HCMC Dining Guide

Monday, December 8, 2014

Building an Island

I was last on Phu Quoc in February of 2012. I was expecting it to be a lot different, but the scale of change since then is breathtaking. For example: when I was there nearly three years ago, the international airport was under construction, while planes still used the tiny, single-runway strip right by the sea. Now, the big airport is open for business while the runway of the old facility has been turned into a road.

After a booking mishap thanks to terrible customer service (avoid B&B Guesthouse), Abbe and I ended up staying in a private bungalow at Mai Spa, a lovely place on Long Beach. The beach was 30 feet from our door, and we looked out onto the verdant garden in the middle of the property.

Perhaps the best part of the stay was THIS FREAKING CUTE PUPPY!
It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!
I'd like to take a second to fully endorse Winston's Burgers, where we had dinner Friday night. Run by an American from San Diego (I assume his name is Winston), this place serves up awesome burgers that could give any competitor in Saigon a run for its money, along with a hearty slice of classic rock from a computer behind the bar. If you're looking for something other than seafood to eat on Phu Quoc, don't miss Winston's.

We rented a motorbike after lunch on Saturday and headed south from Dong Duong on a smooth-as-silk road that hadn't existed last time I was here. Eventually we caught up to the construction of the road and had to detour to the old red dirt road right on the coast, which I remembered from my last trip. This stretch looked much the same, with miles of palm trees and empty, narrow beach, but there were signs of major changes on the way. Huge areas for Mercure and Intercontinental resorts were fenced off, with construction in the early stages. I imagine that dirt road will be paved before those properties open, meaning this stretch of coast won't look so rustic for much longer.

Phu Quoc is famous for its beaches, and I was looking forward to revisiting Bai Sao, on the southeastern side of the island. When I stumbled upon this beach with a couple of friends in 2012 we were stunned - it was almost completely empty, with perfect white sand and crystal-clear water. There was one small restaurant at the entrance to the beach, and that was it.

Now it looks like this.

People obviously have discovered the beach, as it was quite crowded. More depressing than that was the garbage strewn all over the place and general filthiness of the water. What had been paradise less than three years ago was now completely ruined. It's times like this that make me wonder what the real value of tourism is if humans destroy everything they find.

Thoroughly disappointed, we headed back to Long Beach on another huge new road, this time up the east side of the island. It seemed as if all of Phu Quoc was under construction.
Sunset on Long Beach. At least people can't fuck those up.
Sunday brought more exploring, as we cruised up to the northeast edge of the island on a stunning, deserted road that skirts the densely-forested national park. Eventually we reached Bai Thom village, where the pavement ended and red dirt took over again. A few miles on we came across Hon Mot, a tiny island accessible via footbridge. This was more like the stunning scenery we had hoped for at Bai Sao, with clear water stretching all the way to Cambodia, just a little ways north of the island.

The path that circles Hon Mot
With time running down towards our evening flight back to Saigon we hit the road again, this time towards Ganh Dau, a beach on the northwest side of Phu Quoc. After a quick stretch on the paved road we turned onto a 20km stretch of dirt running to the beach. It was rough at times, but as an experienced driver it wasn't much of a challenge.
With three kilometers to go we came over a small, curving rise, and right at the apex the right side of the road was washed out. I couldn't see it until we were right on it, and before I had time to react the front wheel of the bike slammed into the lip of the hole, sending us down on the right side. Abbe managed to come out almost unscathed, but I had ugly scrapes, cuts and road burn on my right ankle, calf, knee, hip, abdomen and elbow. The bike was a little worse for wear, but still running. A local stopped and indicated that we could wash up in town (meanwhile three western tourists drove by without even thinking of asking if we were OK), and after sprinkling water on our wounds we carried on.

A friend had recommended checking out the Peppercorn Resort in Ganh Dau, so I headed straight there. I was in serious pain, and it was obvious something was off with the bike mechanically. We entered the resort and the incredibly friendly owner offered to help as soon as he saw my condition. The setting was absolutely stunning, but as I limped into the ocean to wash my wounds more thoroughly all I could focus on was the searing pain. None of the damage was too deep, but this was the worst I had ever been hurt in a crash in over three years of driving in Vietnam. The staff then took out the first aid kit and treated and wrapped my injuries, going well above the call of duty for someone who wasn't even staying there. The owner, Cho, shared that he had grown up in Saigon and worked with the Australian military during the war. He got the hell out of dodge once the north won, only to return in 1990. He now lives in Australia for most of the year and spends a couple of months back here. His sister owns the resort, but he helps out as well. His concern for my well-being was genuine, and I was floored by the hospitality of the staff. The setting was gorgeous. Peppercorn Resort gets another strong recommendation in my book.

With the bike clearly damaged, Abbe shaken up and me limping, driving back to Dong Duong was out of the question. Mr. Cho called us a taxi and I informed our hotel that we would be returning without their bike. After a ride back down the island I was greeted with more kindness by the staff at Mai Spa, who also seemed quite worried about me and provided more first aid. If you're heading to Phu Quoc check this place out, it's especially great for couples.

A few hours later we were back in Saigon, and I was ruined. Overall this was a good trip, but it certainly had some ups and downs. The pace of development on Phu Quoc is incredible, even by Vietnam standards, and I'm worried it's just going to turn into Phuket, or some other ridiculously overdone island. For the sake of the relatively undiscovered places like Bai Thom and Ganh Dau we found, I hope that doesn't become the case.


  1. Good article Mike, hope your leg gets better.

    1. Thanks! It's improving, still not moving around too much though.

  2. Looks beautiful and ouch get well soon Mike

  3. My wife and I had a wipe out over there as well. Great island but boy the changes from when we first went there in 2007 to when we last went there in 2013 are huge.