Maybe it’s because I was born on an island (Penang), that I find myself constantly drawn to them when traveling. After hearing about Phu Quoc, a idyllic Vietnamese island in the Gulf of Thailand, I knew it was not only a must-stop on my limited timeline, it was the destination I wanted to end the trip with. That arrangement turned out to be exactly what I needed and continues to be one of my fondest memories of Vietnam.
Unlike the charming yet commercialized village of Hoi An (which happened to be pouring rain during my stay) or the overwhelming bustle of motorcycles in Saigon, Phu Quoc is a low key fishing island surrounded by shimmering turquoise water. Most of the north portion remains a dense tropical jungle, much of it having been designated as a national park just recently in 2001. Making my home at Mango Bay Eco Resort, which was a bit of a distance from the cluster of hotels and resorts on Long Beach, was also what made the time there so enjoyable.
While pepper and fish sauce are the island's main exports, many of the locals make their living off the sea and the activities available in Phu Quoc reflect that. On the first night, I joined Phu Quoc Sunny on a squid fishing excursion. They sent a moped to pick me up and I was instantly transported to my time in Bali, riding through the countryside with the wind blowing through as I gazed at fields, sparse buildings, and street side vendors.
We arrived at Duong Dong harbor and climbed onto the barge just before sunset with about 15 other eager squid fishers. Once night fell, we fished alongside other vessels, for as long or as short as our patience would allow. Afterwards, the crew cooked a simple meal of veggies and (what else?) squid and we all ate together illuminated by the boat lamps, washing the savory meal down with Vietnamese beer.
The following morning, I went snorkeling at An Thoi, a group of 15 islands just off the southern coast of Phu Quoc. It was the type of day you reminisce about months later; the kind of day spent in a sun-baked haze revolving between sunning, diving off boats, swimming in pristine water, and drying off, punctuated by sips of cold beer and sunscreen reapplication. The boat, also operated by Phu Quoc Sunny, stopped at 3 different snorkeling spots around An Thoi and famed Sao Beach, once a lot more secluded than it has been recently.
On the way back to Mango Bay, my driver was kind enough to stop at Dinh Cao Night Market at my request, since I was leaving the following afternoon. I walked through the lively seafood stalls, ordering freshly grilled shrimp and scallops simply seasoned by the smoky grill and a sprinkle of lime and salt and enjoyed observing locals taking in the sunset. It was the perfect way to wind down a whirlwind trip.
Ong Lang Beach, Phu Quoc Island; Kien Giang Province, Vietnam. 92000
Dinh Cau Night Market
- Snorkeling at An Thoi Islands
- Night squid fishing
- Swimming + sunning at Sao Beach