Feature

This week’s travel dream: Vietnam’s undiscovered island paradise

Once the site of the Vietnam War’s largest prisoner-of-war camp, Phu Quoc has dense virgin rain forests, a relaxed atmosphere, and “mile after mile of wide uncrowded beaches.”

Vietnam’s Phu Quoc is “slowly opening up to the world,” said David Lamb in the Los Angeles Times. Adrift in the Gulf of Thailand, closer to Cambodia than to mainland Vietnam, the quiet island was long known mainly for its pungent fish sauce, nuoc mam, and its history as the home of the Vietnam War’s largest prisoner-of-war camp. But today Phu Quoc is being groomed into an ideal island getaway. It’s already a “slice of tropical perfection,” with dense virgin rain forests, a relaxed atmosphere, and “mile after mile of wide uncrowded beaches.”

En route from the island’s small airport, I was momentarily worried as our taxi bumped along a dirt road lined with little but a cemetery and two bars. But “the jungle parted,” and we caught a glimpse of Long Beach’s 12 miles of “sugar-white sand.” Our hotel, La Veranda, stood in “a clearing lush with flowers.” Built to resemble a French colonial plantation, it has large louvered windows that open to the sea and ceiling fans “reminiscent of a bygone era.” After settling in, we ventured to Ganh Dau, a fishing village on the northwest coast, where we wandered past peppercorns drying in the sun and hammocks “hung in tree-shaded front yards.” At one of the island’s many pearl farms, we saw earrings for $70 and one necklace priced at $9,000.

The next day, we toured Coconut Prison, a site whose grimness felt “incompatible” with Phu Quoc’s general tranquillity. “Guard towers still loom over rows of windowless tin barracks” where 40,000 Vietnamese prisoners of war were once held by U.S. military advisors and their South Vietnamese allies. We were grateful the island has known peace for decades and its people were starting to benefit from the arrival of tourists. On our way back to the hotel, we drove past several bungalow-style hotels and a market where $2 can get you a seafood dinner. We decided to walk the last mile on the deserted beach. On that “warm, starlit night,” I didn’t need Phu Quoc to grow any further. To me, it’s “just about perfect as it is.”Contact: Waytophuquoc.com

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