Editor’s Revision on 7/9/2015: Mercure Phu Quoc Resort Hotel is part of the Accor Hotels Group. We made the correction to this post as we originally wrote “Novotel” instead of “Mercure” in our post.
An island less traveled by foreign tourists…
I have explored Vietnam since I was 18 years old. I remembered the road trips my family took up and down Vietnam on perilous roads that still induced fear into me. It is amazing how much Vietnam has changed in 14 years. On my last trip to Ho Chi Minh City (“HCMC”), my best friend mentioned fresh sea urchins and the abundance of seafood on Phu Quoc Island that she tasted on her many trips there with her friends. The island has relatively been untouched by foreign tourism and that is about to change with all the new resorts being built over the next few years. Phu Quoc is one of the last sleepy fishing islands off the coast of Vietnam. It takes about an hour flight from HCMC. It is the local weekend getaway similar to going to the Cape in Massachusetts. It doesn’t have the mega or five stars resorts like Con Dao yet, but that will change quickly. We decided to take a weekend trip to unwind from the bustling cities.
We stayed at the Mercure Phu Quoc Resort Hotel for the weekend. Look out for our resort review coming soon.
There are two ways to get around Phu Quoc. You can rent a moped for a half day or full day rate. This includes gas and two helmets. The other option is to take a taxi. This could cost you between $5 to $10 each way. Phu Quoc has very little car traffic so renting a moped is ideal and safe.
My best friend lives in HCMC so she was the driver for our moped. Make sure you buy a dust mask along the side of the road for 25 cents. There is a ton of dirt flying at you when you are on the moped. I would advise you to take a taxi at night instead of using the moped as there are very little lights along the road at night.
We had dinner at Song Xanh (Green River) Restaurant at Đường 30/4, Khu Phố 1, Dương Đông, TP. This is the best seafood restaurant in town. It was so popular that a few of the seafood options were sold out by 7pm! When you arrive, you will pick the catch of the day that can range from sea urchins, squids caught off the pier, fish, clams and other assortments. Next, you will follow the server to your seats. We settled on the famous Phu Quoc dish of marinated sardines in lime juice with an assortment of herbs, vegetables, fresh noodles and rice papers to create our own summer rolls. This is a must try if you are in Phu Quoc!
Source: La Vie Partagee
We followed that with freshly caught squid lightly boiled with pineapple, Thai basil and Phu Quoc fish sauce table side.
The last dish was sautéed sea snails in a tamarind sauce.
We were blown away at the flavors bursting in our mouths and commiserated how we would have paid top dollar for seafood this fresh in the US. A word of advice is to avoid drinking any ice and cha (fresh brewed tea) at all cost. My best friend suffered from food poisoning and the only difference is that I had fresh squeezed watermelon juice without ice and she had iced tea.
After dinner, you will have a few options of bars and live music during the tourist season. We were there during the off season so our entertainment options were limited. We headed back to the Mercure Phu Quoc Resort Hotel from some night swimming and to listen to the hotel’s live band.
On Saturday, my best friend arranged a private boat (referral only) to take us around the island to fish, snorkel and swim for the day. The captain’s name is Thuan and his mobile number is +84 91 8011715. The boat is ideal for small groups (family, friends) and can accommodate up to 10 people. There is a bathroom on board and life jackets. Keep in mind that Mr. Thuan does not speak English so ask the receptionist at your hotel to help you communicate with him. Please let him know that you were referred to him by Trang from HCMC.
For a price of a ticket on a larger boat per person, you can book the boat to enjoy at your own pace. We negotiated a full day for $50 with prepared lunch. You can arrange your menu ahead of time with the vendor. They will buy groceries and cook according to your desire. It is locally known that the boatmen are the best seafood cooks as they have perfected the art of cooking on a fishing boat with very little supplies. The first mate proved this to be completely true! We never had a better seafood meal then the ones we had on this boat. There is an option to go fishing first and they will cook whatever you catch.
My best friend and I decided that our chance of catching lunch is slim so we opt to have our meal prepared instead. We anchored at a pretty quiet beach to partake in our amazing traditional Vietnamese lunch of caramelized cat fish (ca kho to), sautéed seasonal vegetables, sweet and sour fish soup (canh chua) and boiled fresh squids caught off the docks.
The first mate presented to us with the main attraction…a beautiful plate of sea urchins that the boat captain caught that morning per our request. These gorgeous jewels of the sea cost approximately 30,000 Vietnamese dongs or $1.25 each! A piece of sushi topped with sea urchin at a Japanese restaurant would cost us $10 per piece.
The boat captain will take you anywhere you want for the day. The boat captain even asked the local ferryman to let us try our hand at ferrying him around. It was fun but a lot of hard work. We really needed a beer afterwards.
We didn’t feel like snorkeling so the boat captain took it upon himself to snorkel for various sea creatures for a “show and tell”!
We did end up eating a few of those specimens raw!
After a fun day of eating, drinking, chilling, the sun started to set and it was time to bid our boat captain and his first mate farewell.
We were stuffed to the hilt by the time the boat docked and decided to skipped dinner for the night.
Check back next week for the second portion of our weekend in Phu Quoc.
Author: Thai-Anh Hoang
Featured photo: caophl (www.flickr.com)