Phuc Quoc, Vietnam
Fringed with white-sand beaches and with large tracts still cloaked in dense, tropical jungle, Phu Quoc rapidly morphed from a sleepy island backwater to a must-visit beach escape for Western expats and sun-seeking tourists. Beyond the resorts lining Long Beach and development beginning on the east coast, there's still ample room for exploration and escaping. Dive the reefs, kayak in the bays, eat up the back-road miles on a motorbike, or just lounge on the beach, indulge in a massage and dine on fresh seafood.
Phu Quoc is not really part of the Mekong Delta and doesn’t share the delta’s extraordinary ability to produce rice. The most valuable crop is black pepper, but the islanders here have traditionally earned their living from the sea. Phu Quoc is also famed across Vietnam for its production of high-quality fish sauce.
Lying in hammock, looking out over a glassy Gulf of Thailand glowing amber from the setting sun, consider yourself lucky to be in the know about one of Vietnam’s best kept secrets. Covering a total area of 574 square kilometres, Phu Quoc Island gets almost none of the press as those islands over in Thailand — and yet with its rugged jungle, seductive sands and sparkling waters, it more than matches them. Sadly, developers have taken notice of the island’s potential and change is afoot. With a new international airport, cruise ship port and an enticing visa-exemption scheme, Phu Quoc is being primed for mass tourism.
Phu Quoc is at a crossroads and while the days of snagging a $20 beachside bungalow are almost over, reasonable accommodation can still be found. Reasonable accommodation does not include Vinpearl Resort, the behemoth 750-keys hotel that defies all sane reason. Opened in 2014 and devouring what once was considered the prettiest beach of the island, the complex includes Vinpearl Land amusement and water park, an aquarium, golf course and the new Vinpearl Safari, which claims to host more than 200 rare animals. One can only shake their head and wonder where and how they procured a Bengal tiger, rhino and lions. Next on the “oh please no” list on the same stretch of coast is Grand World, a casino, resort, condo and shopping mall development.