Fah Thai Magazine Jan-Feb 2018

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PHU QUOC<br />

F<br />

rom the plane, the lush green<br />

of nature strikes you when<br />

descending into Phu Quoc –<br />

Vietnam’s largest island just off<br />

the Gulf of <strong>Thai</strong>land. A hotspot for beach<br />

and outdoor lovers, Phu Quoc races<br />

toward transformation with fast-paced<br />

and mega-infrastructure construction.<br />

Paved roads are being built to connect<br />

the entire island, and five-star resorts<br />

settle on many stretches of its beautiful<br />

beaches. But more than half of Phu Quoc’s<br />

unspoiled nature is strictly preserved as<br />

part of the Kien Giang Biosphere Reserve<br />

and protected with a UNESCO designation.<br />

This is an island with two worlds: one<br />

existing in its original greenness, and the<br />

other one possessing world-class beachfront<br />

accommodations.<br />

Visitors can<br />

explore scenic<br />

farms with<br />

abundant<br />

pepper plants.<br />

Farm tours with<br />

friendly staffers<br />

educate visitors<br />

on understanding<br />

quality pepper.<br />

When the Vietnamese<br />

government listed Phu Quoc in<br />

its National Tourism Master Plan<br />

more than a dozen years ago, locals<br />

immediately felt the changes. Over<br />

the past five years, the island has<br />

changed very rapidly into quite a<br />

tourist destination. Most visitors<br />

to Vietnam need a visa to enter<br />

the country, but not if Phu Quoc is<br />

listed as one of the destinations.<br />

Huge investments are approved<br />

in a rapid manner to provide<br />

sound infrastructure on the island.<br />

Undersea high voltage 110kv cables<br />

have been laid to provide much-<br />

needed stability to the island’s once<br />

sporadic electricity supplies. The<br />

island’s water treatment plants -<br />

worth almost US$100 million – have<br />

been in the works. The new airport<br />

opened in 2012 and has already seen<br />

additional expansion. It will soon<br />

service larger aircrafts by the time<br />

the island expects to welcome as<br />

many as three million visitors per<br />

year by 2020.<br />

We drove by Phu Quoc’s old<br />

Duong Dong airport on our way to<br />

the famous pepper and bee farms<br />

up north. Construction has levelled<br />

out some areas into stretches of<br />

emptiness awaiting development,<br />

with roads leading to the airport<br />

used conveniently as shortcuts for<br />

locals going between the seaside<br />

and inland. The front end of the<br />

abandoned airstrip is now dotted<br />

with fruit trucks, mainly colourful<br />

6-wheelers and open-through beds<br />

piled high with local fruits. Among<br />

them are durians ferried over from<br />

the Mekong Delta.<br />

The newly-built roads mean<br />

easier passage from north to south<br />

of this big island of almost 600<br />

square kilometres. Phu Quoc’s<br />

developed centre is ‘Duong Dong’<br />

which had early establishments of<br />

hotels, banks, and shops that used to<br />

cater backpackers. The river running<br />

through this area makes it a vibrant<br />

living port. Fishing has always<br />

been and still is Phu Quoc’s main<br />

industry. The island is famed for its<br />

naturally aromatic and high-protein<br />

fish sauce, still largely made from<br />

tons of anchovies steeped at least for<br />

two years in salt and water. Of the<br />

island’s many fish sauce factories,<br />

four cater to tours and tasting. Go<br />

to one of the local restaurants for<br />

Vietnamese spring rolls - fresh or<br />

deep-fried - and dip it into their<br />

famous fish sauce.<br />

Most locals you meet on Phu<br />

Quoc are descendants of fishermen<br />

on the island. Our chatty guide<br />

Danny could talk endlessly on how<br />

changes on the island in recent years<br />

dramatically impacted his family<br />

and day-to-day lifestyle, all said<br />

with an understandable mix of pride<br />

and dread.<br />

“I was still in the generation<br />

that had to travel to the mainland<br />

for a higher education,” said our<br />

local guide, who’s 25. “But now,<br />

Phu Quoc is seeing a new foreigninvested<br />

hospitality university and<br />

my younger brother who is now in<br />

a local high school can choose to<br />

get an education here, or venture<br />

onto the mainland like I did. Life<br />

should be easier for him with more<br />

education and jobs on the island in<br />

the near future. I got it a bit rough<br />

living away from family back then.”<br />

Adventurous Europeans first<br />

discovered Phu Quoc over 20 years<br />

ago. They were drawn to its remote,<br />

Clockwise from<br />

Top Right<br />

A real eating<br />

town, freshness<br />

guaranteed.<br />

Phu Quoc produces<br />

fish sauce prized<br />

by Vietnamese<br />

households.<br />

Visitors on ecotours<br />

learn about honey<br />

bee conservation at<br />

bee farms.<br />

Pearl farms show<br />

how oysters create<br />

these little ‘gems’.<br />

true far-away destination. Clear,<br />

unspoiled emerald-green beaches<br />

were a big magnet. Before direct<br />

flights from Bangkok became<br />

available, people who flew to Phu<br />

Quoc needed a full day’s journey that<br />

included a long layover in Ho Chi<br />

Minh City. Now, you can even fly in<br />

directly from Scandinavia countries<br />

and London. There are also daily<br />

ferries from Phu Quoc to seaport<br />

cities like Ha Tien and Rach Gia<br />

that are south of Vietnam.<br />

Long beach, not too far south<br />

from Duong Dong, caters to many<br />

tourists with its extensive stretch<br />

of beach – full of beachfront<br />

resorts, bars, and restaurants -<br />

both local favourites and ones<br />

catering to tourists. The island’s<br />

famed night market is also there,<br />

just under the main bridge and<br />

opposite the town’s main fresh<br />

market. It is quite easy to get<br />

around, with options of a metred<br />

taxi, a private tour or a scooter<br />

rental. And like other parts of<br />

Vietnam, ear-splitting honking is<br />

the roadside norm.<br />

The cacophony is enough<br />

to remind you of Phu Quoc’s<br />

rapid ascension on the hot list of<br />

getaways. Luckily, there’s also<br />

the option for a quiet escape to its<br />

protected nature.<br />

TO-DOS:<br />

Phu Quoc is also famed for ecotourism<br />

and tourists can roam<br />

around sampling away –from the<br />

fish sauce factories in Duong Dong<br />

area all the way to the north, which<br />

is abundant with pepper farms, bee<br />

farms and sim or rose myrtle wine<br />

factories. At Phu Quoc Countryside,<br />

the farm-stay pepper farm has<br />

good facilities - including their own<br />

restaurant and draft beer brewery.<br />

The sim plant is wild and abundant<br />

in Phu Quoc’s forests, and from that<br />

comes an island specialty. Sim wines<br />

– ranging from light enough to be<br />

36 37

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