As recently as a few years ago, Phu Quoc was still whispered about in the international media as paradise found. Fast-forward to today, and the island is buzzing, bouncing back like the pandemic never happened. So we set off on a 24-hour tour of the island to tell you where to eat, drink, chill and then sleep…if you really must.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
We’ve seen it coming. Phu Quoc has been on a growth spurt (despite its UNESCO biosphere recognition in 2006) reminiscent of Thai islands like Samui. In a decade it’s gone from breezy hideaway with potholed dirt tracks and beaches and not much else to the go-to domestic destination with an international airport and a solid east-Asian fanbase, clubs and casinos and the Grand World, a development that wouldn’t look out of place in Macao. Major end-of-year music festival Epizode drew international DJs like Ricardo Villalobos. And Ibiza-style beach clubs have been popping up along the west coast. With so many of us heading to the island, The Dot took a trip over too. Here’s our guide to 24 hours in Phu Quoc, from a kombucha and muesli fuel-up to the coolest cocktails after dark, and the promise of some sleep at the end of it. Optional, of course.
Tired of your hotel buffet breakfast? First stop: Saigonese Eatery. Right on Tran Hung Dao, across the street from the beach, Saigonese Eatery, which opened in 2016, was Thao Le’s first restaurant before coming back to Saigon with her fresh, creative seafood dishes at NAGE Eatery in Thao Dien. “I called this place the Saigonese Eatery, because that’s where we come from after all,” Thao tells us.
The Saigon-Phu Quoc connection might explain the source of the fresh catch coming into NAGE. You may also spot some of the same delectable dishes on the menu – sea urchin pate with sourdough toast and fish carpaccio with yuzu kosho dressing – making Saigonese Eatery perfect any time of the day. “Right, Eggs Benedict is a bestseller, and so is our pork belly!” Thao explains. So let’s start with breakfast. Grab a muesli bowl and a Saigon Kombucha (another of the owner’s projects) on the patio and watch the morning traffic buzz by watched over by the sassy Saigonese girl painted on the wall. Or order an old-school scrambled egg sandwich with bread baked on-site and an espresso, and gather a gang at the shared table inside.
In Short: Take a buffet break with the best breakfasts on the island.
Location: 73 Tran Hung Dao
Bun Quay – Kien Xay
Life hack: always ditch the guidebook and go for the packed-out places. People just know. And so, after returning to the lounger for the morning, it’s snack time number two. Bun Quay – Kien Xay comes with a real story. They even illustrated it and put it on the restaurant wall. When the family settling in Phu Quoc, before the turn of the century, they brought with them bun from their native Binh Dinh.
Gradually, in the years that followed, they began incorporating local ingredients and playing around with their recipe. Word of mouth spread the popularity of the dish…but it didn’t have a name. So everyone took to calling it Bun Quay, or noodles that you stir. Eventually, the restaurant took a name too. It was inspired by their children who’d gone off to architecture university and so the place became Bun Quay – Kien Xay. Now the dish is available everywhere in Phu Quoc, but the owners are quick to assert their claim to be the originals. Whatever the backstory, these noodles are unmissable. There’s a cloudy soup in which a mashed shrimp patty, squid and spring onions bob around like the boats on the river at the dock opposite. Stir in the spicy dipping sauce that’s almost as hot in spice as the noodle soup is hot in temperature. And devour.
In Short: A local legend.
Location: 28 Bach Dang
Chuồn Chuồn Bistro & Bar
There’s no better place to take in the energy of the island than up here – replete with the hum of dragonfly wings which gave this bistro and bar its name. Up a steep slope from the main Tran Hung Dao strip, Chuồn Chuồn Bistro & Bar has a cool little gift shop at the entrance. But we’re here for the views. Take them in from the large terrace area with seating looking down over the abyss or tables set back, for groups.
Once seated, order a signature cocktail, like their perfectly purple Butterfly Effect, a craft beer from Pasteur, East West or Platinum, or stay sober with ice blended coffees, like their coconut coffee, or signature mocktails like the refreshing Local Honey Lemongrass. There’s some tasty bistro-style bites too – buffalo wings, mixed fries, and mains like BBQ ribs and spaghetti, burgers and pasta.
In Short: Views. Brews. And bistro bites.
Location: Duong Dong
OCSEN Beach Bar & Club
It might have been Epizode Festival that first began turning this once tranquil island into Ibiza (even though the festival switched to Albania this year because of COVID concerns, to be replaced by Sunlit and Studio Adventure on opposite sides of the island). Besides the seasonal festival organizers, OCSEN Beach Bar & Club are keeping the spirit alive every night. “I guess the vibe is a bit Bali and a bit Ibiza,” general manager Mario tells us, “but really we want to do things our way – we don’t adhere to strict guidelines and go with the flow of our guests.”
It’s the perfect spot to take in Phu Quoc’s spectacular sunsets. Getting there is the only minor stress. There’s no sign, but the blue and white street sign for Hem Ocsen if you arrive by road. Once inside, any stresses disappear as the sun sets, and you sink into your bean bag right on the slope of beach beside La Veranda. “Right. For sunset, it’s relaxed then as night falls we have a bonfire burning and performers doing a fireshow…” Mario adds. Behind you is a DJ booth – helmed by some of the country’s best DJs dropping by like Ouissam and Ling:Chi, and revelers regularly pass by with a balloon or cocktail in hand…or both. “At New Year’s we’ve had over 2,000 guests before, who could as for more?” he smiles finally.
In Short: A beach club and bean bag paradise. Sunsets included.
Location: Hem Ocsen, 124 Tran Hung Dao
Nostalgia is a powerful force. And grown-ups want to be kids. So, slap on a bib and get your fingers dirty at Crab House like you’re eight years old again. No one’s judging. Not at Phu Quoc’s Crab House anyway. The owner, Si, is Vietnamese-American, so the seafood comes with some deep south inspiration. Think bountiful bowls of locally caught lobsters and crabs with some scorching sauces on the side.
“I was born in Phu Quoc but left Vietnam at six and was raised in Mississippi,” Si tells us. He came back in 2014 and opened Crab House the following year. Like him, the food is a mix – here you get warm American hospitality and fresh Phu Quoc catch. “And it’s family-style,” he smiles proudly, “big sharing bowls, friendly service, and sauces like our signature Crab House Special. I just wanted to come back to the motherland and introduce some American flavors too!” the Culinary Institute of America graduate adds.
In Short: A hot, delicious mess.
Location: 26 Nguyen Trai
Bittersweet – Hidden Cocktail Bar
Another spot with a strong Saigon connection, Bittersweet Cocktail is co-owned by the founder of Dot Bar, one of our favorite city haunts. Bittersweet dials up the chic speakeasy vibes. “I think we’re the first and only hidden cocktail bar on Phu Quoc,” co-founder, Truong explains. So there’s an inconspicuous entrance – besides a hip leather makers and the cool Hien Charcoal Kitchen (owned by the same team), a low corridor, a curtain, and then you’re inside to be greeted by Bittersweet – Hidden Cocktail Bar’s dapper mixologists ready to shake a classic or stir up whatever you desire. “I’d describe it as hidden and mysterious – perfect for an after-dinner drink or intimate date,’ he adds.
Some nights a DJ sets down at the end of the bar. But there’s vibes any night of the week. And it’s busy, with no pre-booking, so first come, first served. But it’s worth the effort. “Just tell our bartenders what you need – something sweet, sour, heavy or light, or even savory or tropical…” Truong smiles.
In Short: Big city cocktail class, minutes from the beach.
Location: Tran Hung Dao (Opposite Salinda Resort)
For this 24 hours in Phu Quoc guide, we’ve skipped the more luxurious establishments – and there are some great ones from La Veranda to the JW Marriott Phu Quoc – and old favorites like Mango Bay and Salinda Resort, for a cozy place to stay after an intense day in Phu Quoc.
Cassia Cottage seems immune to the rampant developments going on all around…in a good way. “We remain deliberately quaint,” owner and former spice trader Mark Barnett tell us. There is a special energy around here. “And I’m not sure if that’s because we found the right spot to build on, or because we’ve cultivated the right kind of energy…” he smiles.
In Short: “Seclusion with a high thread count.”
Location: KP7, Tran Hung Dao