I'm at something of a loss for words to describe the magical place that is the island of Phu Quoc...I could spout platitudes about its tranquility or warnings about how it won't soon be possible to visit the place I saw (because the new international airport and "highway" that are now being built will surely change the island more quickly and significantly than anything since the war), but I'll just settle for showing you what we managed to capture digitally and hope that some of you will get to experience it yourselves. This will be heavy on photos and light on details, as most of the places we visited lacked signs and frequently even names. The only "must" that I would pass on to any fellow travelers is to visit the night market, described below, for a couple dinners.
Our journey started in the shadow of the misty Marble Mountains near Da Nang.
After a quick layover in Ho Chi Minh City, we switched to a plane with propellers. I grew up on very small planes, but my wife was none too pleased.
It's just about an hour flight, mostly over the Mekong delta, before you reach the airstrip. Also seen in this photo is most of Duong Dong, pretty much the only area of any size on the island that is at all densely populated.
The approach takes you right over one of the fishing fleets. Along with tourism, fishing is the life blood of the local economy, with pepper and oyster farms contributing to a lesser extent. The island is touted as producing the world's best fish sauce, and based on what I saw, tasted and smelled, I believe it.
A stark contrast to the rough seas near Hoi An, the Gulf of Thailand as viewed from our room was pretty much the picture of a tropical beach.
Sunsets were predictably excellent.
On the west side of the island, to the south of Duong Dong, there's pretty much one long expanse of manicured beach, dotted with resorts, guest houses, and restaurants. This is where you will encounter most fellow tourists.
The view from a restaurant a short walk down the beach from our resort, La Veranda. The day's fish, cooked in a clay pot with caramel sauce was excellent. Service was remarkably slow, even for island life, but where else would you rather be?
On the east side of the island, the beaches aren't as "maintained." They are broken up by rocky outcroppings and shaded coves, with fewer visitors & services available.
Fishing villages dot the coastline.
While the interior is given over to pepper farms...
...and fish sauce factories.
The pepper is intensely floral, with a beautiful sharp spiciness. We brought home a kilo of black pepper and somewhat less white, as well as a prepared condiment that's dried garlic ground with pepper.
The fish sauce is apparently remarkable for achieving protein content unattainable in other areas. Unbearably pungent in manufacture, but beguilingly piquant in application, one unexpected appearance was on the cocktail list at our resort. I was smitten with the Italian Fisherman
, a mixture of Campari, Vermouth, Lime & Orange juices, and more fish sauce than I would have thought prudent had I simply read the recipe and not tasted the drink. That's it there on the left, with the fancy citrus-snail climbing up the glass:
Sadly, unless you're leaving the island by boat you won't be able to take any fish sauce with you. Like durian, it's prohibited in baggage. Thankfully, there is a brand of Phu Quoc produced fish sauce that you can get relatively easily, though at a premium price. Red Boat
, whose creator I just missed meeting up with on the island, is sold on Amazon.
I'm burying the lead and/or saving the best for last. If you never left the night market in Duong Dong, you'd probably still leave Phu Quoc deliriously happy, assuming you are a seafood lover. The market is only a couple blocks long, but packed with vendors selling the day's catch and cooks ready to prepare it to your heart's delight.
We enjoyed a whole steamed fish with lemongrass that was identified as "silver snapper", as well as black pepper prawns so fresh that my wife was put off by the salinity of the meat. However, the coup de grâce was a bowl of cockles in a peppery caramelized garlic sauce. That dish destroyed me with its absolute salty, sweet, unctuous peppery perfection. Sadly, there are no pictures as our fingers were far too sticky. I guess I lied in the Hoi An thread, THIS is my happy face.