We decided to chase the sun for a few days before spending Christmas and New Year in chilly Hanoi.
Like amateur travelers we opted for a pre-booked hotel transfer which cost us 2 and a half times the cost of a cab. After paying a decent price for our hotel at Long Beach we were disappointed to discover that our “pool suite” was basically a 1st floor room with a view of the pool from the balcony. Note to self: when booking ensure that you do a quick Google Earth search to see if the pricey “beachfront” hotel you are booking is in fact on the beach. Granted it was only about 80m to the beach but rather than through a path form the hotel it was through the lanes around other resorts.
Large sections of the beach have been taken over by resorts which have laid out their sunbeds leaving no room for casual visitors on the beach and charge said casuals 200 000 VND (US$8) for the privilege of using on of the sunbeds (needless to say we opted not to do this).
We chose to rather go to the beach early in the morning for a swim – the sea was like a lake and really shallow for a fair distance from the shore. The evenings were also magnificent with magical sunsets.
We rented a bike and ventured south as we had read about the new cable car that opened earlier in 2018. It is the longest non-stop three-wire cable car in the world, as verified by the Guinness Book of World Records.7.998km. I am not great with heights, but the view was so spectacular I was not fazed by the height at all. You travel over sea for most of the trip with a few sections over island where the support pillars are located. You pass over crystal clear blue seas where you can see the corals and then over fishing villages where hundreds of fishermen are plying their trade.
The cable car connects the town of An Thoi with the island of Hon Thom, which is being developed as a resort island – when we went only one area was open to the public and a free shuttle bus took us from the cable car station to the beach which has been well laid out with plenty of space to lay on the grassed area or sand, as well as having a few hammocks and sunbeds (at not extra cost) there is a giant inflatable obstacle course which was being thoroughly enjoyed by adults and kids alike. There are also kayaks which are free to use and a couple of paid activities like jet skiing and parasailing – these activities will no doubt increase as more of the island beaches are opened to the public. We discovered that there is also a free shuttle bus from various points on Phu Quoc Island to the cable car station for those who do not want to ride there.
After a very enjoyable day we meandered back to our hotel and stopped off a couple of times to explore – the amount of construction taking place on the southern coast is unreal, with extremely expensive resorts and villas being built right on the beach.
Seafood is definitely the most popular cuisine (for obvious reasons) and early evening on the beach we would see a few basket boats going to the fishing boats to collect their wares for the night’s seafood barbeque – you can opt for a platter or purchase each ingredient in your own quantity – e.g. prawns 10 000VND each (i.e. 2 for US$1), we tried a few different restaurants – mostly little local ones and the quality was good at all of them.
In our search for a less cluttered “developed” beach we came across a secluded stretch north of Duong Dong town at the end of a cul de sac in the Ong Lang Beach area and although there was a restaurant on the beach it was a very quiet and peaceful beach with calm clear sea.
Heading further north along the west coast we, once again, wandered off the path most travelled and stumbled across a resort where we stopped for a spot of lunch – a stunningly beautiful beach and setting but once again only accessible to guests of the resort. It seems that this is becoming the norm in a lot of the coastal areas we visit lately.
The next day we opted to drive to the opposite side of the island (north east) and found that we had the highway across the central region virtually to ourselves – and what a well-maintained highway it was. Although it didn’t feel like we were climbing there was a distinct drop in temperature towards the middle of our journey. Once we reached Bai Thom we found a little spot with hammocks on the waters edge for a caphe sua da (iced Vietnamese coffee) and lemonade while enjoying the tranquillity and when the sky cleared, we could see Cambodia! Phu Quoc was once a territory of Cambodia and is only 4 km away across the Gulf of Thailand.
A short drive down the coast we got to Hon Mot Island which is a tiny island accessible by a rickety bridge from the mainland (only a distance of about 20m) in fact in low tide it would be easier to walk through the water. A little daunting, was the sign we saw as we got onto the land warning us that this was a “mine” area! Needless to say, we stayed on the pathways. This would be a great place to bring a picnic basket and enjoy an afternoon – as a few locals had opted to do. Although the weather wasn’t great it is easy to see that the snorkelling would be really good around here.
We rounded of a great day with a stop at one of the pepper farms – Phu Quoc pepper is considered among the world’s best due to the farms’ natural farming and processing methods as well as the mineral rich soils and favourable climate. Note: the costs of the pepper at the farm was way higher than we had seen in town, so we opted to buy both our fresh and dried pepper corns at the market.
We couldn’t visit a new town without the obligatory visit to the night market – this one was less hectic that some we have been to, as this one favoured seafood restaurants. Another small tip about the markets – particularly the night markets – don’t buy from the first stall you get to as these are often (not always) more expensive and the goods get cheaper as you get nearer the middle of the market. A chance encounter with some friends from our home and now also living in Hanoi led to a very relaxed boozy afternoon on the beach the next day – a welcome distraction indeed.
My faith in humanity was well and truly restored when I lost my purse and only discovered this after gathering goods in the mini market, I assumed initially that I had dropped it in the shop but after searching found nothing, and thought I may have dropped it en route so we retraced our drive from the harbour to the shop and when I went back in to ask the attendants to keep an eye out for me I saw a young lady looking at my drivers licence (obviously to identify me) – I have never been so happy to see someone. She had picked it up on the pavement a few metres away and assumed I had gone into the shop. All the contents were intact and the lady who found it refused any form of reward.
Overall our trip to Phu Quoc was pleasant and an enjoyable lead up to Christmas.