Difference between revisions of "Phu Quoc"
Revision as of 08:09, 5 January 2013
Phú Quôc is a very mountainous and densely forested Island of 1320 sq km; it is 48 km in length from south to north and has a population of approx. 80,000 people. Situated in the Gulf of Thailand 45 km west of Ha Tien on the Vietnamese mainland and 15 km south of the coast of Cambodia, Phú Quôc is ringed with some of most beautiful beaches in Vietnam, and offers the best seafood in the country. Phú Quôc Island served as a based for French missionary Pigneau de Behaine from the 1760-80s and at one time he provided shelter here for Prince Nguyen Anh (later Emperor Gia Long) when he was being hunted by the Tay Son rebels. During the Vietnam war there was little fighting here but the Island was used by the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces as a prison for captured Viet Cong. Phú Quôc is not really a part of the Mekong delta and also doesn’t share the delta's extraordinary ability to produce rice & fruit due to its soil quality and inaccessible terrain. It is, however, home to the best Fish sauce (nuoc mam) in the world, also reputedly known to produce high quality pepper and fantastic seafood. Another point of interest in Phú Quôc is the island's native dog; this dog was originally a wild animal and later trained as a hunting dog by local people. These days they are very domesticated and it's unusual to go anywhere on the island without seeing one of these dogs! These animals have unusually sharp teeth (as they tear their food when they eat it rather than bite) and have claws that over the years have been conditioned for catching their prey and are razor sharp.
Phú Quôc is still what Phuket would be if it hadn't been overrun by development. Phú Quôc island and its beaches was voted to be "The Most Cleanest and Beautiful Beach of World" by ABC News as from the end of February, 2008. However, this is about to change. Insiders call the island "The world's first rubbish dump on which tourism is run" or "the island, where nature and rubbish grow together" because of the excessive pollution (mainly by plastic bags) outside the tourist resorts. There are extensive plans to develop Phú Quôc, including high-rise residential areas, several new towns and suburbs, complete rebuilding of Duong Dông' city center, and replacing the existing small PQC airport. The new international airport south of Duong Dông is under construction and expected to open in 2013 or 2014. The main north-south road between Bai Thom and An Thoi is already being upgraded to a 2+2 lane highway, a new tared road from Duong Dông to Gan Dau is ready as far as Cua Can, which has a new bridge. A golf areal is planned as well as a casino in the north. A ferry connection to Sihanoukville (Cambodia) an visa-free-entry have been discussed in the past. Phú Quôc will be something completely different in 10 years if the current plans do materialize soon.
Phu Quoc Island has a tropical climate which has three seasons: High, Shoulder and Low Season.
High Season: During the period between November to March, where the daily maximum temperature is typically and on average about 31 C, and the daily minimum temperatures (before sunrise) about 23 C. The skies are generally sunny, with possibly some light high cloud in early morning that clears by mid-morning, and the humidity is at it lowest throughout the year.
Shoulder Season: During the period between April to June and late October, where the temperatures are a bit higher than during the high season, and the humidity around 80-85%. Crowds are less during this time and good chances of reasonable weather.
Low Season: During the period between July to September, which is dominated by the monsoons.
Visitors from any country arriving to Phu Quoc by cruise ship no longer need a visa for stays of up to 15 days. A passport with at least 45 days' validity is still necessary.
Visitors arriving in Phú Quôc by any other means (eg. plane) are still subject to normal visa regulations.
You can fly to the Duong Dông airport (PQC) from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on about five daily Vietnam Airlines turboprop flights with ATR-72 (55 minutes). Since 2010 Air Mekong flies with Bombardier CRJ-900 jets from Ho Chi Minh City for about the same prices in 35 minutes. From Rach Gia there are two Vietnam Airlines flights per day.
There is a wide variety of transport options available on arrival. Many of the more expensive hotels have somebody pick you up on arrival. Taxis are of course available. It is only a short walk to the centre of Duong Dông, too. If budget travellers arrive late without reservations they stay the first night in unexpensive guest houses opposite the airport entrance.
If air tickets are fully booked you can do the following.
There are ferries and hydrofoils between Phú Quôc to Rach Gia (pronounce: Rad-Ya), Ha Tien and Hon Chong. You may be told by tour agents that the fast boats are full, but if you go to the dock where the boats depart you may have the opportunity to buy tickets from street sellers.
Hydrofoils takes 2 1/2 hours, costs 295,000 Dong, book at http://www.duongdongexpress.com.vn/ or http://superdong.com.vn/Pages/HomePage.aspx. As of March 2012, SuperDong was the only option as the other company had shut down three years ago (or so we were told) and the ride cost 320,000 Dong (a sign posted inside the booking office at the pier confirmed this quoted price). When coming from Ho Chi Minh City you can book a combined night-bus + boat ticket for around US$26 (including pick up from hotel) at travel agencies.
Small fast ferries (not Hydrofoils) takes 1hour 30 mins. Costs 230,000 Dong. Daily at 0800 and 13.00 Large car ferry (steel hulled,capacity 400 pax 300 m/cycles and 30 cars) leaves at 08.20,takes 2 + 1/2 hours and costs 165000 VND m/cycles 100,000 VND
Costs 160,000 Dông.
Depending on the season, you may not find taxis on arrival in Phú Quôc, though there will likely be a few motos. Minibus ply to the two main towns, but tickets are sold on the boat and sell out before arrival. Cost 20,000 Dong. Transfer can also be arranged through your hotel. On Sep 2011, three choices to leave the pier: taxi ~210,000 Dong, mini-bus down to 120,000 Dong (three persons) or moto-taxi (but it's a long ride on a not so good road)
Be warned that the boat can get overcrowded and may have the unfortunate lingering odor of previous passengers' weak stomachs. The journey is pleasant and smooth during the low season but is often beset by jarring waves during the high season; hotel staff can advise you of ocean conditions.
You can arrange a transfer from ferry port (Bai Vong port) to your hotel. Taxis and motorbikes congregate outside the ferry port and can shuttle you to the bus terminal (some 15 km out of town).
Walking One of the joys of the top-rated Long Beach accommodation options is that everything is so accessible. Base yourself at Mai House or the Tropicana and you can walk to everything and happily fill a three or four day holiday doing nothing at all. Camp down at La Veranda and you might not emerge. If/when you are ready to venture forth, then do it right….
Moto/ Scooter There’s no doubt about it, if you’re young enough (at heart anyway) you’ve got to try seeing some of Phu Quoc on a motor scooter. They can be hired for $5 - $12 a day from your hotel/resort. There is no paperwork, no insurance and no deposits. You negotiate if you break or lose your bike. There is a request that you refill with fuel when you finish. Roads are mostly red dirt and full of pot holes. As in much of Asia, there are no traffic rules in the usual European or North American and whatever sense of the word: you are responsible for not hitting anybody or anything, and you are responsible for nobody else hitting you, and that's about it. You are supposed to drive on the right, but not everybody always does that. So there you have it, not entirely safe, but an awful lot of fun. Note: don’t fret too much if you run out of petrol or get a flat tyre. You’ll be amazed how fast a local will stop to help you. Puncture repair men are plentiful on the island and will leap at the chance to come to your aid for a small fee. If you do find yourself in a bit of strife with your rental, there are a few repair shops on the island that will mend your bike at a cheaper price than the damage costs of the hirer. A typical repair shop is GIA PHU on 25 Tran Phu in Duong Dong (Linh- 0938137988). Depending on the severity of the damage, it could save you a lot of money. Moto taxi are about 200,000-400,000 Dong or US$10-20 for a day trip. Be sure to agree how many hours and locations you want to do with the driver. It's difficult to really lower the price for half-day or less.
Jeeps After a moto, your next best option is a Jeep with a driver. Given you pay for petrol, it can work out a little more than a half or full day’s hire of a taxi, but well worth it. Call Jeep For Rent locally on 0939 402 872. $30 for 6hrs, $50 for 24 hrs. Alternatively, try Carole on 0773 8848 886 or Searama on 0773 994 577. For the best but most expensive jeep, call La Veranda on 0773 982 988.
Taxi Taxis are plentiful for Long Beach but can be a tiresome delay further afield. Booking them by the day is often a better bet. They’re more expensive than you might be used to in Saigon. Most taxis use meters, and you pay what the meter shows. Short trips in Duong Dong are up to 60000 dong. For a full day and a given itinerary you make a flat deal, e.g. 650000 ($35) round one of the halves of the island, which may be what you would end up with also if the meter was running. It seems that you mostly pay for the distance driven; the driver sleeping in the drivers' hammocks does not cost that much. Ask your hotel or try Le Giang on 0773 848 444 or 0913 788 262, or give Mr Tam a call 0913 197 298.
Boat Saigon Phu Quoc Resort have their own large boat you can charter from Long Beach. Otherwise all resorts run tours with charter boats. Cost varies depending on number of passengers.
The island is quite large (over 40 kilometers from north to south), and to get around it is much better to rent a moto (motor scooter) for about $10 per day. Otherwise you can rent a taxi for about $35 or $40 half-day or full day. In case of a tour on motobike, go at "D.S" Bar. Stephane, the owner, can advise you great itineraries. He used to be a tour-guide on the island. He speaks english, french and spanish. And by the way, have a drink. Good music, "flat" pool table and cheap cocktails. On top of it, Stephane and Diem (his vietnamese wife) are very nice and friendly people. "D.S" Bar is opened until late by night.
After dark - watch the chain of lights bobbing across the horizon as the local fishermen attach lamps to their boats to attract squid.
There is also a special breed of dogs that live on the island. They are extremely similar to normal dogs except for the fact that they have 2 special markings on their back, where the fur goes in the other direction.
Try to get out on a boat one evening for some squid fishing yourself. Make a visit to Phu Quoc National Park and swim in a quiet pool.
Motorcycles are plentiful and cheap, hire one off a local and go cruising around the island. Petrol can usually be purchased around the island at various beaches served fresh in glass bottles.
Also Bicycles is a great way to observe the island. You can rent a mountain bike for around 50,000 VND per day at Saigon Phu Quoc Hotel or some local shops (be sure to write 'xe dap' because few Vietnameses here could speak English well).
Some beaches stretch for kilometres with overhanging palms, no one else in sight what more could you want?
Try SCUBA diving. Phu Quoc offers diving in two separate locations. Up North on western side of the island or Down south at An Thoi islands. Up north there are three main diving locations with all of them maximum depth of 10 they are especially great for beginners. Sites are surrounded by corals and funky rock formations which provide shelter to a variety of fish and species of Nudibranch. Down south there are up to 20 different dive sites around a group of 13 islands with depths ranging from 10m to all the way down to 40m. Majority of the islands are surrounded by coral. Majority of the islands are slowly being converted in to Marine Protected Areas thus you get a slightly better change of seeing more & bigger fish and lots of Nudibranches. South is not as well protected as the northern sites which means you might be in for rocky ride on the boat and mild to strong currents. Average visibility while diving is around 7-8m, but it chances a lot, which means it can worse and on the next day much better. Companies offering diving on Phu Quoc are Rainbow Divers, Flipper Diving Club, Cocodive and x-Dive. Dives cost a bit more here than in Nha Trang at about $65-75 USD for two boat dives.
The snorkeling tour (US$ 15) picks you up at your hotel in the morning and brings you to the islands in the south. It usually includes the boat trip, snorkeling gear, lunch and transportation. Don't expect to see a lot of fish and corals under water, though. But still a nice way to spend a day. Two companies mainly: John's tour (0919.107086), Sunny boat trip (www.phuquocsunny.com)
Also, watching the sunset at Pho Bo Cafe, a 2 storey place with the best view overlooking the lighthouse and the shrine, is the most romantic activity for couples and artist.
Run the annual Phu Quoc Half Marathon, held every year in June starting at Long Beach Resort.
Later, try wandering around the night market (near Ferry landing in Duong Dong Town), where locals mingled with the tourists, a place that offered a selection of goods, pearls, seafoods, vegeterians, or even a playground for children. There are many options for food at the market, with fresh seafood laid out next to each restaurant for you to check out while you're making your choice of place to sit and eat.
Main articles to buy are:
There are ATMs in Duong Don.
Warning: unlike in most other East-Asian destinations, there is a substantial risk that all (affordable) hotels are fully booked if you arrive, so it is advisable to book ahead, also for back- and flashpackers. This applies at least in January, the dry high season and as of 2011 also in February, as the island gains popularity.
Budget accommodation can be hard to come by but the best bet is to head to the south end of long beach. In low season en suite bungalows can be found for $10 and rooms for $8. Most budget place for sleep are Nhat Lan, Viet Thanh or lien hiep thanh. They are at about ~40min by walk or ~10min by moto taxi (10-20 000 VND) to Duong Dong.
On the island you can find a free Map available from places such as "D.S" Bar, La Veranda, Rainbow Divers, The Dog Bar, Buddy Ice Cream & Info Cafe, Phu Quoc Pearl Farm & Cassia Cottage. This map provides visitors information on Phú Quôc as well as suggested itineraries and good places for accommodation, eating or tourist services. Anyway, if you go around by rented motor bike please note that here is no reliable and updated map of the island. Stay on the main roads or get lost (and have fun finding your way).
Your biggest risk on Phu Quoc is getting sick or being involved in an accident. When setting out on a moto trip always ensure you have a basic first aid kit and your hotel number with you. In the main season there is a german doctor on the island - Dr Thomas from PHU QUOC EMERGENCIES, call +84-1266847974 or ask your reception. He speaks english, german, russian and vietnamese and is specialised in primary and emergency medicine. The mySherpa map available from most hotels contains emergency phone numbers for police, and ambulance and the hospital + what to do in an emergency. Keep these numbers with you at all times. If you can avoid the Duong Dông hospital, do so. The next modern hospital is in Rach Gia. Estimate how long it would need to get there in case of a severe injury before you start. Language is your major problem.
Ask your hotel for an island tour, which may include visits to a fish sauce factory, the Nature Reserve or the disused prison.
You can try a motorbike tour by yourself. Not all roads are good (some unpaved) but it is fun and the locals are really nice. In the far north corner you are able to see Cambodia and the vietnamese mainland. The mayor part of the north is protected by (inaccessible) National Park with dense beautiful primary forest, which are crossed by a couple of ways and streets. Visit remote fishermen's villages or enjoy the really rough tour along the east coast, if you are of the adventurous kind. In the south are some really nice and quiet beaches.
When leaving the island by boat, you can get a mini-bus ride from Duong Dong night market to Superdong east pier for 25,000 Dong at 7am, about 40min. Else hotel pickup seems to vary from free to 60,000 Dong.