All photography by Christian Berg
Hello nature. The northern part of the island is covered by forest and the Phu Quoc National Park. Four protected spots -- Bai Thom, Cua Duong, Ham Ninh, and Ganh Dau -- are open for camping, bird-watching and hiking. Each one has trails and dirt roads you can explore by bike or on foot. The warm climate and isolated geography of the island creates diverse flora: you’ll notice palm bushland scenery, grasslands and mangrove forests.
For a flat hike through giant trees, Ganh Dau trail is the most popular thanks to its photogenic ancient trees. Another gentle hike takes you to Suoi Tranh waterfall where you can go for a refreshing dip. More experienced hikers looking for a vantage viewpoint of the ocean can take on the Ham Ninh mountain trail.
TIP: If you’re looking for nature-inspired lodging, The River Mouth Phu Quoc homestay offers stilt bungalows perched over the water, and Sen Lodge sets guests up in up private treehouses.
The Kien Giang Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO-protected area and is considered one of the best places for marine life in southern Vietnam. There are many compelling activities for travellers to enjoy near the sandbanks of the National Park, such as the Ganh Dau coral garden, Ham Ninh rock garden and the islands of An Thới Archipelago. These spots boast colourful offshore reefs for snorkeling and are home to a variety of underwater creatures.
Near Rach Vem Village, you’ll find a fine white-sand stretch nicknamed ‘Starfish Beach’ where you can observe countless starfish in the clear turquoise water. Feel free to sunbathe and picnic among the cluster of palm trees lining the beach. At the right times of year, you may even see bioluminescent plankton in the shallow parts of Starfish Beach and along the southern stretch of Long Beach, or the northern part of Dat Do Beach.
For generations, Phu Quoc farmers have taken advantage of the rich soil and climate of their island to grow high-quality crops, most notably aromatic and spicy peppercorns. You can tour these pepper farms to learn about the process and take home some excellent ingredients for your kitchen. Honey-making is another popular agricultural endeavour amongst Phu Quoc farmers and the Phu Quoc Bee Farm is an excellent stop on an island tour. Have a taste of delicious honey coffee and sweets, then tour the grounds to learn more about sustainable bee-keeping.
If there’s one thing most closely associated with Phu Quoc, it’s fish sauce. The island has a long tradition of creating premium fish sauce that’s used not only in Vietnam but around the world. If you’re interested in the process -- from anchovy fishing to bottling -- look into a tour of the Red Boat Fish Sauce factory, set in a lovely riverside garden, to learn all about this much-vaunted Vietnamese seasoning.
It’s not a holiday in Phu Quoc without a dinner at Dương Đông seafood market, where the day’s catch is grilled, boiled, steamed and stir-fried in a myriad of delicious dishes. During the day however, you may like to visit one of the island’s many fishing villages to see daily life up close. Easily accessible fishing villages by boat are Cua Can, Rach Tram and Ham Ninh. The docks here are dotted with brightly painted boats that will make you feel like you’re in a Phu Quoc postcard.
TIP: Phu Quoc’s religious sites offer more insight into island life. Colourful Dinh Cau Pagoda is where sailors and fishermen go to pray to the goddess of the sea before they leave the shore, and the Sung Hung Pagoda features impressive murals from Buddhist lore.
With so much great seafood around, Phu Quoc’s cooks have developed countless recipes to showcase their star ingredients. Stop at a bún kèn stall during your trip to sample a unique noodle dish with Cambodian origins, with a broth made from dried fish, coconut milk, and a dash of curry powder. For lunch or dinner by the water, order cá sòng nướng (grilled Trachurus) or gỏi cá trích (raw herring salad). Feast on grilled oysters and echinus, served with roasted shallots, peanuts and green onion. Whatever seafood dish you choose, you’ll know it will be fresh!