Trip to Phu Quoc -
A 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
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
The trip begins - welcome to the island
So 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.
The 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 ;-)
The 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. The 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. 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.
Duong 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. We 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. In 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.
Exploring Duong Dong by bike
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
Exploring the island – on a motorbike
The 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 license...so 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. The 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.
After 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.
We 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. The 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). 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.
After 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. The 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?
Exploring the island – part 2
Again 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).
Driving 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 – 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
A feast at the night market
Last day in paradise
On 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? These 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