I decided to travel to Phu Quoc before ITB Berlin with Tien, our MD in Vietnam, to get an update on the latest developments and hotels on the island. The developments are happening at such a lightning speed that it led to some saying: “You can’t visit this place anymore”. I wish to say this statement is completely wrong as the island is still visitor friendly; one just needs to be selective and have some basic knowledge to recommend the right beach and hotel to the right client.
Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island in the south and a year-round destination. The high season is from October to April when it welcomes a large number of Western tourists, with Asian travellers visiting the island during the summer months.
The island has good air accessibility. Domestic airlines fly to Phu Quoc from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, as well as from the country’s smaller cities. Both scheduled and chartered international flights operate into Phu Quoc airport from Thailand, China, Russia, UK, Italy and the Scandinavian countries. Several regional airlines are planning to add the island to their networks in the next 12-18 months.
Travel to the island is seamless: most visitors, including Western tourists, do not need a visa to visit Phu Quoc provided they don’t leave to the mainland and stay no longer than 30 days.
Charming boutique hotels are plentiful in the north-west and along the beach of Duong Dong, the island’s main town. You will find colonial style properties and eco resorts in the 2 to 4 star superior category, which are charming and have a lovely atmosphere with a Vietnamese flair. Larger local 5 star resorts, mostly built in the Asian contemporary style and many with private beach, also operate in this part of the island. Beaches are clean with white or light brown sand and offer water sports activities and excursions to nearby islands. There is a wide choice of restaurants offering tasty Vietnamese and seafood, as well as a small number of Western eateries.
The south-western part of the island is where most of the developments are taking place, and it is best to avoid this area until the infrastructure is completed in three to four years. The developments here are massive: tens of hotels, hundreds of villas, thousands of apartments, new roads, amusement parks, golf courses, artificial lakes and many more facilities are being built. The beaches on this part of the island are beautiful, but with the noise and dust from the ongoing construction they are not ideal for a quiet vacation.
On the other hand, the south-eastern beach, my personal favourite, where the island’s most luxurious hotel opened last year, is a great place to stay. There are also large ongoing developments here, but they are secluded from the hotel and guests are not disturbed.
On the day I was on Phu Quoc the world’s largest cable car was inaugurated. It is 8 kilometres long and 150 metres high, starts from Phu Quoc’s southern point and connects a series of smaller islands. The panorama is stunning, an ideal way to see the islands from above, and great for people prone to sea sickness since they don’t need a boat to visit the islands now.
What the southern islands are best known for, until the opening of this cable car as an added attraction, are snorkelling and diving. There are some really nice reefs in this part of Vietnam, and they make for interesting day excursions in combination with island visits, beach picnics and other marine activities.
Besides snorkelling, diving and fishing, Asian Trails also offers land excursions on Phu Quoc including forest walks, and visits to fishing village and pearl and pepper farms.
We just launched a foodie tour combining night market and fishing village visits with the tasting of local sea food and other goodies. The tour ends with the sampling of ice cream rolls that I have never seen in any other parts of Asia. We also arrange for lunches and dinners at local homes where guests are welcome to watch or help the host prepare the dishes.
Asian Trails opened its own office in Phu Quoc last year, as we believe in the island’s tourism potential. We are aware that not all the developments are sustainable, and we want to be an active adviser to the local authorities in protecting the environment and in providing long term income to the people. During this period of development, it is also of crucial importance for us to control our own operations since we don’t want to compromise on quality.
The Asian Trails Vietnam team and myself will be happy to advise tourism professionals in selecting suitable properties for their products on Phu Quoc, and to assist in matching the right customer to the right hotel.