Say ‘xin chào’ to Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc (pronounced “foo kwok”), an island off the southwest coast of Vietnam, is one of South East Asia’s best kept secrets.
Here are eight great reasons to book your flight to this island paradise - before everyone else does

T-shirt temperatures

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The signs are unmistakable. It’s wet, windy and dark at four o clock so it must be time to head abroad and bask in some winter sun. If the daily grind is getting you down and you need to recharge your batteries in a tropical paradise, look to Phu Quoc.
When in Britain the sky is the colour of porridge, the leaves are falling and everyone is succumbing to the cough-ice, in Phu Quoc it’s hot. Not sweltering sunstroke hot you understand, but blue skies, smattering of clouds, top up the tan (the island enjoys an average temperature of around 27C) hot.

 

Getting there is easier than ever
Despite its seclusion, the island is easier to reach than ever thanks to the recent launch of direct flights from Gatwick to Phu Quoc International Airport, with travel giant TUI.
Meanwhile other parts of the country such as Ho Chi Minh (known as Saigon until the end of the Vietnam War) is just a 40 minute hop from the island, while the capital Hanoi is only two hours away by air.
Furthermore tourists to Phu Quoc, can visit visa-free for up to 30 days. Result!

 

What lies beneath

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Seven tenths of the world is covered in water and as satirist Dave Barry once quipped: “Staying on top of the water is like standing outside the circus tent.” As enjoyable as activities above the water are, it’s what lies beneath that is of real interest - particularly in Phu Quoc whose waters are home to nearly 108 species of corals, 135 species of coral reef fish, 132 different types of mollusks and more.
Phu Quoc is also one of the few places in Vietnam where wildlife enthusiasts can spot unique species such as the green turtle, the hawksbill turtle and dugong, the hawksbill turtle and green turtle. Get those flights booked now.

 

Phu Quoc’s pearls
Phu Quoc is famed for its pearls (not for nothing is the island known as Pearl Island).
Make no mistake: Phu Quoc’s pearl farms cultivate some of the most beautiful pearls on the planet, many of which go onto be designed into stunning jewellery. Pearl Farms also demonstrate the process of extracting a pearl from an oyster which can take three to seven years to create a single teardrop.

 

The JW Marriott Phu Quoc

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Calling the JW Marriott Phu Quoc a luxury hotel is like calling champagne a fizzy drink: a major understatement.
The creation of architect Bill Bensley, the five star JW Marriott is styled as an early 20th Century French colonial university and its buildings are referred to as faculties.
Through whimsical antiques and original artefacts, the quirky tale - told with the winking participation of the staff - is so compelling you may just find yourself believing it. 
he sprawling beachfront resort, which recently hosted the 2017 World Travel Awards, boasts 244 rooms spread across 30-acres, in addition to a 50m-long infinity pool, Chanterelle spa and staff dressed as if from a page of The Great Gatsby. This is no ordinary luxury resort.

www.jwmarriottphuquoc.com

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Park life
The island, part of a Unesco-protected Biosphere Reserve, is richly forested - roughly 70 per cent is designated a national park. Expect tropical rainforests featuring waterfalls and mountains including Chua Mountain which, at 603m, is the highest on Phu Quoc.
However if you all want to is flop on a beach with a good book (we wouldn’t blame you), you’re in luck: Phu Quoc is home to around 20 unspoilt beaches.
Sao Beach has long been considered the “crown jewel” of Phu Quoc owing to sand the colour of icing sugar, but Long Beach, Starfish Beach (whose name derives from its red starfish) and Khem Beach are all good bets.

 

To market, to market
When night falls, head to Duong Dong’s Dinh Cau Night Market which runs from 7-11pm each evening.
Queue up with the locals at the numerous food stalls that line the street serving Vietnamese specialities like Banh mi (aka the world’s best sandwich), pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and Vietnamese coffee (celebrated for its liberal use of sweetened condensed milk).
he night market is also the place to pick up designer knock-offs and souvenirs such as the Vietnamese conical hat (non la), pepper (Vietnam is the largest exporter of pepper in the world) and fish sauce (which is to Phu Quoc what olive oil is to Italy).
Case in point? Back in 2013, Phu Quoc’s fish sauce became the first Vietnamese product to be given the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin Status, which recognises local goods “whose quality or properties are significantly or exclusively determined by the geographical environment”.

 

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History lesson
Phu Quoc has history, as demonstrated by Coconut Prison (so called because it was built in a coconut grove).
This camp originally housed PoWs during the French Colonial War, and then 40,000 North Vietnamese during the Civil War in the 1960s and 1970s. 
Confronting the horrors of the regime - which saw prisoners placed in a sack and shoved in an oven or pushed naked into tiger cages and left in the glare of the fierce sun until their skin burnt off, among other crimes - is harder than you could ever imagine.
But visit you must: not only out of respect for the victims, but out of necessity. 
Or as the great philosopher, George Santayanas, once said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
 

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Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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