Phu Quoc is an island in the extreme south west tip of Vietnam, and sits in the gulf of Thailand. It’s so far west in fact that looking at it on a map it looks like it should belong to Cambodia. It’s a small island, only about 50km long but is actually Vietnam’s largest offshore posession. As of a couple years ago it doesn’t even require a Visa so there are now a number of flights direct here from overseas and it’s exploding as a beach getaway destination for (based on what I saw) lots of russians and expats. In addition to being an international destination it’s all of a 45min flight from Saigon so a weekend getaway destination for those with means as well. My purpose here was to get a bit of scuba diving in and actually spend a bit of time relaxing as this has been a pretty active trip so far.
It’s a pretty place as you land, still mostly forested unlike a lot of Vietnam. Most of the island is the one coastal road with mostly small narrow tracts of land down to the beach with hotels (at least on this section, other areas are wilder.) There are a number of mega resorts further from town though and from what I understand at least 5 more under construction. Personally I’d chosen a small cheap-ish resort near-ish the town of Duong Dong since I still had a bit of heavier spending ahead but if I was going back I’d spend a tiny bit more and be closer to the beach or perhaps one of the remote ones in the north or east of the island. That said it was a cute little hotel with a small but nice swimming pool.
The beach stretching south of Duong Dong town is called Long Beach. As mentioned the side closest the ocean is unsurprisingly hotels, the other side snakes against the hills and is mostly shops and restaurants with the occasional narrow lane snaking upwards with smaller guest houses and homes. My little resort was on one of these just off the road, thankfully quiet from the main road-ish.
Unfortunately for the realities of life my absolute first priority was laundry as I was out of even vaguely clean clothing. I forget if I’ve mentioned on this before but in this part of the world you usually get your laundry done by the kilo, taking it in and picking it up washed, dried and folded a day later at worst. On Phu Quoc this cost me the grand total of ~$1usd a kilo. I know, the pure excitement of this travelogue.
Laundry sorted I headed north and started scouting food for my stay as well as making the most unfortunate mistake of stopping in at my dive shop and arranging my pickup in person. My resort was called Bamboo Resort or some such but there was also Bamboo Cottages and Bamboo something else. The french guy who seemed to be one of the senior dive folks got it in his head that I was at one of the other ones and told me my pickup site would be at hotel X in the morning. When I got back to the area of my hotel and didn’t see the place I looked it up and it was a 35m walk in the opposite direction, it would be closer to walk to the actual shop at 7 in the morning. This began a 4 hour email chain with the shop that ended with them giving me a list of stops that were all closer to my hotel (I was 90% sure) but insisting that the original one was closest despite me twice providing them with an actual address to look up. At this point they had closed and I was screwed. Looking back I wish I’d just cancelled and gone with a less obtuse operator but these guys were the top rated for the island and I had a reserved spot.
While this had been going on I’d been doing more pleasant things at least. I’d changed into my new shorts/fake swim trunks and found the nearest path down to the beach. Since it obligingly faced west I was treated to a gorgeous sunset over rippling waves. The water was quite clear and the beach not too bad, certainly better than the one near Hoi An. The water was also like 29c and like stepping into a heated pool. In fact, after I walked back up to the hotel and got all warm again I hopped into the pool and it was significantly colder (though refreshing.)
Dinner that night was indulging the want for north american style meat that had been so cruelly quashed the night before. Right next door to my hotel was a burger joint run by an American ex-pat named Winston. My hotel had told me it was tasty (which I’m always leery about when it’s just next door) but it actually showed up in Lonely Planet as well. I had a delicious bacon burger made with some juicy aussie beef, a plate of tasty wedges and a couple beers. Expensive by Viet standards but sometimes you just have a craving.
The next morning I sucked it up and walked down to my super handy pickup point which took fully 10 minutes longer than the google estimate (normally I can beat the est. by about 15%) to find the van waiting and the same french dude reappearing from somewhere saying ‘I went to your hotel.’ I said, no you didn’t.. blah blah blah.. and he completely ignored me because it was my fault we were running late… yeah right. Sure enough we picked up two people at closer stops to my hotel, one all of a 5m walk away. Assholes.
By 8 we were all on the dive boat regardless and began cruising to the north of the island for our dive sites. Along the way we stopped a couple times at the more remote resorts and the little shore boat we were towing went in to pick up people from the beach. It took us about two hours to reach the north end of the island (she was not a fast boat since even with the stops that was at most a 20km journey.) I had to laugh at the type A American business consultant woman who I heard comment multiple times about how she didn’t expect so much of the time just to be travelling etc. You come to a place like this to relax lady, you’re on a boat trip along a beautiful tropical island. Chill.
I spent most of the trip talking to a dutch couple who were just planning to snorkel. I’d actually read a few posts about the diving that said that the snorkeling was just as good or better, but having been screwed over on the last trip I wanted to get under for a bit. I know I’ve said it before but a good dive boat is the best of the human race. People from all over the world managing to communicate and have a good time mostly talking about their love of the sea.
For our actual dive I was paired up with a swiss german named Peter and lead by Simon a man from Saint-Tropez with a French father and a Vietnamese mother. After convincing him that no I absolutely did NOT need a wetsuit in 29c water and would be fine in a rashguard. We dropped under and went down about an 8m average to skim around the reef. Visibility wasn’t superb, 3-5m depending on the current where we were. The warm water coral was quite pretty but life wise the variety was unfortunately minimal. As is unfortunately a running theme on this travelogue the vietnamese have a serious problem with overfishing and anything of any size whatsoever is sitting in a tank at the night market. Combined with the fact that the new mega resorts have already closed two of their previous dive sites and one wonders about the future of the passtime on Phu Quoc.
Dive two was a bit shallower on the other side of the same reef but visibility was better. Saw a few more things but the highlight was probably a single pretty anenome no one had poached yet with a couple anenomefish darting in and out. Once we started the slow journey back our deckhand/chef brought out lunch: a simple but tasty vietnamese buffet of rice, chicken, tofu, morning glory and noodles. I’ll say this for them, on the boat they were a good crew of dive leaders. Back on land however, the asshat told the driver to take me back to the pickup point, I mean I’d literally pointed out the hotel as we drove by. In the end I’d planned to just hop off at one of the other drop off points but we he got held up by a garbage truck near-ish my laundry place I just insisted that they let me off there. It was such an unnecessary trial to deal with.
Grabbing a couple ciders at the minimart I took everything back to the hotel and hopped in the pool with a book, leaning on the edge and reading for probably an hour and a half before grabbing a very nice curry dinner and heading to bed early-ish where I wrote a blog post and struggle to last past 9 (as is usual on diving days.)
The next day was pure relaxation. Slept in as long as I could (8:30 when the dude cleaning the pool was right outside my window.) Had a relaxed breakfast. Spent most of the day walking the beach and occasionally taking a swim. Eventually wound up back at the hotel and read a book and drank a few drinks by the pool. Rubbed the tummy of the hotel dog a bit. I wandered down to the night market which was a large number of seafood restaurants, many selling exotic stuff and I just couldn’t patronize them given what I’d seen the previous day. Had a tasty vietnamese dinner further back up the road then hung out in a weird courtyard bar where they played 90s/early oughts alterna-rock while playing chaplin films on a projector. It was a nice bit of a recharge.
Thinking back to it now it feels like it may be on its way to being Vietnam’s Phuket (Russians and all.) I enjoyed it a lot, the main beach is kept clean at least though again there’s the garbage and plastic problem everywhere. From reading things ahead of time some of the other beaches are less clean. The authorities are also letting the new resorts build restaurants out on tiny islands and blocking off the snorkeling sites as a result. Here’s hoping they settle down a bit soon on the big hotels, expand the marine reserves and actually enforce them.