We were bummed to say goodbye to my Dad and Leslye — but the good news was — Adam (Kile’s brother) was still with us and we were going to be meeting up with his wife Monica! The fun continues! And now we were headed to the island of Phu Quoc.
So Much to Explore: Let’s Get Scooters!
We had nine days to spend exploring this gorgeous island so, of course, we rented a couple scooters to get us around. Our first mission was to simply head north and see what we ran into — off we went!
As soon as you head north from our bungalows in Long Beach you immediately go through the city of Duong Dong. We were all surprised just how busy and populated it was — I think we might have all had it in our heads that Phu Quoc was pretty “resorty” and touristy, which it is, but there are definitely some bustling cities scattered throughout the island.
After passing through the city we wanted to take the coastline road up to the top of the island. After doing some winding through some roads we finally found the beach. Our first stop put us at a gorgeous beach side resort called Chez Carole. It was way too serene to pass up so we decided to sit down, have a beer, and take in the beautiful scenery.
After a quick beer, we were back on the bikes. “Let’s stay on this coastal highway!” we all said — little did we know that the “highway” quickly became a challenging dirt road that sometimes totally disappeared forcing us to drive on the beach. We kept seeing other bikes coming our way and also scootering past us from behind so we kept on going! Needless to say — it was a very bumpy ride…our bums were definitely sore.
Even though the road wasn’t the greatest (or even slightly good at all) we found some incredible beaches. Unfortunately, we all forgot to bring our swimsuits but it was still awesome to take in such gorgeous sights. It was clear that this northwestern area of the island isn’t the most visited — the beaches were very calm and quiet.
What’s crazy to us was the amount of construction we noticed on our ride. Once we went even further north there were massive resorts being built — one after the other. It’s crazy to think what this island will look like in the next 5 or 10 years.
Passing construction zones of giant resort after giant resort we reached the very northwestern tip of the island — time for some lunch. This part of the island wasn’t nearly as beachy — more fishing boats than anything. But the cool part was? You could see Cambodia from our lunch table!
The Beaches of Phu Quoc
The beaches we came across on our northern excursion were nice but they weren’t the beaches of Phu Quoc. After getting some insight from the owner of the restaurant we had lunch at — we knew where we had to head and that was to the southeast side of the island.
Sao Beach was one of the must-see beaches in Phu Quoc so, of course, that was where we knew we had to head for our next scooter adventure. Sao Beach is about 15 miles southeast of where we were staying and took about 30 or so minutes by motorbike. If you didn’t do a bit of research beforehand it would be easy to miss — from the main highway you turn left down a gravely dirt road for another 2 miles or so before arriving at the beach.
We immediately knew why Sao Beach was known as one of the best beaches on Phu Quoc. The sand was soft, the water was gorgeous and warm, and there are little restaurants with beach chairs lining the entire strip of the beach. We came here twice over the course of our stay on the island and absolutely loved every minute of it each time. You could easily stay here for hours on end.
Another beach we wanted to explore was a bit further south of Sao Beach called Khem Beach. According to our map, it should have just been a few miles south and another left on a dirt road. Well — we were learning quickly that nothing is ever quite as it seems in Vietnam.
We found the road that should have taken us down to Khem beach but instead it put us into another massive resort construction zone. It definitely didn’t look like a place we were supposed to be. Finally, a security guard informed us to just keep going down a side dirt road to reach the beach. Hesitantly, we kept going — the dirt road turned into a sand road and it certainly didn’t feel like we were headed anywhere that tourists would normally go. But eventually — we found Khem Beach.
Khem Beach was undeniably gorgeous but we could tell that it wasn’t a main destination beach for tourists. It seemed like more of a hangout and fishing spot for the locals. The beach itself was covered in trash which was sad because the water was just incredible. Since there was a gigantic resort in the works along the beach I’m sure it will be cleaned up in the next year or so to accommodate that. We all tried walking down to check out the finished portion of the resort but were immediately told to leave the area. Bummer. So we decided to leave — glad we saw it though!
The southeastern beaches were no joke — absolutely stunning. Luckily for us, the beach near our bungalows was pretty damn nice as well — and we didn’t have to drive 30 minutes to get to it! It was about a 10 minute walk from our bungalows to get to Long Beach.
The Long Beach area is definitely the most touristy area of the island and it’s easy to see why. It’s a beautiful spot to watch the sunset, the beach is glorious, and there are tons of cheap restaurants and bars every few yards. We took advantage of some lazy days at our beach for sure. For just 150,000 dong (about $6 USD) you could get a beach chair for the entire day, a towel, and beer. Can’t argue with that!
A Bizarre Waterfall & a VERY Hard to Find Lake
Another sightseeing destination on the island is the Phu Quoc waterfall aka Suoi Tranh. It’s located pretty much smack dab in the middle of the island. In our heads I think we were picturing a nice peaceful hike through nature before reaching a beautiful flowing waterfall. The waterfall was indeed beautiful but the “getting there” part? Was a bit strange.
The entrance to the parking lot of the falls looked like a theme park — odd start. After paying a small entrance fee, we began our hike back up into the falls. But first we were guided through a manicured garden area that led us back to a fairly big restaurant. Passing the restaurant, we began seeing giant cheesy animal statues — anything from tigers to elephants to lions. It felt like a really low-budget theme park…now the entrance to the parking lot was making sense.
As we continued up the trail we quickly realized that this is where the local Vietnamese come on their day off to straight up party. Families were parked along the river with cases of beer, portable stoves to cook fish on, and full on karaoke machines. It was so strange! What we thought would be a quiet peaceful nature hike turned into a bizarre people watching moment with a Vietnamese soundtrack blaring in the background. So nuts.
Eventually we reached the falls — as to be expected, it was beautiful. It wasn’t a gigantic waterfall or anything but it was definitely worth seeing and after all, the experience turned out to be way more entertaining than we could have ever imagined. We all went for a quick dip with some locals before heading back down to our scooters.
Our next destination was a lake that we found on our map. It wasn’t labeled and hadn’t really heard anyone mention it but it looked like a decent size lake in the middle of the island — so we set off to find it!
We took the main highway to yet another dirt road and drove a few miles — soon, the dirt road pretty much came to an end. Where was this lake?! We were certain it wasn’t the small pond we passed so we decided to push through on this road that became more of a trail. We passed by a few Vietnamese guys working on the road — I’m sure they were wondering what the hell we were doing there.
Eventually we found it — but turns out, it was more of a reservoir. It was absolutely massive and beautifully blue but there wasn’t a soul to be seen. I’m pretty sure we weren’t even allowed to be there but, nonetheless, we felt accomplished that we found it. It was one of those moments where we all stood there looking at it for about 5 minutes and said “welp…there it is” and left.
The Last — and Scariest — Excursion
We had the motorbikes for just a couple more days and there was just one part of the island that we hadn’t yet explored – the northeastern side. According to the map (which we still trusted for some reason) we could do a nice loop from the center of the island, to the north, down south, and back into the center again. So we put our helmets on and off we went!
The drive to the northeastern side of the island was so refreshing. We climbed elevation a bit and passed through some jungle. It actually got a bit chilly! Finally reaching the northeastern side it was clear that not many tourists ventured to this area. It was very quiet and mellow. We pulled off at a beach bar for a beer and were told we could take a little bamboo bridge to a small island called Hon Mot. The 4 of us walked over to the “bridge” and quickly realized there was no way in hell we’d make it across. Part of the bridge was missing a handrail and none of us had gymnast-like balance to make it across without it. It was a beautiful area to see though!
Continuing south we reached the road that would — or should — eventually take us back toward the center of the island. Upon meeting the road I had a feeling that it didn’t look very safe but at this point we had been on so many dirt roads that the lack of infrastructure didn’t surprise me anymore.
The road started off as a typical dirt road and slowly became more and more eroded. Eventually the 4 of us were basically dirt biking through a severely eroded and totally scary road. At times you felt like you would just fall into the ditch on the side or fall over because the ruts in the dirt were so deep. We all had white knuckles. Not knowing how much longer we had to go — we just kept going hoping that it would eventually get better. It didn’t.
After a few miles of hell a Vietnamese man driving a motorcycle with a woman on the back drove toward us. He stopped and asked us where we were going — he was clearly confused as to what we were doing on this shit hole of a road. We responded with “we don’t know!” and he told us it would be best if we turned around. He then informed us that the road was the same quality, if not worse, for 20 more kilometers. Considering we had only gone about 5 or 6 kilometers at that point — we took his advice and turned around completing the hellish journey yet again back to the main highway.
We were bummed we couldn’t complete the loop that we had intended but we were super grateful we ran into that man — who knows what our day would have been like if we hadn’t. That would have been an excruciatingly long 20km.
Last Night, Best Night!
It was our last night in Phu Quoc and we didn’t have much planned besides some dinner at a Korean BBQ restaurant. We all had to be up fairly early so we didn’t plan on doing much that evening. Little did we know — a man named Ray had other plans in store for us.
Sitting down at the Korean BBQ restaurant we neighbored up next to a man who introduced himself as Ray. Turns out he was a Korean guy working on one of the giant resort construction sites on the island as a project manager. First — he bought us all a bottle of soju (Korean rice wine) wishing us a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. After learning that Monica, was not only Korean herself, but could speak it as well — he pretty much joined our table for the rest of dinner.
Ray was super talkative and extremely nice. He asked us all how we were related, what we did back home, and the usual banter you have with people on vacation. As soon as we wrapped up dinner — he then offered to pay for our entire meal! We couldn’t believe it. It was such an over-the-top gesture and so very generous. We couldn’t thank him enough.
Then? He asked us if we wanted to go karaoke-ing for a bit. We were all a bit hesitant because we knew we had to wake up early (specifically Adam who was on an earlier flight) but he ended up convincing us and we knew it was an experience we couldn’t turn down. He took us to a karaoke bar directly across the street from our bungalows. Kile, Adam, and Monica had attempted to check this karaoke bar out about a week prior but were pretty much escorted out of the building and they assumed it must not have been finished yet. But that wasn’t the case with Ray!
Ray led us up to this absolutely insanely modern and super fancy karaoke bar — all the workers immediately knew who Ray was. We got our own private room with a case of beer, fresh fruit, and tons of snacks. We were all just looking at each other like “I can’t believe this is happening right now!” It was too funny where our night headed so randomly!
We all sang our hearts out for about an hour before it was time for us to wrap it up. We were so bummed we had discovered this place on our very last night — we probably would have been there every night had we known otherwise! Yet again — Ray picked up the entire tab wishing us a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year before parting ways. What a random and crazy night. Ray was the man.
It was definitely a trip for the memory books. We crammed a lot into those 9 days and topped it off with one of the most fun nights we had on the island! It was our 2nd time celebrating Christmas in SE Asia and we certainly have memories to last us a lifetime. What a trip!
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Sounds like you had a great time in Phu Quoc. We were there for a few days just after New Years (We had Christmas in Ho Chi Minh City). Interestingly we were told we were not allowed to hire motorbikes as it was banned for foreigners. I know we could have gone elsewhere to hire them, but given that we were not sure of the legal situation and didn’t have much of a desire to have to bribe Vietnamese police we went for the easy option of a another day on the beach. Phu Quoc was meant to be our lazy bit of rest and relaxation so I don’t feel toooo bad, but your pictures do make me jealous on what we missed out.
We totally loved Phu Quoc! And we had no problems with renting motorbikes…never had any run-ins with police. But of course…lazy days by the beach are wonderful too!
Yes, our Phu Quoc was such a gem and great little place to visit. Seems you had blast there, too 🙂