Phu Quoc-Wild & Pungent

There are plenty of island paradises in Southeast Asia  that have been discovered by Western tourists, but Phu Quoc is not one of them—for now, anyway. Just west of mainland Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand, this island falls squarely in the category of “go now” destinations around the globe. Resort developers and Vietnamese tourism authorities are grooming Phu Quoc to be the next big ecotourism vacation spot in Southeast Asia. But until modern infrastructure arrives, Phu Quoc is a superauthentic island getaway, where luxury hotels are still very affordable and golf courses are nonexistent, and where touring is done by moped down dusty red-dirt roads that lead to secluded beaches.
Phu Quoc is best suited to those with a sense of adventure and a love of unvarnished culture. While Phu Quoc has some of the best and least trodden beaches in the region, getting to those unspoiled stretches of sand often means renting a scooter and threading your way down unmarked dirt roads or arranging casual rides with local fishermen or motorists. (Even with prearranged boat or four-wheel-drive tours, you never really know what you’re going to get, which is certainly half the fun.) Head for the north and northeast part of the island to find the emptiest, most gorgeous beaches. Ganh Dau Beach even has a view of Cambodia, just 18km (11 miles) away. If you do set out on your own exploration of Phu Quoc, always pack a lunch and plenty of water, though even the smallest towns and quietest beaches usually have some sort of restaurant where you can sample the delicious, seafood-rich island cuisine.
The main town on Phu Quoc is Duong Dong, on the west coast of the emerald-shaped island, where the airport, seaport, and most hotels and services are located. An Thoi, on the southern coast, is the next town of any size; it’s a bit too remote to function as a base, but is close to the pristine white-sand beaches of Bai Sou and Bai Kem. Sprinkled up and down the coasts of Phu Quoc are smaller, less developed villages where visitors can have a truly genuine encounter with island culture. One is Cua Can, interesting for its old wooden bridges and where impromptu tours up the Cua Can River can be arranged with local fishermen. For just about anything water-based, Famous Tony organizes tours for individual groups.
Anywhere you visit on Phu Quoc, you’ll need to get used to the island’s smell. Because Phu Quoc is one of the premier manufacturers of fish sauce in Vietnam, the scent of dried fish literally permeates every corner of the island. If you’re interested in touring one of these factories, the largest is Hung Thanh , in Duong Dong. Attempting to transport a souvenir bottle of fish sauce out of Phu Quoc is another story: The airlines have banned them because of the risk of breakage and accompanying stench in the cabin and cargo hold!
Because of its limited transportation connections (you can fly here from Ho Chi Minh City or take a ferry from Rach Gia and Ha Tien, on the west coast of Vietnam), Phu Quoc is usually visited as part of a longer trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. When the new international airport is completed— sometime around 2011—more direct flights from more cities will surely bring a new kind of tourism here.