Months ago my boyfriend and I decided to embark on a two week jaunt around Vietnam without either of us knowing much about the region. What we gathered from friends and colleagues was that the American dollar goes a long way, the food was amazing and unspoiled paradise can be found -- if you know where to look. Luckily, we found that all in one place: Phu Quoc Island. If seclusion, tropical rainforests and miles of untouched beaches are what you crave, this is your dream locale.
Located just 15 miles off the coast of Cambodia, this small Vietnamese island (it's roughly the size of Singapore but at around 70,000, it has but a fraction of the population) was a P.O.W. detention camp during the Vietnam War. Since then it has slowly gotten itself into the tourism game. What was once a hidden treasure on the Southeast Asia beach circuit is now poised to become the new Phuket (Thailand that is) since a one billion dollar tourism complex was recently approved. Need it spelled out for you? Get there now.
From the sky you could tell paradise was found -- and it didn't take long to confirm once we hit the ground. A very kind man waiting for us in the tiny and stress-free airport was on hand to take us to the Mango Bay Resort -- an eco-lodge located on the western shores of the island. A short, but bumpy, ride from the airport takes you to this hidden treasure, steps away from the warm waters and private Ong Lang Beach. Here they offer three tiers of rooms starting at $25 a night. We opted to "splurge" for the $50 "Rammed Earth Bungalow" which boasted a clean, mosquito netted room with a veranda and an outdoor shower that was worth the cost alone. This low-key resort also offers an excellent open-air restaurant and bar where each night you are bound to witness one of the most majestic sunsets you've ever seen.
Since this is such a small island it's best to travel it via motorbike -- something you can rent (around $6 at Mango Bay) at virtually all resorts. With this carefree mode of transport (expect the locals to enthusiastically wave and scream hello at you when you pass) you can explore a myriad of other beaches such as the lovely Bai Sao Beach ("Star Beach) and Bai Truong Beach ("Long Beach") where you must stop at Hieu's, a "mom and pop" joint that serves the tastiest -- and freshest -- seafood out of what can only be classified as a wooden hut. From there, it's a must to check out the village of Duong Dong to see where the fishing boats converge and a plethora of vendors selling anything from clothing to Phu Quoc most famous export, pepper. It would be a crime not to take some home.
Then hop back on your mini-hog and head to the southern region of the island where you can motor through miles of protected rainforest. And if you keep south -- to the fishing village of An Thoi -- you can to take a boat out for snorkeling and scuba diving. But if that is too much activity, remember you can also do nothing, because this island is equipped just for that. Good luck not to quitting your job and staying here Â? it's that kind of place.
From New York-JFK you can take Cathay Pacific Airlines to Ho Chi Minh City starting at $1,723 round trip via CheapTickets (tel. 888/922-8849; www.cheaptickets.com). From there, there are four daily flights (50 minutes) to Phu Quoc on Vietnam Airlines (tel. 415/677-8909; www.vietnamairlines.com.vn) pricing at about $66 roundtrip. Flights to Phu Quoc can be arranged in Ho Chi Minh City.
Mango Bay Resort, Ong Lang Beach; tel. +84-903/382-207; www.mangobayphuquoc.com. Rates begin at $25 a night.
Other Recommended Accommodations
Beach Club Resort, Long Beach; tel. +84-077/980-998; www.beachclubvietnam.com. Rates begin at $15 a night.
La Veranda, Duong Dong Beach; tel. +84-077/982 988; www.laverandaresort.com Rates begin at $125.
All Americans need a visa to enter the country. For information on how to acquire one go to www.vietnamembassy-usa.org or call tel. 202/861-2293. More information about planning a trip to and traveling in Vietnam is available by clicking here.
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