On his journey to Vietnam
, Jason Dundas visited the tear-shaped island of Phu Quoc. It lies in the Gulf of Thailand, just 45km west of Ha Tien and 15km south of the Cambodian coast. It's about 60km from north to south, and if you're game, a good way to get around is on a moped. Accommodation ranges from concrete bungalows to five-star hotels.
It is called The Island of 99 Mountains because of sandstone chains which gradually descend from north to south. Ham Ninh, the longest, stretches 30km along the eastern edge. Mu Chua is its highest peak at 603m.
In the 17th century the desolate area is where Vietnamese and Chinese earned their living from the highly coveted sea cucumbers. In 1869 the French set up rubber and coconut plantations. Between 1967 and 1972 the Saigon regime built a POW detention camp holding 40,000 inmates. After the war, Phu Quoc became the tourist destination it is today.
Its monsoon subequatorial climate means it has two seasons in a year rainy in October and dry between November to September. It usually has wonderful clear and sunny skies with an average temperature of 27°C. It has sugary beaches and crystal water dotted with traditional wooden fishing boats.
Diving opened up in Phu Quoc just five years ago so there is plenty of uncharted reef to explore. If you would rather snorkel that's very rewarding too. Water temperature is higher than 25°C year round so it's perfect for both activities.
The oddly shaped Dinh Cau Rock at the mouth of the Duong Dong River is the symbol of Phu Quoc and is a sacred, holy place. Legend has it that two powerful men who once ruled Phu Quoc were so generous and wise, people started worshipping them at the rock. Fishermen pray there before setting sail, asking for their safe return and with a good catch.
Duong Dong Riverside Market has a cheerful atmosphere and vendors in conical palm hats sell their produce and wares. Markets always seem to give a good insight into the local way of life.
Phu Quoc National Park covers more than 31,000 hectares, around 70 percent of the island. It has 929 tree species, 19 of which were only recently discovered. They provide home and shelter for many species of birds and small mammals such as flying squirrels and sloth monkeys. Trekking is rewarding but should only be done in the dry season.
La Veranda Grand Mercure Resort & Spa
Designed to reflect the ambience of a seaside colonial mansion, La Veranda is nestled in tropical gardens along a white, sandy beach. Rooms are luxurious and tranquil with cool tiles in traditional designs, dark woods and fine linens. Balconies are the perfect place to admire the lush, tropical greenery and exotic flowers.
Peppertree Restaurant overlooks the beach and diners are presented with wonderful meal choices. Fresh seafood with tangy fish sauce and fragrant pepper is their signature dish.
There is a cool, deep blue pool, spa and a team of massage therapists who will treat you to natural scrubs, wraps, skin treatment and massage.
Phu Quoc is known in the kitchens of the world for two products: pepper sauce and fish sauce. There are hundreds of sauce workshops churning out around 10 million litres of fish sauce every year and countless pepper gardens cover 500 hectares.
's west coast.
La Veranda Grand Mercure Resort & Spa rooms start at around $205 a night, deluxe villas from $255 and La Veranda Suite from $390. Cost includes round-trip airport transfer, welcome drink and fruit. Check www.accorhotels-asia.com
or call 1300 656 565 for special offers.
Prices correct at June 11, 2009.
For further information
La Veranda Grand Mercure Resort & Spa
Tran Hung Dao Street
Duong Dong Beach
Phu Quoc Island
Kien Giang Province
Ph: +84 77 3982 988
Fax:+84 77 3982 998
Visas: Australian passport holders must have a valid passport and a visa is required.
Electricity: 220V at 50Hz. Three plugs are used throughout Vietnam: two flat blade; two round pins; and two parallel flat pins with ground pin.
Time zone: GMT +7.
Currency: The dong.
International dialling code: +84.
It is recommended travellers to Vietnam see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information, visit www.welltogo.com.au or www.smartraveller.gov.au.