Phú Quốc: The Enchanted Pearl Island of Vietnam

There is a reason why travellers are smitten with the allure of this island off the coast of Vietnam. Nestled like a hidden gem in one of the most pristine azure waters you will ever see, Phú Quốc emerges as a tropical paradise, beckoning its shores with white-sand beaches, lush jungles, and an otherworldly tropical charm. Known as the "Pearl Island" of Vietnam, Phú Quốc is a captivating destination that has swiftly risen to prominence as one of Southeast Asia's most coveted getaways. With its breathtaking natural beauty, vibrant culture, and a history that bewitches through its landscapes, this island is a testament to the allure of Vietnam's southern coast. Curious? Follow me on Instagram and YouTube for more adventures! 

© Unsplash / Kamil Pietrzak

Phú Quốc's history is as diverse as the cultures that have touched its shores. The island's early inhabitants, including indigenous tribes and later, the Khmer Empire, wove their stories into its landscapes. Traces of their presence can still be found in hidden temples, mysterious ruins, and the rhythm of daily life. Then, throughout the colonial era, Phú Quốc was visited by seafaring traders, from the Dutch (imagine my surprise learning this as a Vietnamese-Canadian-Dutch traveller!) to the French, drawn to its strategic location. French colonial rule left its mark, notably through the haunting presence of Phú Quốc Prison, a stark reminder of darker times. In the 20th century, Phú Quốc's history was intertwined with the turbulence of the Vietnam War. It served as a military base for various forces, the island left as just another patch of land in the Pacific.

To this day, remnants of that era blend seamlessly with the island's tranquil beauty, serving as a testament to resilience and rebirth. Like a diamond that just needed to be shined, once dusted away Phú Quốc entered a renaissance. Its transformation into a world-class tourist destination gained momentum in the 21st century thanks to its verdant jungles and pristine beaches offering a refuge from the fast-paced world, while its luxury resorts and vibrant night markets cater to the modern traveller's desires.

© Logan Ly

Upon arriving at Phú Quốc International Airport, I was immediately greeted by the island's warm embrace and the gentle whispers of palm trees swaying in the sea breeze. My boyfriend and I was then checked in to JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa to experience the island's serene luxury.

But it truly does not matter if you are in a luxurious resort or a local hotel, as Phú Quốc is still an idyllic beach getaway for any beach lover. You can dive into the azure waters that beckon from every direction. Head to Sao Beach, with its powdery white sands and crystal-clear waters. You will soon find yourself mesmerized by the inviting sea, perfect for swimming and water sports. Oh and don't forget to enjoy some fresh seafood at one of the beachside eateries! 

© Logan Ly

As the sun sets over the horizon, venture to Dinh Cau Night Market. This bustling marketplace offers a glimpse into the island's vibrant culture and culinary scene. Sample local delicacies, pick up souvenirs, and my favourite vice? Indulging in freshly grilled seafood, which are all caught that morning.

Those who want a more Indiana Jones experience can explore more of Phú Quốc's lush interior. Head to the Phú Quốc National Park, where you can hike through dense jungles and trek up to the peak of Mount Chúa, the island's highest point. From the summit, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the island's emerald landscapes. You can also visit Suối Tranh Waterfall. This tranquil oasis offers a refreshing respite from the tropical heat. Take a dip in the cool emerald pools and marvel at the surrounding foliage.

© Unsplash / Trung Pham

Then there is the Phú Quốc Cable Car, which is one of the island's most iconic attractions and a remarkable engineering feat that offers visitors breathtaking panoramic views of the island's landscapes and the gulf surrounding Vietnam.

The Phú Quốc Cable Car is located on the southern coast of the island, connecting An Thoi Town to the picturesque Hon Thom Island (Pineapple Island). It's part of the Sun World Hon Thom Nature Park complex. At approximately 8 kilometres (5 miles) in length, the Phú Quốc Cable Car holds the Guinness World Record for the longest non-stop three-way cable car! It’s easy to have a whole cable car to yourself, so take your time soaking up the scenic journey. Standing so high above the sea, I was absolutely in awe with the breathtaking views of Phú Quốc's stunning landscapes, including lush green hills, spotless beaches, and the vibrant local fishermen boats bobbing in the turquoise waters. Apparently, on a clear day, you can even catch glimpses of Cambodia's coastline in the distance! 

© Unsplash / Đăng Nguyễn

The cable car journey takes you to Hon Thom Island, a picturesque destination known for its beautiful beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a range of recreational activities. I easily did a whole day trip here. The island is ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling, so just turn off your mind and unwind. But also upon reaching Hon Thom Island, you can explore Sun World Hon Thom Nature Park, which offers a variety of attractions and activities. These include an amusement park, an aquarium, a water park, a stunning glass-bottomed bridge, and dining options - all decked out to the nines of course. But the day is truly up to you, and as such, the freedom of Vietnam’s Pearl island. 

I think there is a stigma now, that Phú Quốc is too luxurious and reserved for resorts and high-rollers. While there is definitely that glitz to the once off-the-beaten path Phú Quốc, there is still a bohemian and off-charted vibe to the island. Phú Quốc's rich cultural diversity is still alive and well - reflected in its inhabitants, with the Kinh (Vietnamese), Khmer, and Chinese communities weaving a diverse mosaic of traditions and customs. This blend of cultures finds expression in local festivals, delicious cuisine, and the warm hospitality of the island's people. 

© Unsplash / Chris Slupski

There is also a huge culinary heritage of the island - as seen from Vietnam’s ubiquitous love for nước chấm! Also known as nước mắm fish sauce, Phú Quốc island is renowned for producing some of the finest and most sought-after fish sauce in Vietnam and the world. There’s a strong historical significance that ties to present-day production of it on the island. Phú Quốc fish sauce is celebrated for its exceptional flavour and quality, characterized by its sweet, savoury, and umami-rich taste. This unique flavour profile is attributed to the island's geographical features, including its pristine waters and abundant marine life.

The production of Nước mắm in Phú Quốc follows traditional methods that have been passed down through generations. Anchovies and other small fish, along with sea salt, are the primary ingredients used. After the fish are caught, they are cleaned, mixed with salt, and placed in wooden barrels to ferment and age. This fermentation process can last for months, during which the fish sauce gains its signature palette. Where better to make it than the coast that gives the island its own ingredients? This is to the point that Phú Quốc fish sauce has received recognition and protection as a Geographical Indication (GI) product. This designation ensures that only fish sauce produced on the island can be labelled as "Phú Quốc fish sauce," safeguarding its authenticity and origin.

© Logan Ly

Nước mắm holds cultural significance in Vietnamese cuisine and is a key ingredient in many traditional dishes. It is used as a condiment, a seasoning, and a flavor enhancer in numerous recipes, from dipping sauces to soups and stir-fries - it really cannot get more essential than this.

Phú Quốc's reputation for producing high-quality fish sauce has also become a huge draw for travellers. During my stay on the island at the JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa, we had a tour organized of a local fish sauce factory and learned about the intricate process of its production. Not many know, but the fish sauce industry on the island has contributed to its economic development and provides livelihoods for many local residents.

© Logan Ly

While Phú Quốc is adored for its stunning beaches, there’s marine life here that excites the locals just as much as those who sees them for the first time. Ong Lang Beach, located on the western coast of Phú Quốc, is a popular spot for observing actual starfish! The beach's calm, clear waters and gently sloping shorelines are ideal for wading into the water and searching for starfish. Especially when you are there at the best time during low tide. As the tide recedes, it reveals shallow pools and sandbars along the shoreline where these beautiful creatures often make their appearance.

When interacting with starfish, it is also essential to do so responsibly. Avoid touching or disturbing them, as they are delicate creatures. Admire them from a respectful distance, and never remove them from their natural habitat! You can also consider joining a guided snorkelling tour or excursion, where knowledgeable local guides can lead you to the best spots for starfish sightings. Snorkelling allows you to get up close and personal with a variety of marine life, including these famed starfish.

© Logan Ly

The "Pearl Island" of Vietnam, Phú Quốc has emerged as an irresistible blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and modern luxury. To understand why this island is such a treasure to Vietnam, is to walk its sun-kissed shores, timeless landscapes and swim in the turquoise sea that laps the shores. From the testaments of the island’s gastronomic heritage to the unbound nature, Phú Quốc is a soulful retreat for any modern day urbanite. 

© Unsplash / Andy Link

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