village Phu Quoc Resort, a tropical island retreat. Nestling along the Gulf of Thailand, its lavish villas overlook the vast azure, the oceanic roar filling my suite with a sonorous surround sound at all times. Butler service, an excellent spa, three restaurants, a swim up bar and other luxe amenities made my stay even more wholesome.

Phu Quoc’s staggering surf and sand have earned it the nickname ‘Pearl Island’ or the ‘magic island’, but the island's environmental conservation efforts and cultural heritage are also worth noting. Fishing and agriculture remain primary industries but everything is done mindfully and visitors are expected to hew to strict environmental guidelines.

Even so there’s much fun to be had. Sun soakers can head to Long Beach, a 20km ribbon of uninterrupted syrupy sunsets. Further north, dirt roads and secluded resorts offer secluded tree-lined beaches like Ganh Dau and Bai Thom. The fishing village vibe is alive in many pockets of Phu Quoc that comprises 21 quaint smaller islets. Brightly painted boats bob invitingly in the water against a backdrop of crystalline waters. Hire one to explore the ocean’s 50 shades of blue. The water is so transparent, colourful fish can be seen cavorting below the glassy surface. Or go snorkelling off the An Thoi archipelago in the south where sparkling beaches and underwater reefs await.

Phu Quoc is a haven for seafood lovers while the island’s prized top quality fish sauce and aromatic black peppers are also highly sought after by gastronomes. Needless to say the focus of my foodcation was hyperlocal cuisine. Vietnamese food is indeed a symphony of flavours. Seafood mined fresh from the ocean, luscious tropical fruit, aromatic herbs and spices find their way into habit-forming dishes. Salads crafted from banana flowers, lotus root, pomelo and green mango fill me up daily at The Market, the all day dining at the Premier Village Phu Quoc Resort. The restaurant serves Vietnamese treats inspired by the five fundamental elements — Wood, Earth, Fire, Metal, and Water.

I enjoyed Bun Cha or deep fried spring rolls here, served with fresh rice noodles, herbs and crunchy peanuts. But my favourite was the flavour-charged Pho, the country’s signature soup now popular worldwide and rumoured to have been created thanks to the French colonisers’ thirst for meat and steak. However, the Vietnamese cleverly leverage scraps and leftover meats in Pho’s broth that also teems with noodles, herbs and vegetables. A meal in a bowl, really.

Herbs are used plentifully in Vietnamese cooking including fresh cilantro, lemon grass, basil, dill, mint, green onions, scallions, garlic, lime leaf, ginger, tamarind pulp, cinnamon, and fish leaf. Chillies are often bunged into the mix to amp up flavour. “What makes Vietnam’s culinary scene so special are its fresh ingredients, spare use of oil and addition of herbs and vegetables. It’s all about the yin and yang, the sugary and salty, the cookery and heating as well as the fresh and fermented,” explains the resort’s Executive Chef Florent Passard.

The chef elaborates that ‘healthy’ and ‘sustainable’ are the defining mantras in his kitchens. “We grow our own micro greens and herbs like morning glory, spinach and water spinach as well as Vietnam parsley and Phu Quoc pepper among others. For breads, gut-friendly sourdough and rye is used apart from nutritious beverages like corn, almond and soyabean milk. Our focus is local Vietnamese cuisine that leverages fresh produce and seafood plucked from nearby waters.”

Inspired by so much good food, I try my hand at rustling up some fuss-free dishes with the resort’s chefs. Such as translucent Vietnamese paper rolls and crepes brimming with meats, crunchy veggies and herbs. Workshops in stone painting, Vietnamese hat decoration, tote bag painting and coconut-leaf weaving add to the fun quotient of my stay. Herbal massages at Plumeria Spa and a singing bowl meditation session next to the ocean made me feel reborn. A Vietnamese kickboxing class and duck feeding, egg hunting and fish feeding at the resort’s farm complete the cultural immersion!

wknd@khaleejtimes.com


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