Phu Quoc, Vietnam

This is the second in a two part series from Vietnam that includes a recent trip to Saigon and Phú Quốc. Phu Quoc is a Vietnamese island in the Gulf of Thailand, off the coast of Cambodia. It’s known for its white-sand beaches, world-class resorts, and great Vietnamese people and food.

Epic sunset at Phu Quoc
Sunset from Long Beach; GFX 50R 32mm ISO-200 1/1100sec f/4

Phu Quoc has quickly become the go-to place for many of Vietnam’s elite when they want time away from the hustle and bustle of Saigon or Hanoi. It has also become a hot-spot for global tourists, especially those from Russia and Europe.

Phu Quoc has quickly become the go-to place for many of Vietnam’s elite when they want time away from the hustle and bustle of Saigon or Hanoi.

For this portion of the trip, we stayed at the La Veranda, an MGallery Sofitel hotel, for four nights. The hotel was built and designed by the French national Madame Catherine, in a 1930’s French colonial style. It’s a small boutique hotel with 70 rooms with beautiful buildings and meticulously kept grounds. There’s of course a beautiful and well kept beach as well.

La Veranda Hotel
La Veranda; LEICA M10 35mm ISO-200 1/180sec f/4.8
La Veranda Resort Phu Quoc
La Veranda Villa; GFX 50R 32mm ISO-400 1/80sec f/4
La Veranda Phu Quoc
La Veranda pool area; GFX 50R 36.9mm ISO-200 1/80sec f/13
Phu Quoc flame dinner
Dinner at Le Jardin at La Veranda; LEICA M10 50mm ISO-3200 1/90sec f/2.4

Epic sunsets

Whenever we’re at a hotel facing west and on the ocean, we always prioritize sunset time for capturing images and watching another day go to rest. Phu Quoc did not disappoint. The sunsets were full of beautiful colours with deep reds, purples and oranges.

Sunset Phu Quoc
GFX 50R 200mm ISO-100 1/85sec f/5.6
Sunset Phu Quoc
LEICA M10 35mm ISO-200 1/2000sec f/1.4
Sunset Phu Quoc
GFX 50R 200mm ISO-250 1/250sec f/5.6

Epic food

Like all of Vietnam, Phu Quoc has awesome food around every corner. The food at our hotel and the hotels we visited were all great; the food at the small street stalls, and in the low and high end restaurants, were fresh and excellent. I can’t recall a bad meal in all of our trips to Vietnam and this trip was no exception; even the “mediocre” food in Vietnam is still great by other country’s standards.

I can’t recall a bad meal in all of our trips to Vietnam.

There were a number of restaurants and coffee shops we enjoyed in Phu Quoc including:

Saigonese Eatery
Shar-E-Punjab Indian Cuisine (a cool vibe eating outside on picnic tables)
Spice House
Le Jardin and Pepper Tree
The Home Pizza (please don’t judge us; we had been eating Vietnamese food everyday for nine days straight and wanted to see what it’s like to eat foreign food in Vietnam. Needless to say, it was pretty damn good!)
Phu Foc Courtyard Restaurant and Bar
Luna Bar
Tarapaca Coffee

Saigonese Eatery Phu Quoc
Saigonese Eatery; LEICA M10 35mm ISO-200 1/90sec f/5.6
Shar-E-Punjab Phu Quoc
Shar-E-Punjab Indian Cuisine; LEICA M10 35mm ISO-1250 1/90sec f/2.8
Spice House
Spice House; LEICA M10 35mm ISO-800 1/60sec f/8

Very cool gym experience

The La Veranda hotel gym was a bit underwhelming so we looked around the area for rental gyms and were surprised to find a gym nearby for only VND 50,000 or about US$3 per day. The World of Gym 4 turned out to be a super cool experience. It’s designed so that you feel like you’re partially outdoors and in the middle of an urban jungle. The equipment was top notch with all the latest machines and plenty of new (or very well maintained) free weights. We went twice during our four nights and loved the experience of working out with the locals, expats and tourists.

A hard dose of reality

As the readership of this blog increases, I’ve started to see patterns in the messages I receive via the contact form. One pattern is people asking if the photos depict the reality they will experience when they arrive at these same destinations. That’s a tough question to answer because every city has its dark side and we, as tourists, typically stick to the areas that convey the best each city has to offer. However, starting with this trip, I’m going to try and share a bit more about the reality in the cities that we visit so that you can have a better sense of what to expect.

Rubbish

Like Bali and Koh Samui, Phu Quoc has stunning white sand beaches with not a trace of garbage in sight. This is the reality you have if you stay in a decent resort. Stray further however to a public beach, or when the tide comes in from a different direction, and you may find your beach (and conscience) inundated with rubbish. Some of this rubbish comes from the island itself, while some comes from neighbouring countries, cities and other unknown sources.

Rubbish in Phu Quoc
GFX 50R 50mm ISO-200 1/340sec f/8

Within the city itself, there is rubbish strewn in the back alleys and sometimes on the main roads. It’s tragic to see the stunning natural beauty with all this rubbish about, but it’s the reality of a developing city or country. We’ve seen the same in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand (less so), Indonesia, and also some of the rougher parts of developed countries like the USA.

Construction

While we were there, all of Phu Quoc was under construction. From the tiles being laid on the main road, to the massive resort under construction behind ours, to the endless pounding of machines, concrete dust, jackhammers, and trucks, it seemed like all of Phu Quoc is being reconstructed.

It seemed like all of Pho Quoc is being reconstructed.

It is not my expertise, nor my position to posit on whether this is good or bad for the Phu Quoc locals; I hope this construction boom is good for the local population and I hope that the locals’ lives are enhanced by this change. As a tourist however, you should be aware there will be noise, blocked roads, and perhaps, a reduction in the reasons why you wanted to go to Phu Quoc in the first place.

Construction in Phu Quoc
GFX 50R 50mm ISO-200 1/550sec f/8

Sea lice

Something that we experienced in the water in Phu Quoc that was new to us, but apparently quite common in tropical areas is something unfairly called “sea lice“. The correct term is sea bather’s eruption. They are invisible to the eye jellyfish larvae that sting you in the water. The sting feels like a needle pricking you and can cause some redness, itchiness and potentially a rash; we did not experience a rash, but we did get the needle prick and the itchiness.

At certain times, the number of stings was one every few seconds, while at other times, there would be no stings in 30 minutes of being in the water. We researched this further and found out that they come and go, but one reliable way to keep them away is to wear sun block. Something in the ingredients keeps them away. While these little buggers were annoying, they didn’t stop us from enjoying the sea and the beautiful beaches.

Conclusion

Phu Quoc is another great option In Southeast Asia for beach, resort and food lovers. Food and transportation are economical with lots of choices for things to do, places to visit, and things to eat. However, the resorts are relatively expensive compared to Thailand and Indonesia, and the service industry is still very much developing. Furthermore, the town has a long way to go before it can challenge places like Ubud or Seminyak for cleanliness and convenience.

Vietnamese Puppy
Adorable puppy posing for the GFX; GFX 50R 50mm ISO-160 1/125sec f/4
Phu Quoc night sky
Surprisingly vivid night sky in Phu Quoc; GFX 50R 32mm ISO-400 50sec f/4

We would love to come back to Phu Quoc again for one reason, to stay at the stunning JW Marriott Emerald Bay. It was fully booked during the holiday season so we didn’t get our chance, but we will find a way to make it back to experience this hotel. Perhaps by the time we make our second visit to Phu Quoc, some of the construction will have settled down, and the experience will be an even better one.

Flower at spa
Spa at La Veranda; GFX 50R 50mm ISO-200 1/500sec f/3.5

Nothing changes a person more than the humility gained from experiencing different people, places and cultures.

With that, I would like to wish you a Happy New Year and all the best in 2020! I hope that you get to visit many countries in the new year and that you’ll share those experiences with your family and friends. It is my belief that nothing changes a person more than the humility gained from experiencing different people, places and cultures.

Standup paddling
GFX 50R 130.6mm ISO-200 1/250sec f/5.6

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