Vietnam, Phu Quoc: beaches, fish sauce, pearls and other must-see on the island

Phu Quoc is the largest island of Vietnam, located just 4 km from the Cambodian coast. I was expecting only beaches and seafood there, and it turned out that the island has much more to offer. What to do in Phu Quoc? Read the post to find out!

I love the ocean, and if I have a good book and music in my earphones, I can spend long hours lying on the beach. When I was flying to Phu Quoc, the rainy season in Vietnam just started. It lasts from June to September and even when it does not rain, it is very cloudy. I had to forget about beaching then. 😉

Fortunately, I also love sightseeing, and I’ve learnt that the island of Phu Quoc may be more interesting than I expected.

Side note: Phú Quốc is the correct spelling, but do not ask me how to pronounce it because I’ve heard about three different versions. 😉

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Phu Quoc – where to sleep?

I went to Phu Quoc with my parents, who came to visit me in Vietnam. We stayed at the 3-star resort Langchia Village with a swimming pool (of course) and a beautiful garden. It’s located just outside Duong Dong, the main village on the island. But the town is so tiny that the resort is 15 minutes walking distance from the centre. We loved this place with beautifully designed rooms, and the service was very polite. One night with breakfast costs here around 35 USD per double room.

Here you can check availability and make a reservation.

However, the beach in Duong Dong is not special. South of the town, there are too many hotels covering it. The closer to town’s centre, the more polluted. Only when the beach bars start, it’s pretty and clean.

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Phu Quoc – where to eat seafood?

Right next to our resort we came across two seafood restaurants. Well, what else you can eat on a tropical island? 😉

The first place is called Cami. We found it by accident when we wanted to hide from the rain. We ordered some appetisers – shrimps with garlic, calamari and spring rolls. I am a crazy seafood lover, and practically no other meat can exist for me. So I’m very sensitive for under- or overcooked shrimps, as well as for rubber calamari. Here everything was perfect.

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The second place we found next to our resort. We ate there with my parents twice and I after I left my parents visited that place two more times. The restaurant is called Linda, and it’s newly opened. The owner previously worked at another restaurant but always dreamed of opening his own. He named it after his 2-years-old daughter.

The first evening he served us grilled fish and some other seafood. On the second night, we ordered the saute crab in a tamarind sauce. And it was orgasmic. 😀 Third night my parents had scallops and said it tasted even better than crabs. 😉

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Phu Quoc – scooter, car or tour?

Neither my parents nor I ride bikes. We wanted to see some of this island though, so we decided to rent a car. It turned out, however, that on Phu Quoc you cannot rent a car without a driver, so we had to opt for a private tour from a local tour operator.

We wanted to see the south of the island. After comparing prices in several places, we learnt that the best deal was with a local tour operator John’s Tours.

Hotel tours are always more expensive, but here we were offered 30 USD per person for a 4-hour group tour. John’s Tours offered us a private 8-hour trip for 20 USD per person (without lunch). The choice was simple.

PS. The same trip, but only six hours, is available in a group and costs 12 USD without lunch or 19 USD with a meal.

What to see in Phu Quoc? Pearls!

At first, we went to a pearl farm. Everybody knows what a pearl looks like but not everyone knows that it is considered a gemstone. Its value depends on many factors, like size, shape, colour and whether it is a natural or cultured pearl.

Natural pearls are expensive because it is dangerous to hunt them, and it depends on luck – in a haul of 3 tonnes, only 3 or 4 oysters will produce the pearl. Anyway, even ‘pollinating’ the oysters at the pearl farm will not guarantee a pearl. However, the cultured pearl can be high-priced if it is big and has a rather rare colour.

For instance, 10-year-old shelled mollusc can (but do not have to) produce a pearl size 8-18 mm. Its colour depends on the interior of the shell, and the rarest is black. At the pearl farm there is, of course, a jewellery shop (it’s plenty of them on the island), and the most expensive white necklace I found there cost 359 million dongs or 15,5 thousand American dollars.

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Where pepper grows and other delicacies

Later we visited the pepper plantation. I did not know before that every pepper – black, red, white and green – is one plant. Even the harvest season falls at the same time – at Phu Quoc, it is in February. In 2013 Vietnam was the biggest producer and exporter of black pepper (34% of world production).

The colour depends on the manufacturing process. If the red pepper is held in water for two days and then peeled, we get white pepper. Black is formed from green drupes dried in the sun for 2-3 weeks. Green pepper is also used in the kitchen – fresh goes well with meat.

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On the plantation, we also learned that pepper needs a lot of water (which is why it grows on wooden sticks that absorb moisture). Pepper plants bear first fruit after three years of growth and fructify for about two decades. After this time a new vine has to be planted. And what is the soil under pepper plants fertilised with? Keep reading to find out! 🙂

Besides, we also visited an apiary and vineyard, where they produce Myrtle wine and syrup. Tasting included!

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Waterfalls, pagodas and beaches

Okay, not everything was perfect during our trip. Suoi Tranh Waterfall, where you can swim, turned out to be small, uninteresting and boring after Lao waterfalls (but if you haven’t been to Laos yet, there is a chance that you will like it). Ho Quoc Pagoda is not that incredible, but it is worth to go there because of its beautiful location by the sea.

And famous Bai Sao beach… Well, it is beautiful, I have to admit. But it’s crowded with bathing pools and large party yachts that play loud disco music. Luckily, we ate there a very decent and tasty lunch of hot pot seafood. Delicious!

Fish and fish sauce from Phu Quoc

And since we’re talking about food, let’s see what Phu Quoc is famous for – fish and fish sauce!

We visited a fishing village with a large marina, where I wish we had spent the whole afternoon because the photos from there would be fascinating! And it was a great place for lunch because on both sides along the marina seafood restaurants floating on the big barrels were attached.

And at the end of our tour, we also visited a very smelly fish sauce factory. It was one of the most interesting points of the whole program though because we learned what does the sauce production look like on Phu Quoc.

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On the seafood market

The fishermen salt caught alive anchovies on the boat. Later the dead fish are thrown into the big barrel in the sauce factory. Such a large wooden ladle holds 12 tonnes of anchovies. After a year, even 40,000 litres of fish sauce is drained from the barrels. Later, fresh mineral water is poured into the fermented residue and kept there next 12 months. After this time, another portion of sauce is drained, and the process repeats. In total, it takes five years, and the fish sauce is produced five times. The first portion is the best (and most expensive) because it contains 40% protein, another 35%, then 30%, 25% and the last contains 20% protein. We tried 35% fish sauce, and it was tasty, though very salty!

And what do they do with these tonnes of fermented fish after five years? They use it to fertilise the soil under pepper plants! Nothing goes to waste. 🙂

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Coconut Prison

Opposite of the fish sauce factory is a rather unique ‘memoir’ of the history of the country – the Coconut Prison built by French colonists between 1949 and 1950. Later it was used during the Vietnam War as a prison for Communists and other South Vietnam dissentients and their allies.

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At first glance, the prison doesn’t seem to be anything special. But when we go inside, we see the scenes of cruel tortures, which the prisoners were subjected to.

The most famous exhibits in prison are the so-called tiger cages. They are tight cages made of barbed wire, set in the open area, without any cover from the burning sun and rain. Another way to torture was to close the prisoners in a tight metal container that was extremely hot during the day. At night the guards hammered into the walls to keep the prisoners awake.

In prison, several dozen different types of torture were used. Like cooking in a big wok or dazzling with a big lamp attached to the face. Or forcing the prisoners to tumble on a big hot metal sheet with holes with sharpened edges that tear off pieces of the body, not to mention nail plucking, tooth chiselling, etc.

In 1969, 24 prisoners, mainly communist leaders, escaped through the tunnel they dug under the fence using just a spoon. The tunnel was 120 meters long.

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What else to see at Phu Quoc?

Our trip covered only the south of the island. If I could stay a little longer, I would have discovered more beaches (and spent more time there than just 1.5 hours). In addition to the south of the island, you can also dive and snorkel and catch squid, which is very popular at night.

Speaking of nightlife- there is also a bioluminescent plankton on the island. It can be found practically everywhere where it is dark. But! Plankton, to shine, must have the strength and be in a good mood (seriously!). So whether you are going to see the glowing plankton, it depends on its whim. 🙂 But yes, at Phu Quoc it is possible to observe this phenomenon, so it is worth a try.

How many days to spend on Phu Quoc? It certainly depends on what you want to do there. For my part, I can only encourage you to discover this island more than from the perspective of the beaches, because it is absorbing. Well, and of course give yourself some time for all those delicious seafood! 😉 I think three days is enough.

In Vietnam, many places are missed to see the popular attractions of this country. But I encourage you to get to know it better than just from a classic must-see perspective. I think Phu Quoc is right to combine tours with great food and beach fun. 🙂

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