Phu Quoc Island

Lying off the southwest coast of the country, Phu Quoc is Vietnam's largest island. Just a few years ago it remained largely undeveloped, with beautiful sandy beaches along much of its coastline and forested hills inland, but the arrival of numerous new resorts sees its virgin land disappearing under concrete. Most of the beaches benefit from crystal clear waters, making them perfect for swimming. The island's remoteness and lack of infrastructure means that the pace of tourism development has been slow but the completion of the new international airport and port at An Thoi will release Phu Quoc from its quiet beach resort status. After the rigours of sightseeing, Phu Quoc is well worth a visit for a few days' relaxation in southern Vietnam.

Around the island

Vietnamese fish sauce (
nuoc mam
) is produced on Phu Quoc. You'll see dozens of fish laid out to dry on land and on trestle tables, destined for the fish sauce factory at
Duong Dong
, the island's main town. Here, 95 huge wooden barrels act as vats, each containing fish and salt weighing in at 14 tonnes and ringing in the till at US$5000 a barrel. If the sauce is made in concrete vats, the taste is lost and so the sauce is cheaper.

The island is also a centre for South Sea pearls, with 10,000 collected offshore each year. At the Phu Quoc Pearl Gallery, a video demonstrates the farming operation, the tasting of pearl meat and pearl-making is illustrated in the gallery. South of the pearl farm, on the coast road, are two whale dedication temples. Whales have long been worshipped in Vietnam. Ever since the days of the Champa, the whale has been credited with saving the lives of drowning fishermen. The Cham believed that Cha-Aih-Va, a powerful god, could assume the form of a whale in order to rescue those in need. Emperor Gia Long is said to have been rescued by a whale when his boat sank. After he ascended to the throne, Gia Long awarded the whale the title 'Nam Hai Cu Toc Ngoc Lam Thuong Dang Than' - Superior God of the Southern Sea. Coastal inhabitants always help whales in difficulty. If a whale should die, a funeral is arranged.

Inland, the Da Ban and Chanh streams and waterfalls are not very dramatic in the dry season but still provide a relaxing place to swim and walk in the forests.

The stunning, dazzling-white sands of Sao Beach, on the southeast coast, are worth visiting by motorbike but finding the beach can be difficult, as it is not well signposted, so you made need your resort or a tour operator to help you. One of the biggest draws are the boat trips around the An Thoi islands, which are scattered off the southern coast and offer opportunities for swimming, snorkelling and fishing.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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