We ended 2015 and our time in Vietnam on Phu Quoc island, just a stone’s throw from our next country, Cambodia.
Phu Quoc has something of a split personality at the moment as development work gathers pace, and the resorts, hotels and restaurants multiply. The island was only connected to the electricity grid in 2014. The sleepy fishing villages beyond the forest at the northern end of the island, and the pearl farms and fish sauce producers in the south remain relatively untouched. Daily flights land at the new international airport, whilst the abandoned runway of an older airport is used as a shortcut between bumpier dirt tracks. The perfect place for scooter newbies to practice their skills before taking on the mainland highways and insane city-centre traffic!
New resorts are strung along Bai Dai (Long Beach) in prime position for spectacular sunsets on the western coast, budget hotels are mainly in Duong Dong town, but 70% of the island is still protected as a national park with dense jungle and deserted beaches on the north coast.
Having just 48 hours on the island, we wanted to spend as many of them as possible on the beach. Booking relatively last minute meant that Bai Dai resorts were already full so we had to look further north along the western shore. Here, the long stretch of sand breaks up into small inlets and coves, creating little private beaches and more secluded resorts.
Eco Beach Resort was perfect for a two night treat over New Year’s Eve. It was fully booked with just 40 people checked in, which meant a good atmosphere for the New Year’s Eve dinner and bonfire on the beach, but never too long to wait for your freshly-barbecued prawns, and always a free hammock by the sea or sun lounger by the infinity pool.
New Year’s Day was largely hammock-based. We alternated between researching the border crossing to Cambodia, reading, and swimming in the sea, before a final technicolour sunset and dinner on the beach.
Border Crossing: Phu Quoc to Kampot (Ha Tien – Prak Chek border)
Phu Quoc is the closest point in Vietnam to Cambodia but there’s not yet an international ferry, so to cross the border you have to return to Ha Tien by Superdong ferry.
We took a taxi from our resort to the pier via John’s Island Tours to buy our ferry tickets. They do offer a package all the way through to Kampot, but having read Tripadvisor horror stories of multiple minivan changes and being left stranded on out-of-the-way-highways we gave that a miss and just got the boat tickets.
The Superdong takes about an hour to reach the mainland. You get an allocated seat with your ticket so can sit back and enjoy the V-pop on tv or, like R, take a nap if you can sleep through the bumps and metallic thuds as the waves hit the side of the boat. We got the first boat of the day at 8:30am to try and reach (and leave) Ha Tien before the minibuses set off for the border.
We’d decided on a private taxi rather than the scheduled minibus to cross the border. It’s cheaper than the bus (when split between four people) and you can leave before the buses set off at 1pm to avoid big queues at the border.
We used the travel service at Oasis Bar in Ha Tien for the rest of the crossing. They picked us up from the pier and arranged our taxi into Cambodia. They also provided (free) blank visa forms to fill out whilst we had some breakfast.
Cars are now allowed to cross the border so we were pretty happy to see a shiny new people carrier with powerful AC pull up outside Oasis Bar. 15 minutes later we were at the border and were dropped with our bags to walk between the two check points.
Leaving before the buses was definitely the right choice; just half an hour later we were stamped out of Vietnam, $35 handed over for the visa, $1 handed over for a ‘health check’ (laser pen thermometer pointed at forehead), and stamped into Cambodia ready to drive to Kampot.
Sure enough, the car did cross the border with us, but it now appeared to have three generations of a Chinese family inside. Preferring the short drive back to Ha Tien, our driver had palmed us off on a new driver to take us to Kampot. We’d lost the plush leather seats and Baltic-level AC, but after an easy hour’s drive through the Cambodian countryside we were relaxing with cocktails on the Kampot riverside, so as border crossings go it was a pretty smooth ride.
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