Three days to be enchanted by Vietnam’s untouched island paradise
Phu Quy, 120 kilometers (74 miles) from Phan Thiet resort town in the south-central province of Binh Thuan, is not big or crowded like its better-known counterparts Phu Quoc and Nam Du.
There are no tourist traps or anxious tourists here, which helps the secluded island retain its untouched beauty with long, sandy beaches and turquoise sea.
Phu Quy has been hailed as one of the most beautiful islands in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea, by readers of the U.S. news site CNN. And there are more good reasons to explain why the island is being crowned as the best seaside retreat by young travelers.
If you have this thing for lovely islands but are worried about accommodation, food and transport, here’s an itinerary from seasoned travelers for a three-day trip to Phu Quy for a castaway-esque experience.
Three-day holiday itinerary
Day 1: Trieu Duong Bay – Bai Nho – Ganh Hang
Trieu Duong Bay, just a kilometer from Phu Quy Harbor, is touted as one of the most beautiful beaches on the island and indeed one of the few beach gems in Vietnam not yet overrun by tourists. Be prepared to be mesmerized by the beauty of its crystal blue water and soft white sands surrounded by lines of evergreen poplar trees glittering in the warm sunshine.
For beach enthusiasts, there’s nothing better than wearing shades and lying on the sands and listening to the sweet melody of the waves until the sun goes down.
A few miles from the beautiful bay is Bai Nho (Small Beach) – Ganh Hang, a crescent-shaped beach with rocks protruding into the sea.
Some tipped that there are little fishing boats anchoring along the beach, which means that you can feel free to go deeper into the crystal blue waters before diving to see the amazing coral reefs.
Since it is still off the beaten path, tourist services are somewhat scanty. Don’t expect a fancy world of restaurants and bars, but instead try a BBQ buffet on a deserted beach.
Trieu Duong Bay – one of the top beach destinations – on Phu Quy Island. Photo by Linh Chelsea
Day 2: Van An Thanh – Linh Son Pagoda – Cam Mountain
Van An Thanh is one of the oldest spiritual temples where the skeletons of over 100 whales, dolphins and turtles are worshipped by locals.
The island is home to around 28,000 people, most of whom are traditional fisherfolk. It is little surprise therefore that whales are venerated here and considered sacred guardians with magical powers who protect fishermen from dangers at sea.
To dig deeper into long-held local traditions, you should spend your second day visiting Van An Thanh Temple, where the skeletons of over 100 whales, dolphins and turtles are worshipped by locals.
The temple, built in 1741, is a repository of legends about whales saving fishermen from rough seas and enabling them to return home safely.
Besides, Linh Son Pagoda, which sits at the top of Cao Cat Mountain at 106 meters above sea level, also carries a divine and mysterious aura that has stood the test of time for more than a century.
You have to climb 100 steps to reach the pagoda, but it rewards you with tranquil and holy atmosphere, highlighted by a statue of Guan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, standing solemnly and facing the sea.
A tougher climb, one that challenges even young visitors but leaves them with an unforgettable experience, is up the country’s highest lighthouse at 108 meters above sea level on top of Cam Mountain.
The only way up is over 120 winding stone steps up.
From the top of Cam Mountain, you can get a breathtaking view of the amazing scenery below. Make sure you take a camera along.
Climbing down of the mountain after dusk is slightly dangerous, so you are encouraged to stay overnight and wake up at the crack of dawn to see the first rays of sunshine.
The isolated island has three giant windmills that provide electricity to its residents.
One experience not to be missed is standing on the top of Cam Mountain and watching the giant blades, a unique symbol of the island.
The route to the windmills is also stunning, with the blue ocean on one side and a row of trees along the road.
If you’re a fan of food fresh from the sea, leave your stomach empty and try some of the signature seafood dishes of the island such as king crab and star crab. You might need to make advance reservation with your hotel owners.
Take your time and savor the treats of the beachside place like rice spaghetti cooked with fresh shrimp, crab or meat, crispy pancakes that go with fish sauce and fresh herbs, and Vietnamese fermented fish rice noodle soup.
How to reach Phu Quy
From HCMC, it is a good idea to take a sleeper bus to Phan Thiet and then hop on a high-speed boat to get to Phu Quy Island.
The bus takes three to four hours and costs VND190,000-250,000 (($8.24-10.73). Once you reach Phan Thiet, get a cab or xe om to arrive at the eponymous wharf where you can get on the boat to the island at a cost of VND250,000 for one way ticket.
Keep in mind though that high-speed boats do not operate daily and depend on weather conditions. So it would be wise to check the schedules and book your tickets a week in advance.
The island is a mere 16.4 square kilometers, and there is no better way to discover it than on a motorcycle. You can rent a motorbike for VND100,000-120,000 per day at your hotel or homestay facility and explore every nook and corner.
Traffic on the island is not – yet – chaotic like in the country’s urban centers.
Where to stay
There are no fancy hotels or resorts, a minor downside to enjoying the untouched island, a hidden gem yet to be discovered by tourists.
But there are four-star hotels like Hung Phat, Hai Ha and Thien Long that cost VND300,000-500,000 per night, and they are not bad at all.
There are people who swear by homestay tourism, saying when you have the opportunity to live with locals and learn their culture, you should grab it.
Phu Quy Island is best enjoyed between December and June with little rain and more sunlight shining down on the crystal blue waters.
Avoid visiting during the monsoon season when the rains batter the island and there are often accompanied storms.
One more thing:
Unlike some other Vietnamese islands that prohibit foreigners from access due to military reasons, Phu Quy allows everyone to enter but they will need to show ID papers like visas and passports.
Story by Linh Chelsea