Flying to Phu Quoc Island is cheap and easy, but if you want a real adventure, riding there by motorbike from Saigon is much more fun. This road trip takes you from Vietnam’s biggest city to some its best beaches, via the waterways, highways, and back-roads of the country’s rice basket, the Mekong Delta.
For years, Sao Beach has been regarded as one of Vietnam’s best beaches. The sand is as white and powdery as flour and the water as clear as gin. But Sao is also the most popular day trip destination on the island, so there are many more people on the beach these days.
Still, there’s a good atmosphere here, and it’s one of the few places on the island where Vietnamese tourists outnumber foreign. You can stay the night here at My Lan Guest House and a couple of other lodgings, including the red brick bungalows ($30) in shady grounds at Ai Si Guesthouse (077 629 0510), a few minutes walk from the beach (you can also try their rượu sim – a liquor made from locally grown rose myrtle).
Ong Lang Beach
After Sao Beach, continue north on Road DT46 to Ong Lang Beach. This is another of Phu Quoc’s newly laid, wide, smooth highways. You’ll notice that the air is fresher than on the mainland; scented with eucalyptus and cashew fruit trees.
However, cement trucks, plying to and from construction sites, regularly kick up clouds of dust. Bear left (due west) at the junction with DT47 back towards Duong Dong. Take a right at Duong Dong, heading due north on Road DT45, which leads through town, straight over the disused runway of the old airport (now known as Vo Van Kiet Street), and out the other side.
The lanes branching off DT45 to the left (due west) lead to Ong Lang Beach, one of the prettiest, most laid-back beaches on the island, including some of the most atmospheric places to stay. Look out for the signposts to specific resorts at the lane entrances. Even if you’re not staying on Ong Lang Beach, it’s a good idea to head down the lanes for a drink and a swim at some of the resorts’ beaches. In particular, Thuy House is a fantastic budget option with a friendly, communal vibe, and so too is Freedomland, but prices are now quite high. Bo Resort and Coco Palm Resort offer excellent mid-range value, while the lush, eco-friendly, and atmospheric Mango Bay is superb. For high-end beachfront luxury, The Shells, Sea Sense, and Chen Sea won’t disappoint.
Cua Can Beach
Several kilometres further north of Ong Lang Beach, Road DT45 crosses a river. Turn left after the bridge and follow the road as it winds through an interesting fishing village to a long sandbar, known as Cua Can Beach. Pathways lead from the village to the sandbar, but for a great view of the beach, continue on the road around the village, heading inland at first, then up a steep hill to Chez Carole Resort. Stop here for a drink with fabulous views back over Cua Can Beach. Heading along the coast from Chez Carole. Draped in dense tropical foliage, this beautiful dirt lane follows the curve of Vung Bau Beach, which is the last vestige of ‘old’ Phu Quoc on the west side of the island.
Vung Bau Beach
A few years ago, it was possible to continue on this dirt road all the way to the island’s northwestern-most tip, passing miles of perfect, empty beaches, with blue seas lapping the exposed routes of casuarina trees. Now, however, the northern section has been developed into an enormous resort-entertainment complex called Vinpearl Land, including a water and safari park. But, the few kilometres between Chez Carole and the beginning of Vinpearl are still largely undeveloped, offering some of the loveliest beaches in all Vietnam. However, the bulldozers have already moved in on large sections of Vung Bau Beach tearing their way through the rain forest to access the beachfront, and it’s now no longer possible to ride the dirt road uninterrupted from Chez Carole to Vinpearl. Instead, you can ride as far as a small river crossing from Chez Carole before hitting construction work. Then you must turn back to Chez Carole and rejoin Road DT45 until it passes behind the construction site, then turn left, following the signposts for Vung Bau, to rejoin the dirt road along the beach.
After visiting Vung Bau Beach, continue on Road DT45 due north towards Ganh Dau. Ganh Dau, at the tip of the island, is a surprisingly big and busy fishing town. Biên Hải Quán is a wonderfully-located seafood restaurant overlooking the fishing boats just before entering town, which makes a good lunch stop. Ganh Dau Market is worth a look and after this continue east along the beach on a small paved road (actually the continuation of Road DT45) leading to a couple of isolated resorts on a beautiful stretch of beach overlooking the Cambodian mainland.
From Ganh Dau to Bai Thom, in the northeast of the island, there are two routes. Either head back down to Cua Can on Road DT45, and from here turn left (due east) on a good paved road until it meets the Duong Dong-Bai Thom Highway; or take the Suoi Cai-Ganh Dau dirt road east from Ganh Dau all the way to the same intersection with the Duong Dong-Bai Thom Highway. The former is faster because it’s all on paved roads, and it passes agricultural land, including pepper farms, for which Phu Quoc is famous. The latter is slower but prettier, because it passes through a dense canopy of tropical forest and also has access to remote Rach Vem Beach. However, bear in mind that, if it has been raining, conditions on this road can be muddy (but at my last visit the dirt road was in the process of being paved). Not far from where both roads meet the Duong Dong-Bai Thom Highway, Pepper Farm Bungalows is a cheap, atmospheric place to stay the night on a pepper farm. The Duong Dong-Bai Thom Highway is an excellent dual carriageway snaking through some of the island’s most impressive rain forest. Traffic is very light and the only sounds are your motorbike engine and the shrill and constant screaming of insects from the jungle. Before reaching the Bai Thom roundabout, a small, dirt road on the left (due west) eventually winds its way to Rach Tram, another isolated fishing village and beach (again, this dirt road is currently being paved, which will make access much easier). Bai Thom has a stark beauty about it. Although the beaches are hidden down tracks and the water’s very shallow and tidal, there’s something beguiling about this remote northern tip of Phu Quoc Island: it’s ripe for exploration. Silent, still, hot, sparsely populated, and filled with the scent of cashew fruit and the sound of midday cicadas, Bai Thom hasn’t seen the same development as the rest of the island .
Ham Ninh fishing village
Road TL48 heads south from Bai Thom all the way to Ham Ninh Village, from where you can continue to Bai Vong Port, making it possible to do a complete loop of the island. Until this road is upgraded, the easiest option is to ride back to Duong Dong town via the Bai Thom Highway and continue south to Bai Vong Port on Road DT47. From Bai Vong, put your motorbike on one of the several daily fast boats to Rach Gia in the Mekong Delta.
(to be continued)
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