An Island Escape: Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Our second honeymoon on this tropical island is beginning with all the features we have imagined; a tranquil, romantic environment away from the fast pace of the modern world, where time is inconsequential.

That evening we stroll hand in hand along the otherwise deserted beach, small fishing boats are just visible in the indistinct distance, lined up ready for their night’s work, their lights twinkling like a myriad of fireflies. Gentle waves wash lazily on to the expanse of yellow sand rimmed by dark green vegetation, where banana palms and hibiscus tangle with unidentifiable creepers and shrubs.

The island is nicknamed ‘The Emerald Island’ for its glimmering natural greenery. It all sets a magical ambience for dinner, and with expectations of a good meal, we take our seats at a table which has been set-up on a small wooden pier that stretches into the shallows of the water, a white suited waiter stands in the shadows while we choose a suitable wine and search the menu. White tablecloths, silver cutlery, candles, and the sunset over the ocean as the floorshow.

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Beach Phu Quoc
Photo: Geoff Hopkins

Holidays on Phu Quoc are not to be associated with rudimentary desert island living; the island is peppered with quality, luxury resorts hidden away among hectares of tropical forest, which have been tamed into luscious manicured gardens. We are staying at Chen Sea Resort and Spa in a beautiful thatched villa with its own private swimming pool and a view directly on to the beach.

Decisions are no harder than whether to stay reclining on the sun lounge waited on by smiling waiters bearing Pina Coladas, or taking the occasional foray into the infinity pool or tranquil waters of the turquoise sea.We delight in endless days of sunbaking and swimming.The high point of such lazy days is a relaxing massage together either under the shade of the palm trees or in the well-appointed spa. 

After a couple of days of total relaxation we are ready for some adventure and the ever-helpful concierge suggests that we might like to go snorkelling on the off- shore reef.We wade through the tepid sandy shallows before ploughing into the cooler, deeper waters, which are clear and blue above a pristine white sandy floor. The reef is only 100 metres out and we soon spot a medley of gaily coloured fish flitting in and out of the coral feeding on an abundance of seaweed and plankton.There isn’t another soul in sight as we return to the beach.

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Local markets in Duong Dong
Local markets in Duong Dong, photo: Geoff Hopkins

A day of exploration is warranted and we head out in a taxi. For the more adventurous there are motorcycles for hire but the twisting dirt roads, particularly in some of the more remote locations, can be hazardous. Our first stop is Suoi Tranh Waterfall; it isn’t a great waterfall, as waterfalls go, but a pleasant and cool environment where we paddle our feet and survey the surrounding lush rainforest.We can see Mount Chua in the distance, which at 603 metres is the highest mountain on Phu Quoc – it forms part of the Ham Ninh sandstone chain of mountains which stretches for 30 kilometres along the eastern edge of Phu Quoc.There are plans to build a walking trail up to a lookout at the top.

As we continue through small villages we notice large plastic sheets covered in black pepper drying in the sun. A stall has been set up and the enterprising pepper grower is selling a range of pepper products.We stop to admire them and a young girl offers us a tray of freshly picked star fruit, cut into wedges and sprinkled with salt. Refreshed and ready to move on we continue into Duong Dong, the only town on the island.The streets are empty of people, who are congregated in the small roadside restaurants, sitting on small stools eating rice or noodle dishes and drinking either green tea or beer. We stop to have lunch and delight at the descriptions and variety of the food on offer.“Sautéed frogs stomach with chive flowers, jumping snail and green mango salad, zebra snails and banana flower salad, painted sweet lips head hotpot and pork porridge with century old egg.” I opt for a plain barbequed fish with stir fry vegetables. 

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The air reeks of fish sauce as the pungent aroma of fermenting anchovies attacking our olfactory senses confirms our arrival at the Fish Sauce factory long before we pull up. Groups of Vietnamese aficionados are queued at the counter with large bottles of variously aged fish sauce. In the cool cellar huge vats line the stone wall, as in a winery, they are used to refine the raw material into the end product. The large tap at the front of the vat is dribbling slowly filling
a smaller container below.The smell is so overwhelming it makes our eyes water. The fish sauce (nuoc nam) is renowned as Vietnam’s finest.

The view from the Chen Sea Island Resort & Spa

The humble fishermen are the mainstay of this economy and Phu Quoc prawns and fish are sought after by the best restaurants on the mainland.We are lucky enough to be invited to join a small squid boat operated by two friendly local men we meet on the beach.We speak no common language, but small talk isn’t necessary, as Mr Sun and Mr Min steer the boat out towards the dramatic sunset to join the other boats positioned along the skyline, all with the same focus.

With gestures and hand signals we are taught how to throw a line and when our first small squid is hauled in we feel very accomplished.After a couple of hours our boat turns for home to deposit us at a thatched beach shack where local women are barbequing red snapper and prawns taken off the fishing boats that morning.This restaurant has a sandy floor and a barefoot dress code.The proprietor, an Australian who had stayed on after the Vietnam War (and whose Vietnamese wife is chief cook, waitress and general factotum) regales us with his adventures, accompanied by a continuous flow of ice-cold beer.

Phu Quoc is a wonderfully romantic destination for couples, an island paradise where the peace is only broken by the repetitive breaking of the waves on the beach before falling asleep at night.This is a great escape to paradise; progress hasn’t spoiled the landscape or the simple fishing villages dotted around the island but has allowed cocoons of luxury where the simple life can be combined with luxurious accommodation, wonderful food, and a beautiful and relaxing environment. 

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Enjoy a massage at Chen Sea Island Resort & Spa


Vietnam Airlines flies daily to Ho Chi Minh City from Melbourne with daily connections to Phu Quoc. Jetstar fly from major Australian cities to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.


Chen Sea Island Resort & Spa, Phu Quoc Island or Mango Bay Resort, Phu Quoc Island.


The resorts have their own restaurants with a focus on local foods, seafood being at the top of the agenda, cooked with Vietnamese flair and tradition.There are small local restaurants beach side or in the main town of Duong Dong.


While in Ho Chi Minh City visit the Cu Chi Tunnels and War Remnants Museum, a stark reminder of the ingenuity, devastation and senselessness of war. In Hanoi – visit the Hanoi Opera House, a beautiful art-nouveau building in the French quarter. On Phu Quoc Island operators offer kayaking, diving, snorkelling, fishing and day tours to the An Thoi Islands. Water taxis are prevalent along the west coast of the island which will take the adventurous tourist into Duong Dong. 


Eating delicious Vietnamese traditional street foods – pho has to be top of the list.


The romance, peace and tranquillity of this tropical island.


A visa is required for entry to Vietnam. An international licence is required to hire a motorbike.


Dry season is November to April. Rainy season is May to October. Discover more amazing destinations in Vietnam with our library of travel stories.

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