Until recently, I wasn’t sure whether Phu Quoc was worth the detour, mostly because Vietnam is not particularly known for its beaches and because there’s not much to do there (yet). But after two trips to the ‘Pearl Island’, I have a better idea of what it has to offer.
Not only is it a 45-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City, but tickets are as low as C$23 each way. If you appreciate peacefulness, beaches, inspirational architecture and seafood, you’ll enjoy Phu Quoc. If you’re looking for a party island with trendy shops, it’s not the destination for you.
The JW Marriott, which opened in January 2017 and cost an estimated C$315 million, was designed by award-winning interior designer and architect Bill Bensley. Built as an old university campus, Lamarck University, this unique resort transports your imagination to the late 1800’s.
As you step foot into the lobby, you can’t help but glance at all the details that make this place so magical. Most notably, the staff uniforms, old trophies, bells, books, suitcases, paintings and babyfoot table, but even the chairs and tables. Everywhere you look, there’s something new to observe.
The next best thing to being a hotel guest is being a visitor. Upon your arrival, buy a C$15 voucher which can be used for food, beverages or spa treatments, and you’ll have access to the entire site.
After you’ve taken enough pictures in the lobby area, take a stroll on Lamarck Street, an ‘original’ Chinese market street. You’ll see a number of French ads painted on buildings, which used to be a common sight in France.
Step into French & Co for a coffee, a pastry or the finest chocolate in Vietnam, Marou. Then peek into the old school gym, also known as the Department of Physical Education.
At the end of the street, you’ll see Bai Kem, which translates to ice cream beach. Make a right and have lunch at either Tempus Fugit or Red Rum (my favourite). The first serves a variety of international cuisine and the second is a beachside seafood grill.
Then hit the beach, take a swim or a nap in one of the hammocks. It’s one of the prettiest beaches in Phu Quoc.
If you have time to explore further, make your way to the running track, near the department of zoology and conchology. And around 5 PM, walk over to the bar, called the Department of Chemistry, for happy hour cocktails and live music.
A visit at the JW Marriott is definitely a great way to spend at least one of your days in Phu Quoc.
Because Phu Quoc is not the most developed island yet, your best bet is to relax at your hotel’s beach. It’s the perfect place to read books and play board games. If you’re lucky, you may have access to paddle boards — guests at the JW Marriott do. You can also explore the island’s beaches on a motorbike, or book a snorkelling boat tour, but you won’t see a ton of coral and fish.
Phu Quoc is home to delicious seafood. Although you’ll probably want to stay in and eat at your hotel, make sure to reserve a table at Crab House at least once. It’s the most flavourful crab dish I’ve had in years. Paired with the Crab House special sauce made with butter, garlic and lemongrass, the Crab & Shrimp Combo for two is exquisite.
The ideal time to go is during the dry season, from October/November to March. Also, go before the island becomes too popular and crowded! The flight and hotel prices vary a lot, so pick your dates according to the top deals.
If you have a large budget to spend on accommodation ($$$$), the JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay is the most luxurious and creative hotel you’ll find.
Otherwise, Salinda is a great option ($$). The breakfast buffet is surprisingly tasty, the architecture is modern and service is impeccable.
If you don’t care about the hotel’s food, the villas at The Shells are gorgeous and less expensive ($) than the other two options.
1. Don’t expect perfect service. When you travel to Southeast Asia, you shouldn’t expect top notch customer service. If you do, you’ll be disappointed. Even at the most luxurious establishments, it’s possible that your food order is not taken properly or that things take more time. The level of service is not always consistent. You’ll find incredible places and some that are not quite up to speed.
2. Repeat and confirm (politely). This is generally done proactively by staff in restaurants, hotels and other establishments, but if not, you may avoid unpleasant surprises by confirming your order or demand. I’ve had six 5L bottles of water delivered to my apartment one night, instead of one 6L bottle. If there’s a misunderstanding, don’t lose your temper. The concept of saving face is important in Southeast Asia. Public arguments are a source of embarrassment.
3. Adjust your idea of space. Although there’s plenty of space in certain areas, like on the island of Phu Quoc, you might find yourself squeezed at the airport, or in the middle of a loud conversation between two people. Not everyone has the same notion of space. Gently move away if you’re uncomfortable. You may also see things that are completely different from what you’re used to. Asia has made me appreciate the good and the bad of both Asia and the West.
4. Tip. The fact that tipping is not always mandatory in Southeast Asia doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tip. Some restaurants include a service charge, others don’t. Leave a dollar or two to the taxi driver or restaurant staff that took good care of you. It goes a long way.
To summarize, it is worth a short visit if you’re living in or planning a trip to Vietnam.
Of course, I also highly recommend a visit to Sapa. Read my blog post here.
Like 8tiquette on Facebook to continue the conversation and subscribe to 8tiquette’s YouTube channel. And follow 8tiquette on Instagram.