Some are sizeable and central while others are tiny assembles of boats and houses built on stilts. Nevertheless, they all carry a unique charm and allure that speak to the hearts of adventurous travellers. The towns and villages in Phu Quoc impress one way or another. Starting with two incredible towns around which all island action unfolds, those of Duong Dong and An Thoi, and moving on to the most charming and adorable fishing villages on the island, you will soon realise that Phu Quoc undoubtedly deserves a place on everybody’s must-visit list.
- Duong Dong Town
Duong Dong is a significant settlement on the island and a point of reference for nearly everything you do or everywhere you go around Phu Quoc due to its geographical location. As you will see, almost all directions have Duong Dong as reference! For everybody coming to Phu Quoc, Duong Dong is the town that has it all, from fine dining facilities and lovely natural landscape to luxury resorts offering modern comforts and amenities, and breath-taking views, such as La Veranda, which is located in the heart of the town, having all main attractions within range (less than a 5-minute radius). Duong Dong, though, remains a fishing harbour that more than 50% of the population on Phu Quoc call home. Hosting a wide range of sightseeing attractions, including the Cau Temple, a plethora of eateries where you can sample great seafood, the marvellous Duong Dong night market, and many more, it is a place that rightfully deserves your attention.
- An Thoi Town
Famous for its prison concentration camp (aka Coconut Tree Prison), An Thoi is a booming small town at the southernmost end of the island and the largest fishing harbour with a protected bay that can accommodate container ships and large vessels. It is even a notorious starting point of many snorkelling and scuba diving trips to the archipelago’s southern regions. Also known for its pristine, white sand beaches, those of Bai Khem and Bai Sao, fish sauce factories, dazzling coral reefs, and commercial fishing industry, An Thoi is one of the most developed areas of Phu Quoc Island, with cafes, hotels, restaurants, banking facilities, local markets selling fresh seafood, vegetables, and fruit, and a small hospital. The islands’ naval bases are also located here.
To get there, all you need to do is hire a bike, take a taxi or get a boat from Rach Gia, depending on which part of the island you are heading here from.
- Ham Ninh Village
Conveniently tucked at the east coast of Phu Quoc, less than 20km from the centre of Duong Dong Town, Ham Ninh Commune is home to peaceful beaches, the beautiful Bai Vong Port, and the charming village with untouched splendour of Ham Ninh, particularly famous for its nightly fishing tours in pursuit of squid.
Ham Ninh is believed to have been founded by fishermen and people from other places that came to the then deserted island to exploit seafood before nobody-knows-how-many-years-exactly. Some references place Ham Ninh as a hamlet of Phu Quoc under Ming Dynasty in the Ham Chau District, and changed hands several times at the beginning of the French colonial period, as it was mastered by Kien Gian, then Rach Gia, and finally Ha Tien. It was not until 1874 that the village eventually became part of the Phu Quoc District. However, its “masters” succeeded one another even still, and moved around a lot, from a community belonging in the Pha Quoc District to Ha Tien District to Chau Doc and then back to Ha Tien District; and, all that within a decade until 1888.
Over the years, Ham Ninh became a thriving fishing village and a safe and quiet mooring spot for both boats of people fishing in the wider Duong Dong sea region and ships from the mainland that often drop anchor here and deliver seafood and transport goods. Even when surrounding areas become crammed with people and the influences of modern life, Ham Ninh maintains its rustic appeal and lives in perfect harmony with nature. All that aside, it is now also one of the most abundant sources providing Phu Quoc with fresh crab and cheap seafood year round. In fact, the fish is so plentiful here that you can even see the pier swarmed by little children selling starfish that they caught in the shallow waters surrounding the village!
There is much to fall in love with this charming place. With majestic Ham Ninh Mountain and lush green jungles as the backdrop and an idyllic setting during low tide, when the shores turn into vast stretches of sand, or at high tide, when the floods nurture the land and lick the edge of the forest, Ham Ninh can literally steal your heart stone after stone. Distinguished by thatched bamboo leaves houses and facing the immense shimmering sea, it offers sweeping views up to the Nghe Islet and Pirate Island in the south and Ong Doi Headland (the last headland of Phu Quoc) in the south, alongside some of the most romantic sunsets.
- Le Bat
Le Bat is a small fishing village on Phu Quoc Island not much visited by tourists. This picturesque land is a photographer’s dream location due to the exotic landscape around it. Some bikers make short stops at this hamlet on the way to Vung Bau Beach and Cua Can community (coming from Ganh Dau); a definitely scenic route worth exploring.
To get here, one needs detailed directions from someone that really knows this place. So, if you are planning a visit, follow the street to Cua Can (from Duong Dong), head north of Ong Lang Beach, cross the bridge after Hoang Yen Resort, and turn left. Le Bat should be welcoming you to its quaint premises! From there, the glistening sea and powdery beach of Vung Bau with the odd-looking rock formations is a short ride away on dirt roads.
- Rach Vem
Home to Rach Vem beach, Rach Vem village is not the place you would choose to lie around on the beach as it not that developed; unless you like to relax and spend time at remote beaches. In this case, do bring food and water with you because apart from the Phong Lan guesthouse, there are not many opportunities to dine or shop here.
The locals are friendly, hard-working people that rely on the sea to feed their families. As for their houses, most of them are built on poles and stilts especially the shelters, right out on the sea, offering an interesting sight on their own. Apart from fishing, the inhabitants also breed ducks and chicken which run freely around the huts, along with Phu Quoc Ridgeback dogs, the native (friendly) dog breed of the island (the only one with roots in Vietnam), which are usually found guarding pepper farms and areas where families live.
Life has not changed much around here during the past years, which can be fascinating. Tourists, which is a rather rare find in this area, are greeted by a cheerful bunch of children following them around while the locals are willing to get into a nice chat with travellers provided they know Vietnamese or Khmer. Just don’t mention anything about the terror regime of the Khmer Rouge or the Vietnam-Cambodia war as it is a very sensitive topic.
For those relaxing, me-times when you walk along Rach Vem’s shore and watch the sea spreading all the way to the coast of Cambodia across the Thailand Gulf, one can’t help but think this must be a slice of heaven and be hesitant to shut their eyelids out of fear of missing out on such raw, authentic beauty.
- Cua Can
A couple of kilometres north of Ong Lang Beach, 10 kilometres south of Ganh Dau, and some 14 kilometres north of Duong Dong town lies the lovely village of Cua Can. Distinguished by pepper plantations, unique ecosystems, and rickety wooden bridges strictly for the use of motorbike and foot traffic, Cua Can village is the getaway to the mighty Cua Can River, which runs deep into the pulsing centre of Phu Quoc, and Cua Can Beach – a great spot for picnicking and swimming in the area.
If you visit the region, joining a river tour and kayaking the river are some of the activities definitely worth trying for the serene and calm scenery that will surround you. As for lovers of photography and bird-watching, this is the place to be. Grab your camera and catch the flocks of hornbill flying above you! Also, through the Cua Can River, you will have access to the interior of the magnificent Phu Quoc National Forest.
Despite its fairly small size and the less than 4,000 residents, most of whom living in houses built on stilts over the river, Cua Can village has a few places to chill out and enjoy a roadside drink before heading to the more isolated beaches of the North. It is also home to a lovely, yet secluded, sand bar located on the north, which is much favoured by tourists thirsty for adventure and locals alike.
Now, if you feel hungry while exploring the roundabouts, there are street-side eateries and a more upscale restaurant that will treat your taste buds with delicious flavours at affordable prices.
To get there, take the Cua Can road (one of the island’s main roads) that is easily accessible via Duong Dong up to Ganh Dau and the Vinpearl Resort. From there, drive passed Ong Lang Beach and Vung Bau Beach, and you will reach Duong Dong Town. Cross the river (choose either Hung Vuong Road Bridge or Nguyen Trung Truc Road Bridge) and navigate your way towards Cua Can Road.
- Ganh Dau
Nestled in the north-western coast of the island, about 30 kilometres from Duong Dong town, Ganh Dau village will allow you to take in magnificent sea panoramas that go as far as the Cambodian coastline. Here, you will find some of the most tranquil and peaceful beaches on Pearl Island, including the scenic Ganh Dau and Bai Dai beaches, away from the crowds of the south.
If you come here with expectations to find high-end resorts and boutique hotels, you’d better look elsewhere because this small fishing village will only provide you with the basic supplies, such as water, food, petrol and, perhaps, a nice haircut too. But, that is the charm of it, especially if you are after unique experiences infused with the local lifestyle.
As you go by people’s homes and walk along the shore, you will see how things were once done throughout the island and how people used to live before some of the areas become more touristy and developed; plenty of fishing boats docked in the harbour, children playing in the streets, and anchovies drying out in the sun before they reach their final destination in a can comprising a key element of the famous Phu Quoc fish sauce. Ganh Dau still holds on to that traditional lifestyle while carefully (and slowly) adopting some modern life features.
To savour a tasty lunch, you could either drive a kilometre or so past the village and try Gio Bien’s seafood dishes (a delightful beachside restaurant) or head to the floating fish eatery on the northeastern side of the village. In the latter case, you will need to boat ride to get there, which will offer you additional awe-inspiring views to take with you back home.
- Hon Thom
Located on the second largest island in Phu Quoc and the largest island in the An Thoi archipelago, Hon Thom Island (aka Pineapple Island), the picturesque Hon Thom village with its 2,500 inhabitants is in the heart of a major economic activity taking place on the island. Chances are, we will soon witness a profound transformation in everything about living here, given the plans to develop Hon Thom Island into a tourist destination that will please tourists with vacation homes, resorts, and even a golf course. And, let us not forget the 8-kilometre long Phu Quoc cable car ride that already connects the island of Phu Quoc and Hon Thom, offering a genuinely heart-stopping experience as you hop between islands and soar over coral reefs and a fantastic cobalt sea.
Until all that proposed upgrade takes place, you can walk along the two main beaches around Hon Thom village, with the eastern one expected to remain a pleasantly old-fashioned fishermen’s community as it is under the radar of the construction and development plans focusing on the western side at the moment.
If you wish, you can also explore the entire island, which is no more than a 30-minute drive (you can rent a motorbike taxi, aka Xe Om) and watch the sun slip behind the horizon from Hon Thom’s main beach. Or, why not, try snorkelling? The waters are rich in superbly beautiful coral reefs and squids. Many tourists prefer cliff climbing instead as it enables them to pay eyes on the incredible natural landscapes specked with sugary beaches, fishermen knitting their nets, coconut rows, crystalline waters, and a variety of rare animals living here, including groupers and turtles. All that combined transfuse a peaceful and soothing, soul-filling sensation.
Hungry? Besides the street-side restaurants serving delicious seafood, there are also a few local eateries near the shore preparing traditional Vietnamese snacks and food.
To get here, drive south from Duong Dong Town until you reach An Thoi Town after 40-50 minutes or so. Park at the port (parking and entrance fee required, totalling VND 15,000) and catch the local ferry to Hon Thom Island (runs every hour until 17:00). If the weather is good, you will be at Hon Thom Island in about 45 minutes, and the ferry costs VND 30,000 (one-way ticket). To get off the boat and venture onto the island, you will need to be taxied out of the boat, which will cost you an extra VND 10,000.
Life in Phu Quoc Island, or Pearl island if you wish, may be hard but the people are friendly, cheerful, and living the magnificence and uniqueness of every moment their own special way. And, as you drive through this green dot of unsurpassable, unspoilt beauty, you can rest your eyes on mind-blowing scenery capable of caressing your inner Self, allowing you to rejuvenate, unwind, and find Zen in the chaos everyday life.