When I visit iconic travel destinations such as Mykonos, Paris, or the Amalfi Coast, I can’t help but wonder how these beautiful places would have looked before the crowds arrived. Tourism is wonderful, however, mass tourism can quickly destroy the charm of a place – the very thing that made people visit in the first place. To avoid this problem, I’ve always preferred to visit popular travel destinations in low-season.
I also aim to seek out up-and-coming destinations that are accessible but still quiet enough to possess their natural charms. That’s why I was absolutely thrilled when The Intercontinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort invited us to experience their newly opened property on Vietnam’s largest island: the up-and-coming beach paradise of Phu Quoc! I’ve heard the island is Vietnam’s best kept secret and I can now confirm it’s true!
Getting to Phu Quoc
The best way to get to the island is by air and it’s relatively easy compared to other small islands in the region. It has an international airport with daily flights to and from the Vietnamese mainland. The island is a great stop if you’re already passing through Cambodia, Thailand or China too. Routes will open from Kuala Lumpur which is a huge air traffic hub in Southeast Asia so I expect a big uptick in visitors once the route opens.
Toby and I went with Vietnam Airlines from Ho Chi Minh City but we can highly recommend the Vietnamese budget airline Vietjet Air. The comfort is on par with other full-service airlines and it’s much more affordable.
Phu Quoc is a special economic zone (similar to Macau and Shanghai in China). If you enter Vietnam through Phu Quoc you’ll be given a 30-day visa exemption and won’t need another visa to travel the rest of the country.
What to Do on Phu Quoc
Most visitors come to Phu Quoc to do exactly nothing. The island is the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city and you’ll naturally feel compelled to do nothing but chill. Kinda like the starfish we found at Sao Beach:
Spend the Day at Bai Sao Beach
Bai Sao or Sao Beach is Phu Quoc’s most famous beach and for that, it’s still quite secluded. The infrastructure consists of a parking lot, a cafe with sun loungers and two swings mounted to palm trees. There is a parking fee but if you buy a drink at the cafe, they’ll waive the fee.
If your looking for the swings to take your next Instagram photo, they are on either side of the beach. Sadly, the owners started charging for their usage but for VND 20,000 ($1) you still get an awesome holiday shot. I recommend you go to the left swing as it’s in a more scenic setting.
‘Sao’ means ‘star’ in Vietnamese and it’s likely that you’ll spot some starfish near the shore. I had never seen any in real life before so it was really exciting to find them on the shore!
Watch the Sunset at Long Beach
Long Beach is a relatively undeveloped beach on the island’s west coast. It’s a public beach that stretches over 30km. You’re likely to only bump into guests of the Intercontinental there as it’s the only resort on the coast, if you walk up the coastline, you’ll quickly be all by yourself.
Long beach is also where you can catch the most amazing sunset on the island, the light is amazing long after the sun dips behind the horizon.
Explore the Jungle and Visit SuốI Tranh Waterfall
Most of Phu Quoc is covered by uninhabited jungle terrain. The islands tourism organisation doesn’t recommend hiking the mountains but you can take a Jeep tour through the edge of the National Park. We didn’t have enough time to join the tour but heard many great things from other visitors we met during our stay.
We decided to explore the Suối Tranh waterfall instead. Admission is VND 10,000 ($50ct) per person or car. From the entrance, it takes around 10-15 minutes to the waterfall. It’s an easy yet scenic hike but I recommend you wear shoes you’re comfortable walking in as it does get a bit rocky.
If you want to take a refreshing dip in the waterfall don’t forget a towel otherwise you’ll become a wandering mosquito magnet – up to you of course, if that’s on you’re bucket list. We don’t judge.
Wind down at the Islands Highest Skybar
Here it comes: the ultimate transition between secluded island paradise and a well-developed holiday destination. The Intercontinental Phu Quoc houses the island’s highest sky bar INK360 and it’s totally worth the visit! Check out these interiors:
Their Kraken-inspired bar combines serene sunset views and fantastic drinks supervised by their Italian mixologist Pepe.
Indulge Yourself in the Freshest Seafood
This is what everyone recommended us to do when we told them we were heading to the island. In short, no matter where you stay on the island whether it’s an Airbnb, homestay or resort, take advantage of the budget-friendly and high-quality seafood.
Street Food Seafood
Scattered across the island but with the highest destiny in the islands main city Duong Dong are street seafood eateries. Unlike in cities such as Saigon or Hanoi those eateries will boast a menu with seafood delicacies caught only a few metres from the restaurants porch. The food is incredibly inexpensive and as fresh as it gets.
If you’re on the hunt for some clams or Phu Quoc’s famous herring salad (gỏi cá trích) a good place to start looking is the cities night market. The market opens every day at 4:30 pm and operates throughout the night.
One of my personal recommendations is Quán Nhớ on Mac Thien Tich street this place has delicious food and is frequented mostly by locals, Vietnamese travellers and some occasional tourists who want to explore beyond the night market vicinity.
If you’re looking for an unforgettable dining experience there are plenty of options available too. I recommend that you try the food at both ends of the spectrum as you’ll get to experience an incredibly wide range of seafood delicacies hard to come by.
Sea Shack serves international Vietnamese seafood BBQ right on the beach making it a place worthy for all your romantic occasions. Our seafood delights were accompanied by tiki-inspired cocktails. Aside from being incredibly well-mixed, they came with paper straws to reduce plastic waste. Toby and I are very passionate about reducing plastic waste and support any property that makes an effort to reduce their impact on the environment. If you want to learn more about how you can help read this.
Sora & Umi
Here comes my go-to sushi recommendation on the island. With so many seafood BBQ options around, you quickly forget all the other delightful ways to prepare fish. At this high-end restaurant, you can indulge in some of the freshest sashimi and sushi we’ve found outside of Japan.
I don’t know about you but whenever we travel for longer periods, Toby and I find ourselves missing our comfort foods from back home. My parents are Vietnamese that didn’t happen to me in Phu Quoc but Toby had been craving pasta and pizza for weeks! He’s not actually Italian but his family decided that Italian food was superior to German cuisine hence raised their boys on pizza and pasta.
Ombra is where you go when you’re looking for Italian comfort food with a seafood twist. You devour your pizza by the pool with the sound of breaking waves in the background. If you were looking for your picture-perfect holiday moment this is it.
How to Get Around The Island
There are essentially two ways to move around Phu Quoc by bike or by car. If you feel like walking try it and then get a bike or a car once you’ve learned your lesson.
You can rent scooters in the city Duong Dong (just look for the signs in front of shops) which will only set you back +- VND 150,000 ($6,50). The roads in Phu Quoc are very difficult to ride, not because of traffic (there is almost none) but because they are full of potholes and often are literal dirt roads. Just promise me to drive safe, ok?
Renting a car or taxi costs around VND 600,000 – 800,000 for 4-5hours ($24-$34). It’s quite affordable and totally worth it for the massive distances you will need to travel to get to the sights around the island. Getting a driver is super simple:
1. Hop into a Vinasun Taxi
2. Tell him all the places you would like to visit
3. The driver will give you a rough price estimate
4. Negotiate a price including a discount for booking with them the whole day
5. Off you go!
Many hotels and guest houses can also provide a dedicated driver for a day at a fixed rate.
Where to Stay on Phu Quoc
For most of our trip through Vietnam, we decided to stay exclusively at homestays to be close to the local communities. However, when visiting Phu Quoc, I highly recommend staying in a resort. There is no shortage of amazing properties and it’s the best way to experience the beach and island vibes.
We were so honoured to be one of the first guests stay at the newly opened Intercontinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort. The property is currently the only resort at Phu Quoc’s Long Beach. The property is a perfect blend of richness from the natural landscape with rustic charms of local village life.
Our favourite part about the resort was the unbeatable views from across the entire property. The resort itself is so big that I lost Toby a few times while we were out scouting photo locations. But I always quickly found him sipping coffee at the club lounge.
The island is no longer a well-kept secret only known to insiders and explorers. At the same time, it’s far away from resembling Phuket or Bali.
To us it is the island where everyone can still find their personal paradise: secluded beaches, romantic beachfront fine-dining, budget travel, adventure and water sports – it’s all there! Aside from all of that, it’s truly a great introduction to the beauty of Vietnam!
This post was made in collaboration with IHG Hotels. As always, all thoughts are my own.