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Phu Quoc Island
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Phu Quoc Island Introduction

| 20 Dec 2015
Last updated 20 Dec 2015

Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest and most beautiful island. It’s home to some of the country’s most picturesque beaches.

A long anticipated tourism boom is starting to hit Phu Quoc Island, with new resorts going up at breakneck speed. Some of the island's blissful serenity is slipping away. There are plenty of mediocre developments too. But if you choose the right place to stay (check our handpicked list of recommendations here), Phu Quoc’s still a great escape from the intensity of Vietnam’s cities.

There isn’t a whole lot to do on Phu Quoc apart from relaxing, swimming and enjoying the fresh seafood. Travellers once delighted in exploring the island’s red dirt roads by motorbike. The roads are now sealed but increasing traffic, including large trucks and the development of once remote beaches, has taken some of the edge off island exploration.

Like most of Vietnam’s popular beach spots, Phu Quoc looks set to focus on large-scale mass tourism - that means golf, casinos and huge resorts (there’s already a 27 hole course). Two favourite Phu Quoc beaches, Bai Sao and Bai Kem have been earmarked for massive development. Construction has already commenced on Bai Kem. They’re no long must-see Phu Quoc beaches.

In the north of the island, a huge swathe of land has been allocated to Vingroup, a developer with a penchant for large, imposing resorts, fun parks and golf courses. The resort and golf course are already open.

The possibility of more restrained and environmentally friendly development seems not to have occurred to those running the island - who seem similarly disinterested in clearing up the piles of plastic that accumulate on many beaches.

Phu Quoc sits just 18 kilometres off the Cambodian coast and about 45kms from Ha Tien on Vietnam’s mainland. The Cambodian mainland is clearly visible from the northern tip.

The island played a modest part in Vietnam’s imperial past when Nguyen Anh, an heir to the powerful but besieged Nguyen clan, took refuge here during the late 18th century Tay Son rebellion.

When he successfully fought back against the rebels and unified Vietnam, Nguyen Anh became the founding emperor of Vietnam’s final dynasty, the Nguyen dynasty. He assumed the name Gia Long and established the royal capital in Hue. His dynasty ended in 1945 with the abdication of Bao Dai in favour Ho Chi Minh’s communists.

In the past, Cambodia has made claims on Phu Quoc, in part on the basis of territorial proximity. Residents of the Cambodian city of Kep look jealously across the island from their beaches. Vietnam’s presence is well established however and dates back centuries.

During the Vietnam War, Phu Quoc became a prison for enemies of the US-backed South Vietnamese government though its prison days are less widely known than those of Con Dao, Vietnam’s other prison island.