When the weather is this stifling, what could be better than cooling off with a dip at one of Asia’s best kept secret beaches?
I recently explored the south coast of Phu Quoc to see what’s changed since I was last there 6 years ago.
The good news: Bai Sao (Star Beach) to the island’s south is still as beautiful as ever.
There’s now one hotel there (with a dozen rooms, in two parallel buildings, one in front of the other) and a handful of restaurants where the daytrippers congregate. But walk a few minutes to either side, and you’ll likely have a long stretch of sand all to yourself.
Tour groups usually come in the afternoons. Because it’s a bit out of the way (27 km), it’s often a stop on an organized tour (eg. snorkeling) or as part of an island tour by taxi. Because taxis from the main town of Duong Dong almost have to make the entire loop of the southern half of the island to get there, many choose to hire out a taxi for an island tour for the same price (4 hours, VND 630,000 or VND 780,000 / USD 37 for a full 8 hours) with stops along the way, like one of the many pearl farms (free demonstration of how the pearls are seeded and grown), pepper plantations and the colonial-era “Coconut Prison.”
Or book a snorkeling tour (~ USD 17 per person, full day, including lunch and transportation to / from your hotel) and catch many of the sights that way, including a bit of fishing / catching squid on the way to the two or so snorkeling spots you’re likely to visit…
Don’t be surprised to be offered a taste of sea urchin (grilled or in a rice congee) for a surcharge of about VND 20,000 per urchin, supposedly Vietnam’s natural answer to Viagra (?)
There’s construction happening on the stretch of road from Bai Sao back to Duong Dong and it’s nearly complete. A few stretches of red dirt road remain, so the adventurous can hire a motorbike for the day. The restaurants on Bai Sao are reasonably priced (fried calamari was VND 70,000).
Accor (the French hotel group who also manage brands like Sofitel, Novotel and Pullman) has plans to build a large complex of luxury villas towards the north side of Bai Sao Beach, so if you’re after seclusion, you’re better off heading to the northern beaches. But good news for those who want their gorgeous with a side of luxury, as being on site on what’s been described as the Best Asian Beach You’ve Never Heard Of in the early morning and late afternoon hours when all the day trippers are gone will indeed be a privilege.
I opted to stay in town, at the gorgeous La Veranda Resort, also an upscale M Gallery Hotel, meaning that while it’s part of a larger group of hotels (also managed by Accor), its design and vibe make it a One-of-a-Kind.
The design is French Colonial, with 70 rooms spread out in numerous buildings, including villas placed in lush garden settings.
The common spaces were designed by a home interior designer, not a hotel designer and it shows with cozy spaces liberally sprinkled throughout the property.
Rooms all have private balconies and are decorated in a French country style, with cool faded tiles, perfect for sandy feet…
The breakfast buffet overlooking the pool and the beach just beyond the palms is To. Die. For.
The hardest decision you’ll have to make all day…
There’s always something happening around the property. When I was there, it was a free movie screening on the beach. Or live music at the bar, if that’s more your thing.
Getting there: Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet service Phu Quoc from Ho Chi Minh City. If you’ve never been with VietJet before, just be aware that they take their 7 kg maximum carry-on weight very seriously and they WILL weigh your bag.
From the airport / pier: Ferries from the Vietnamese mainland go to Bai Vong pier, about 10 minutes’ drive to Duong Dong. From the airport, it’s about a VND 150,000 / USD 8 cab ride into town.
Taxis and tours: I checked with a few taxi companies (the main one is Sasco; don’t expect to find VinaSun or Mai Linh as there are only a handful of them on the island) and the going rate for the taxi tours is pretty much the same. Every hotel can book day tours for you. If you’re booking multiple tours or have a larger group, phone the tour operator directly to negotiate preferential rates.