Here's our honest opinions about the island of Phu Quoc in Vietnam. Does Phu Quoc really have the best beaches in Vietnam, or is development ruining the island?
Our Impressions Of Phu Quoc
In February 2019, we spent a couple of weeks in Vietnam’s largest island, Phu Quoc, which is located off the south coast of this amazing country.
This was part of our five-month trip to SE Asia, so we were interested in doing some sightseeing but also to have a comfortable base by the sea. The idea being we could work for a couple of hours a day, and go for a swim and relax on the beach for the rest of the time.
Theoretically, Phu Quoc seemed to tick these boxes, especially according to everything we read. The reality was however a little different. So, we came up with the format we first used when talking about Chiang Mai in Thailand in order to reveal what we actually thought.
In this article, you can read about our impressions of Phu Quoc. We have given our personal views independently, so that you can get a better idea.
Expectations Of Phu Quoc Before We Went There
Dave: Wow, Vietnam's got some islands? Let's go and check them out! I'm not sure what to expect, but Phu Quoc's got to have beaches to chill out on. The internet access also seems pretty good from what I've seen.
Vanessa: I first read about Phu Quoc when we were still in Chiang Mai, in January 2019. It sounded like a great place to visit – warm weather, amazing beaches and a vibrant night food market.
Compared to some other popular places on the coast of Vietnam, like Hoi An and Nha Trang, it sounded a lot more quiet, and that’s the main reason we went for it.
I have to say, my expectations for Phu Quoc were pretty high, and after leaving land-locked Chiang Mai I was looking forward to spending a few days on the beach.
First Impressions Of Phu Quoc
Dave: I think it was dark when we arrived, so no real first impressions until we arrived at the accommodation. It was up a dirt road, and we were welcomed by the friendly lady who runs the place. The area seemed quiet with no pumping music. There were a few mosquitoes about.
Vanessa: We landed in Phu Quoc airport, and we had a pick-up to our accommodation close to the island’s most famous beach, Long Beach. Although it was dark, we could see several tall buildings and beach resorts.
This was really far from my idea of Phu Quoc, which I had thought was a largely unspoiled, tropical island similar to Koh Lanta in Thailand.
I wasn’t thrilled, but knowing that the island is very big, I thought I’d wait until the morning to see what the place is really like.
What Was It Like To Stay In Phu Quoc
Dave: It was pretty obvious we'd need to get a moped to get around on from day one, so that's what we did. As a result, this gave us a lot of mobility and freedom to visit everywhere we might want to.
The moped did break down one day, and we kind of cruised back into town at 2 miles per hour. It was all swapped over with no hassle though, which was lovely.
The area we were staying in seemed to be little Russia. There were plenty of Russian shops, and menus in restaurants had Russian menus (along with English). I guess I felt how a Russian would feel going to the Costa del Sol in Spain and expecting authentic Spain!
Our daily needs were all well met – Plenty of places to eat, a night market, supermarkets etc. From memory, getting hold of decent fruit and veg nearby seemed to be a problem for us. There was a better market further about a 10km drive away.
The biggest observation though, was the construction works. New buildings, roads, hotels – it was never ending. As we explored the island further, there were unbelievable big complexes being constructed at the south of the island, with possibly time-share apartments.
Phu Quoc was an island undergoing rapid change. And it was obvious to see that the new buildings were obliterating the charm that might have made the island attractive even just a handful of years ago.
Vanessa: Although we had originally planned to stay for ten days in Phu Quoc, we ended up staying a few more days, as our room was very convenient and we had the chance to meet a few other travelers. Getting around the island on a moped was very easy, even with the scorching midday sun.
There was not much to do in our immediate area apart from a few restaurants and bars, though I don’t remember seeing any locals sitting down for a meal. Long Beach was very close, but in my opinion there was nothing special about it, though it served its purpose when we wanted a quick splash.
In terms of food, there were a few local markets on the island where we got fresh fruit and veg. We also found a few supermarkets and minimarkets that seemed to sell tons of processed sugary food, a few local snacks with no labels on, and some things that we were actually looking for.
As for restaurants, I think that in our two weeks in Phu Quoc we only had two or three meals that were good, while we found the rest average or below average, contrary to what we had been led to believe.
What We Thought Of Things To Do In Phu Quoc
Dave: With the moped, it was easy just to hop on, and go and check out a new thing everyday. We certainly never got bored, and in two weeks, never saw everything. There's plenty of things to do in Phu Quoc!
Our biggest disappointment however, were the beaches. There was so much rubbish washed up, it made me embarrassed to be a human.
This embarrassment turned to disgust on Sao Beach though. This is supposed to be one of the best beaches in Vietnam if not Asia, but it was simply terrible. Sure, there is a really pretty bit which EVERYONE takes their photos at, but those photos only tell half the story.
Either side of this pristine stretch of sand, are sections where tonnes of garbage has washed up. Check out the photo below!
No, that's not a dead body. Somebody actually decided that was a good place to soak up some sun.
Vanessa: Phu Quoc is a big island with a very long coastline, so its number one attraction for me was the beaches. Unfortunately, I was overall pretty disappointed with the beaches in Phu Quoc (see below) especially after all the great comments we had read before getting to the island. I love snorkeling, but I didn’t see anything special close to the island. There were snorkeling tours off the coast, but I didn’t take one.
As we had already been to several night markets in SE Asia, the one in Phu Quoc didn’t particularly stand out, though we quite liked some of the street food and the rolled ice-cream. On the plus side, the market wasn’t very busy overall, in contrast to many of the night markets in Chiang Mai.
One of the highlights of the island was a small rooftop bar right in the night market called House no 1, hosting a movie night on Sundays. It was very surreal watching The Royal Tenenbaums and Punch-Drunk Love at a random rooftop bar in Vietnam, together with a small mouse and a cat trying to chase it away.
Right next door, there was a vegan restaurant called Loving Hut Thai Duong, which we quite liked.
The thing that impressed me more about Phu Quoc was its awesome cable car, connecting Phu Quoc with a smaller island further south, Hon Thom. This amazing construction took several years to make, and it takes about 15 minutes to get from Phu Quoc to Hon Thom.
The views from the cable car were truly breathtaking, as the car passes over two smaller islands and a fishing village. The photos and videos don’t really do them much justice!
Arriving at Hon Thom Island though was rather disappointing. While the island itself is very pretty, there were few designated areas of the beach where people are allowed to go to, and guards were pretty strict, especially towards the non-Vietnamese.
A massive waterpark is currently in the making, and there are many buildings and constructions that simply do not fit the lush tropical environment.
While I was fascinated by the whole enterprise, a side of me kept thinking that it’s all a big mistake, and that nature should be protected and respected.
What Disappointed Us About Phu Quoc
Dave: The beaches were the main disappointment, closely followed by what can only be described as uncontrolled development. The two are probably closely related.
I've travelled enough over the last 25 years to know that it's all going to end badly at Phu Quoc. And it's likely to be unrecoverable as well.
Vanessa: Coming from Greece, my beach standards are pretty high. Although not all beaches in Greece are great, I am lucky to have travelled a lot around my country, and really appreciate how stunning some of the Greek beaches are.
Some of the beaches that we saw on other islands in SE Asia, such as Kapas Island in Malaysia, Koh Lanta in Thailand or Con Dao in Vietnam were fantastic. So I was quite eager to explore the beaches in Phu Quoc.
We didn’t visit all of the beaches in Phu Quoc. Some of them belonged to resorts and they wouldn’t let us in and some others were quite difficult to reach. Also, the island is big, and riding a moped in 35 degrees can be exhausting!
But I won’t lie – I found the beaches in Phu Quoc rather disappointing, even though some of them constantly rate among the best beaches in Vietnam.
Starting with Long Beach, it was way too crowded, and there was too much infrastructure around. To a certain degree this is understandable, since it’s the most popular beach in Phu Quoc. Still, I thought it didn’t have a character, and buildings seemed to have been built rather haphazardly – just like in Athens!
Our greatest disappointment was Sao Beach, at the south-east coast of the island, for which I had the highest expectations. This beach was really very picturesque, with all the palm trees and white sand we see in photos.
However, half of the beach was occupied by people, beach bars and an overload of water activities, and the other half of the beach was completely deserted and quiet, but also full of rubbish. The water was really murky, and overall it was a complete disappointment, so we didn’t stay there at all.
Other areas and beaches of the island seemed to be entirely occupied by massive resorts. We tried to access three or four beaches on the coast, only to be sent away by the hotel security guards.
Overall, I felt it’s a shame that this beautiful, green, tropical island has been so built up – and it’s clear that there’s going to be more and more infrastructure. As for the cable car mentioned above, it was really amazing to take the ride, but part of me regrets being a part of it, as it has already had a large impact on the environment.
Why We Think Phu Quoc Is Popular With Foreign Visitors
Dave: It's obviously being marketed as a cheap winter sun destination for Europeans. Right now, I'd say Russians make up the largest proportion of package tourists, but I know they are also advertising to Brits.
In all fairness, Phu Quoc in February is always going to be better than Grimsby in the winter, so I imagine the package tourists will think it's fantastic. For people knocking around Asia a bit longer though, it's likely to come as a bit of a disappointment.
Vanessa: One of the things that make Phu Quoc popular with foreign visitors is that you don’t need a visa to go there. We already had our visa for Vietnam and our ticket for Phu Quoc before we realized this, but for other travelers it’s really easy to get there.
At the same time, we heard that there are direct flights from Europe, so it’s easy and convenient to get to. Life there is fairly inexpensive, and the weather is great. I totally understand why some people would want to go there.
Would We Go Back To Phu Quoc
Dave: You know, despite my feelings that Phu Quoc isn't the greatest place on earth, I would actually go back. The reason being, is that it ticks certain boxes for being able to work on the road, it does have affordable accommodation if you look, and it's easy to get around by hiring a moped.
So, if I found myself in Asia with a month to fill in, I could easily see that Phu Quoc would be a place I would consider. And now I know what it's actually like, the feeling of disappointment wouldn't be there.
Vanessa: By now it’s clear that Phu Quoc was far from my favourite place in SE Asia, as I found it fairly touristy and was very disappointed in terms of the infrastructure and the massive resorts.
I personally wouldn’t go back, as we had enough time to explore the island and see what it’s about. There are hundreds of islands in SE Asia that I’d like to visit when we go back!
Cost Of Living In Phu Quoc – More Or Less Than We Thought
Dave: My memories of the cost of living, seem to be that prices for food in restaurants were higher than we knew was the ‘real' Vietnamese price. The thing is, we weren't exactly in the ‘real' Vietnam, so what did we expect!
With that said, it wasn't too outrageous, and as I don't drink or smoke, my basic living needs are just accommodation and 3 (or 4 or 5) meals a day.
Where we stayed was a real bonus as it was cheap at around 20 euro per night, and also had a kitchen where we could prepare some meals ourselves.
Vanessa: The cost of staying in Phu Quoc for a couple of weeks was really quite low compared to other places we visited in SE Asia.
Although I am sure that Phu Quoc is more expensive than other popular places in Vietnam, there were plenty of rooms for under 20 euro / night.
We stayed at a place called Bamboo Resort, with spacious rooms and communal kitchens, and I would recommend it unless you dislike cats and dogs. https://www.booking.com/hotel/vn/bamboo-garden-resort.en-gb.html
Is Phu Quoc An “Authentic Asia Experience”?
Dave: Haha – no!
Vanessa: After spending a few months in Asia, defining “an Authentic Asia Experience” has become rather complicated.
There are places like Koh Jum, which attracts relatively few foreign tourists, and places like Bangkok where pretty much anything goes.
However, I don’t think I would call Phu Quoc an authentic Asia experience, given that it seems to be geared towards European tourists.
I would definitely not suggest Phu Quoc to people looking for unspoilt beaches and genuine local culture. In retrospect, I would have preferred to stay longer in Con Dao instead of Phu Quoc.
Would You Recommend Phu Quoc As A Destination?
Dave: If you are travelling through Asia on a long trip, and want to check it out then sure, go for it. If you are looking for a unique one-off destination, then no. There is no way I would recommend Phu Quoc as a stand-alone holiday destination – Unless you have just endured the British winter in Grimsby of course!
Vanessa: A friend of mine was recently asking if they should go to Phu Quoc, and my immediate answer was “I wouldn’t suggest it”.
Obviously, this depends on everyone’s style and preferences when they travel. Without having explored the island fully, I couldn’t say what the other beaches are like, or whether other parts of the island are less affected by tourism.
But my first impression was actually my last – too much infrastructure, and therefore not my cup of tea. However, for some people this is attractive, so it really depends on who is asking.
Our Impressions Of Phu Quoc
As you see, our impressions of Phu Quoc are not exactly identical, which only proves that everyone is different. Have you been to Phu Quoc? What did you think to it? Let us know in the comments!