Trip to Phu Quoc - November 2014
The travel blog from a few days on Phu Quoc, Vietnam

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Sunset in sunglassesA former Portuguese colony filled with casinos, the taste of bolinos and Pastel de nata, the ruins of St. Paul's, Largo do Lilau and Senado square, Fortaleza do Monte, view from 338 meters in the mast of a tower…then a flight to an island where we found beaches like Vung Bau and Sao beach, fish sauce factories, pepper farms and horrible roads. This is a trip report from a city break in Macau in China and then beach time on the island Phu Quoc in Vietnam in November 2014. This was a 12 day trip and we had short stops in Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok. This part of the trip report will focus on our stay at Salinda Resort in Phu Quoc in Vietnam.

A short summary
Someone is happy to start the vacationEarly in 2014, Qatar Airways had a great sale and we just bought tickets to Bangkok and decided to agree on the final destination later on. As the departure date came closer and closer we were discussing destinations like Laos and Myanmar but in the end we decided to go for a city break combined with beach time. As November is the end of the monsoon season there can still be a lot of rain in some islands in the gulf of Thailand but we found that weather stats for Phu Quoc, Vietnam were very good and that was a deal breaker. We wanted to see Macau as we have been to Hong Kong a few times but we never got around to checking out this former Portuguese colony – and we also wanted to climb Macau Tower. Please get in touch on if you have any questions. All photos are taken by Nikki and Gard unless stated otherwise.

On the next pages you will find:

If you want to read about the stay in Macau before the trip to Phu Quoc, please go to the Macau trip report.

Planning the trip
Follow the sign to MacauOnce we had decided on the destination it was easier to plan the rest of the trip. We used sites like TripAdvisor to get an idea of where to stay in the various places. We also booked flights from Bangkok to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific - we could have used AirAsia from Bangkok to Macau airport but in order to do that, we would have to change from Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok to Don Muang ehich would have been a hassle. We also booked tickets from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and then roundtrip to Phu Quoc with VietJetAir and also VietJetAir to Bangkok. So yes...there is a bit of planning involved in a trip like this.

Map of Vietnam

Map of Vietnam. Map provided by

The trip begins - welcome to the island
We used VietJetAir to Phu QuocAfter a few nights in Macau and a night in Ho Chi Minh City, we were ready to head out to Phu Quoc for some beach relaxation. On the morning of 11 November 2014 we took a taxi to the domestic terminal in Ho Chi Minh City and it cost about 200.000 Vietnamese Dong (about 9 USD). Check in was a bit chaotic – we were flying with VietJetAir and it did not seem like all the people that were checking in were used to orderly queueing. The domestic terminal was not bad at all – it had a few shops, places to eat and it was not crowded. It is located right next to the international terminal and it only takes about 5 minutes to walk from one to the other. The roundtrip ticket to Phu Quoc for us was about 1.500.000 VND (about 80 USD) per person when we booked the tickets.

Note: In Vietnam they use Vietnamese Dong (VND). At the time of this travel 100.000 Dong was equal to about 4.7 USD or 3.8 Euro.

Landing in Phu QuocSo why did we decide to check out the island Phu Quoc? Well, we have been to Asia before so we have been to places like Samui, Krabi and Phuket in Thailand but also to places like Penang and Langkawi in Malaysia. In November you can also experience a lot of rain in some of these places but the weather statistics for Phu Quoc showed that November should be the end of the monsoon season. Most of the hotels seem to be located on the west side of the island and along the Long beach – just south of the town of Duong Dong. We decided to splurge and book a room at the brand new Salinda resort and spa – it was not even open when we made the booking.

Welcome to the island Phu QuocThe flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Phu Quoc only took about 40 minutes and just before landing we could actually see the Salinda resort from the plane. The airport itself seems quite new and it looks like Vietnam Airlines and VietJetAir are aiming to bring in tourists from both domestic and international destinations (like Bangkok and Singapore). Getting the baggage was quick and when we got outside we were met by representatives from Salinda hotel that greeted us with “Welcome to the island” – for a second there I flashed back to the Scarlett Johansson movie but this island is for real ;-)

Note: remember to keep the baggage tags. You have to show the baggage tags to verify that they luggage is yours before you leave the terminal.

Entrance to Salinda resortThe drive from the airport to the Salinda hotel is only about 10 minutes. Please read more about the brand new Salinda resort in this review . The location of Salinda resort on Google maps does not seem to be correct but I think I have placed a marker at the correct place on this Phu Quoc Google map.  It was a bit weird coming to such a new and beautiful resort as we were more or less alone as guests there. After being several days on the move we decided to start exploring the island right away by jogging into the town Duong Dong located a few kilometers north of Salinda. Street into Duong Dong Phu QuocThe road leading into town is not bad but there is not exactly a pavement for running. Quite a few people were looking at me like I was crazy as it is not that common to jog in the heat (it was about 30 degrees Celsius or 86 degrees Fahrenheit) but it was a good way to check out the area. When we first looked at Google maps of the island, the satellite images seemed to be quite outdated but they have recently been updated and show that there has been a lot of development.Perfect sunset at Phu Quoc in Vietnam The street leading into Duong Dong had a bit of traffic ranging from lots of motorbikes, a few cars and trucks. Along the way there were small restaurants, shops and hotels but nothing that seemed as huge, new and modern as Salinda resort. As we got closer to Duong Dong the traffic got busier and the smell of the fish sauce factories got stronger – but I will get back to that. It is about 5 km (3 miles) from Salinda resort into Duong Dong and it was great to get back to the hotel and relax by the pool with a cold drink and watch the beautiful sunset. The resort is located on the beach and we got to view some stunning sunsets there.

Nemo in Phu QuocDuong Dong is known for its night market but we decided to have dinner the first night on a small restaurant called Nemo near the hotel – after getting recommendation from the hotel and TripAdvisor. It was only located a few hundred meters from the hotel so we just walked over. In the evenings it was still warm but not as warm and humid as we thought it would be. Nemo turned out to be a very simple and small restaurant with just a few tables, a small table of fish on ice and a barbeque outside the entrance. Spring rolls at Nemo on Phu QuocWe decided to have some Vietnamese spring rolls (or goi cuon) and they are excellent. They are not deep fried like some spring rolls – these are just shrimp, pork and various vegetables wrapped in rice paper and served at room temperature. They are excellent as a starter and seem to be quite healthy as well. We ordered fish (of course) and my red snapper was great even if it didn’t come with much on the side and Nikki was happy with her barracuda. Fresh fish at Nemo in Phu QuocIn the end the total bill came to about 500.000 VND (about 23 USD) but it turned out that a lot of places here do not accept credit cards. As the gentleman I am I volunteered to walk to the nearest ATM to get some cash even if Nikki normally pays for the food when we travel. The waitress said that it was just 5 minutes to the nearest ATM but I think that she meant 5 minute on a motorbike and not walking. I came back 20 minutes later on and even if it was not extremely hot and humid at night, I still picked up quite a sweat from the brisk walk.

Note: there are some places that do not accept credit cards so it is best to have cash. There are a few ATMs around but be aware that some has a 2.000.000 VND limit.

Exploring Duong Dong by bike
Biking around Duong Dong in Phu QuocAs the hotel had free bicycles that we could use, we decided to bike into Duong Dong to explore it a bit. On the way into town we passed by the night market and it seemed pretty quiet during the day so we decided to check it out later on. In town there are some small restaurants but we decided to have lunch on a street corner. I’m not sure what we had actually but it seemed to be some sort of noodles in a broth together with vegetables. Lunch corner with street food in Duong DongIt was only 1 USD per portion and we sat on tiny plastic chairs while eating – when I posted a photo of this later on Instagram most people thought we were brave as a lot of people are worried about getting stomach issues. But we did not run into any problems even if we ate quite a lot of local food. The town is not really made for biking as there are cars, motorbikes, dogs running in the street, chaotic intersections, markets along the road etc. But that is all part of the fun I guess even if Nikki found it a bit too exciting when we got big trucks coming right towards us while crossing the main bridge in town. Again we could smell it when we came in the vicinity of the fish sauce factories!

Note: there is a special kind of Phu Quoc ridgeback dogs on the island. I have heard about the Rhodesian Ridgeback but I never knew there was a Phu Quoc version. There seemed to be quite a bit of wild dogs running around when we were biking but we did not see any aggressive dogs.

After a bike around town it was great to get back to the hotel and enjoy some pool time and watch the sun set once again into the ocean – I think we both agreed that we could get used to that.

Dinner at Itaca
Romantic dinner at Itaca in Phu QuocAfter searching a bit on Tripadvisor we decided to check out Itaca. Based on what we had read this was a restaurant / lounge which sounded great – the taxi ride was only a few minutes as it is only 2-3 km (1-2 miles) from the hotel – and I was surprised to see the taxi was willing to use the meter. It cost 45.000 VND (2 USD) from the hotel to the restaurant. We got a table outside on a small patio with curtains on the sides so it was quite romantic even though Goat cheese starter at Itaca in Phu Quoc it was close to the road but at night there was not much traffic. The menu was quite simple and for once with pretty large letters and numbers which can be a good idea in the dim light in most restaurants. I decided to have the goat cheese salad with honey vinaigrette for starter and that was very good – beautiful presentation and I loved the warm, half melted cheese. The hamburger that I had as a main dish was OK but pretty standard and a bit on the dry side even if it was a wagyu burger. I topped it off with a chocolate lava cake that I enjoy but it would have been even better if they had remembered to serve me the dessert wine that I ordered. To give an idea about the prices – a bottle of wine was 750.000 VND (35 USD), the burger was 245.000 VND (11 USD) and goat salad was 170.000 VND (8 USD). All in all the meal was good but I would not go back there every night.

Exploring the island – on a motorbike
Family on a motorbike in Phu QuocWhen you get to Vietnam you will notice that there are quite a lot of motorbikes or scooters – in Ho Chi Minh City (see my trip report) you will see them drive everywhere (and I mean everywhere), transporting unimaginable goods and unimaginable number of passengers. We decided that we had to immerse ourselves in this culture and we decided to rent a motorbike for a day. At first I asked the hotel if they Renting a motorbike in Phu Quoccould arrange for the motorbike rental but they were quite honest and told us that it would be better to just cross the street and rent a bike there. From our previous trips into Duong Dong we had noticed that every Tom, Dick and Harry was renting out bikes so you will have no trouble finding a place for this. Driving around Phu QuocWhen we got to the store across the road from the hotel and indicated that we wanted to rent a bike they ran in and got the key for a Yamaha, showed us how to start it and asked if we knew how to drive. And of course they also showed us that the most important tool on the bike was functional: the horn. This is being used for advanced communication when you drive...there seems to be a number of different horn signals to be used (and hand gestures) and it was fun to use the horn frequently. I never get much chance to use it at home so I went a bit wild with the use of the horn.

Trying to figure out which route to takeThe price for renting the bike was 140.000 VND (6,5 USD) and I had to leave some sort of ID – in my case the driver’s it was a good thing that the police didn’t stop us. The bike was basically out of gas to start with and we were told to drive about 2 km towards town to find the gas station and we put on the helmets (or maybe egg shells is a better word) and drove off. Filling up the tank was affordable – it was 90.000 VND or 4 USD.  It was surprisingly easy to drive on the roads to start with mainly because there was not that much traffic. Road work in Phu QuocThe road standard from the Salinda Resort into Duong Dong is quite good but we decided to venture south on the island. Our main challenge was that we didn’t have a proper map – we only had the tourist information map that seemed to be a bit outdated but we did manage to get to the main north south road (route TL47/TL46) and started driving south bound. To start with the road standard on the main road was very impressive – we are actually talking about a 4 lane highway with new asphalt! But it did not last very long before we suddenly reached an area that required me to be Evel Knievel with Nikki in the back. The road turned into a narrow dirt road with major bumps, uphill and downhill and we were facing large trucks and construction vehicles as they were finishing up the road. I think in just a year or two this road will be perfect.

Pepper farm in Phu QuocAfter a while we stopped at a small shop to get some refreshment and I asked for a cold coke. This was not possible to get - maybe they didn’t have electricity during the day or maybe they did not prioritize to use it on a fridge which is fair enough. In the same area we also came across the pepper farms and I was quite excited about that as I have never seen pepper grow in the wild. To be honest I have never seen pepper on a bush in the first place. I do like my cooking and I have discovered that using good ingredients is important and good quality and fresh pepper makes the food better. We did end up buying a few bags of the pepper both for personal use and as a gift for friends.

Note: To give an idea about distances: the distance from the Salinda resort to the prison is about 20 km (12.5 miles).

Sao beach on Phu QuocWe were aiming for Bai Tam Sao or Sao beach as we had heard that this was the most beautiful beach on the island. We kept on looking for the road to turn towards the beach but when we came to the historic Phu Quoc prison we knew that we had gone too far. We did find the road leading to the beach in the end but it was not easy as it was not marked and it didn’t look like a road that would lead to anything. The road leading to into Sao beach (and Khong Sao Restaurant located on the beach) turned out to be a bumpy dirt road full of puddles. THaving lunch on Sao beachhe beach itself was pretty and only with a handful of people – and it was great to enjoy a bit of lunch on the beach. We played a bit around in the clear water in the ocean and played around with the GoPro camera before we decided to head out to check out the Phu Quoc historic prison (also named Coconut Tree Prison).Phu Quoc historic prison Originally the prison was built by the French when they were involved in the area and it was later used by the Americans during the Vietnam war. Today there are displays showing how prisoners were living, how they were punished etc. Across the road there is a war memorial monument that didn’t seem to have much information.The drive back to the hotel was again exciting as we also had to face the fact that it was getting dark. If you end up renting a bike at Phu Quoc remember to drive carefully.

Note: there are some street lights on the main road from Salinda resort into Duong Dong – so be careful if you walk at night at some of the motorbikes use the shoulder to drive on to avoid cars.

Fried spring rolls at Salinda resortAfter all the excitement of driving around we decided to just eat at the Salinda resort. The resort has a nice restaurant with an Italian Asian fusion menu. As the resort was brand new and probably not know yet, we were just a handful guests at the restaurant. It was also quite obvious that the staff will need some more training to get used to the western style of ordering food and serving but I’m sure that they will work that out. Lemon meringue at Salinda resortThe Vietnamese fried spring rolls that I had as a starter was quite good but the main dish was not what I expected. I ordered the free range chicken breast with basil polenta and I ended up with chicken in a creamy sauce with pasta so maybe my order got lost in translation. Main courses at the restaurant seems to be between 300.000 to 400.000 VND (14 to 19 USD) just to give you an idea of the price range. I did enjoy the lemon tasting plate for dessert but who can resist a lemon meringue?

Note: that restaurants will normally add a 5 % service charge to the bill and a 10% VAT.

Exploring the island – part 2
Street market in Duong Dong in Phu QuocThe previous day of exploring left us with a desire to see more of the island so after a good breakfast (including some of the tasty Vietnamese coffee), we ran across the road once again to rent a motorbike. This time we headed towards Duong Dong to check out the north part of the island. But as soon as we got into town we discovered that there were street markets so we had to stop and walk around a bit. The market was selling everything from fish, vegetables, meat, live chicken to everyday grocery stuff. It is fascinating to walk around looking at this as it is very different from what we are used to back home in small Stavanger in Norway. It never stops to amaze me to see how much people in Vietnam are able to cram onto one bike.

Note: it is hot in this part of the world. If you are going to drive around for a day remember to use good sun screen to avoid getting fried in the sun and bring along water to hydrate during the road trip.

Alone at Vung Bau beach at Phu QuocAgain we faced the challenge of not having a proper map but we decided to take the scenic route along the west coast and we ended up on dirt roads once again but we did end up at an amazing and almost desserted  beach. The sand on Vung Bau beach was darker and coarser than on Sao beach but the water was clear and we were the only ones there together with another couple. There is a bit of garbage flying around so if they want to attract tourists they should have focus on this as it will spoil the nice beaches. When we came to Vung Bau resort we had lunch on the beach before I got to relax a bit and read a bit more in my book by Jo Nesbø Snømannen (the snowman).

Terrible road near Vung Bau beachDriving back was quite an adventure – we had planned to venture further north on the island but the dirt road leading there seemed to get worse and worse and with increasingly larger puddles of rust red water. When we met a guy that had gotten totally stuck we decided to turn around and to head back to the main road. On the lousy map that we had it looked like it was possible to take a short cut back to the main road and we started driving but again the road turned into quite a nightmare of big puddles. In the end Nikki got a bit nervous about my driving skills and got off the bike –Intersection in Phu Quoc there was no one else around so we were not even sure we were heading in the right direction. Eventually a guy from Florida drove past on his bike and confirmed that we were on the right track and asked if Nikki wanted to catch a ride with him as he was used to the roads here. My male ego was of course a bit hurt by this but I think it was for the best as the road can only be described as horrible. When we came to the main road I got my wife back and the Floridian guy commented that it had been a long time since the roads had been this good as the rainy season had just ended!!! So if this was the good version of the road I can only imagine what it is like when the roads are really bad! It is amazing that the motorbikes keeps on running after being dragged through mud and puddles.

Visit to a fish sauce factory
Phu Quoc fish sauce factoryAs I mentioned earlier, you can actually smell where fish factories are located when you drive around in Phu Quoc. We stopped by one factory that we had picked up the scent to when exploring Duong Dong the previous days. There is one located by the bridge that crosses the river and it is called “Nước mắm Khải Hoàn” according to Google maps. I’m not sure if they had any tours but they had a shop where it was possible to buy fish sauce – which is of course essential when having the Vietnamese spring rolls. It was also possible to venture into the actual factory and look at the big tanks where the fish sauce was being produced. The fish sauce is made by fermenting anchovies in brine is huge tanks and the smell of this is quite overwhelming. We did of course buy some fish sauce – the authentic Phu Quoc fish sauce seems to be the good stuff these days so we bought some gift size bottles to give to friends back home.

Note: when you check in at the airport you will get asked if you have some fish sauce in your luggage. I guess they are worried that the bottles will break and affect the surrounding luggage. It's best to buy small bottles and wrap them securely.

A feast at the night market
Selection of seafood at Phu Quoc night marketWe had read and heard about the night market and we decided that we had to check it out one evening. During the day it did not look like there was any activity in this street but at night it turned quite lively. When we came to Dinh Cau Night market there were lots of stalls on each side of the road selling fish, shells, eels, prawns etc and they had also set up tables and plastic chairs along most of the road and it was not a problem finding a place to sit. Having frog at Phu Quoc night marketThe selection didn’t seem to vary that much from one stall to the other but we walked through it just to check out the atmosphere. Apart from the regular food it was also possible to get snake, frog, sea urchins of some kind and so on. We ended up at one stall eventually and tried a whole fried fish, a frog, prawns etc. and it seemed like our seafood was grilled to perfection - I guess they grill seafood all the time so they know how to do it. If you go to Phu Quoc I would recommend you to eat out at this night market at least once. The bill for our meal was about 550.000 VND or 25 USD.

Last day in paradise
Beach chairs at Salinda resortOn the last day on the island we decided to just relax at the hotel – well, maybe calling it “relaxing” is stretching it as I went for run in the heat and almost had a heat stroke, we went for a short kayak trip and Nikki went for some spa treatment. It also gave me time to take some photos of the beautiful Salinda resort and as it was basically empty, it was easy to Sunset over a boat in Phu Quocdocument the hotel grounds. The Salinda resort was lovely but also a bit pricy and it is shame that they charge e.g. 75.000 VND (3,5 USD) for a Coke at the hotel mini bar when you can walk across the street to the bar Cami and get the same for 20.000 VND (90 US cent) and you can of course get it cheaper at the local grocery store. I talked to the guy who ran Cami and it turned out that the place was named after one of the daughters. Both he and his wife were bankers but they had left good jobs in Ho Chi Minh City to bring the kids out of the pollution of the big city to the fresh air on the island.

Spring rolls at Pepper Tree, La VerandaOn the last dinner we decided to go to La Veranda Resort – one of the hotels that we looked at when we booked a hotel in Phu Quoc. The feedback on e.g. TripAdvisor seemed to be that this was a faded resort in colonial style but the restaurant Pepper Tree got great reviews. We did not have a reservation but it was not full when we got there and hence we got a table on their terrace. The menu was quite good and the wine selection was not bad – and the prices on the wine list were also better than what we had experienced at e.g. Salinda resort. The menu was a combination of Vietnamese dishes and western style food and I decided to have a Vietnamese starter and what could be better than fresh spring rolls? Having dessert at Pepper Tree at La VerandaThese were of course served in a very different way compared to on the street – the spring rolls came in a big basket with the fish sauce in a container on the side. The fresh spring rolls are always a treat and this was delicious. And as a main dish I decided to go western style and the pork fillet with homemade pasta with a sauce of Phu Quoc pepper was excellent. And what better way is there to round of a meal with a chocolate volcano with ice and a glass of port. All in all I was very impressed with the meal at La Veranda and Pepper Tree. Beautiful and romantic surroundings, the staff was experienced and knew how to serve food and wine, the food was beautiful presented and tasted great. This place is highly recommended if you want a special meal at Phu Quoc. The meal at Pepper Tree was about 3 million VND (140 USD) including tax, service charge and included a bottle of Chianti.

Time to say goodbye
At Vung Bau beachOn the morning of November 16th it was time to head to the airport. The short transportation to the airport was taken care of by the hotel and check in was pretty fast at the shiny new airport – well, they did have to x-ray the luggage to make sure that we had packed our fish sauce properly ;-) Again we used VietJetAir to get to Bangkok and we had a nice stopover there in order to meet up with Nikki’s brother. Vung Bau beach in Phu QuocWe used VietJetAir a couple of times and I would not hesitate to recommend them. They used new planes and seem to run business like other low cost carriers in the region. We landed at the domestic terminal in Ho Chi Minh City and it is located right next to the international terminal and it is only like a 5 minute walk to get there. After a day in Bangkok it was time for us to say goodbye to Bangkok – so on 17 November we took a taxi to Suvarnabhumi Airport and we flew with Qatar Airways via Doha in Qatar and back to cold Norway.

Sunset by the pool at Salinda resortThis was a great combination trip but quite hectic. It was great to finally get to see Macau and to finally get to climb to the top of the Macau tower. I did go to Hong Kong a few years back to try this but bad weather prevented me from doing that. But it was great to finally do it and to do it together with Nikki even if it was a very scary experience. But when looking back at 2014 it is easy to say standing on the top of Macau tower was definitely one of the highlights. It was great to combine the city escape in Macau with the beach in Vietnam. November is in the end of the monsoon season inSun is setting in the ocean at Phu Quoc Asia and many islands in e.g. Thailand still get a lot of rain – but we had some great weather at Phu Quoc and it was fun to see an island that is not totally over developed. But you better hurry if you want to see it like this – it seems like development is fast and in a few years I think the island will look quite different. This trip took us in planes, busses, boats, taxis, motorcycles to several cities and several countries – it was hectic but fun and I hope that you have enjoy the virtual trip. Get in touch if you have any questions – I can be reached on .



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