Phu Quy Island is a tropical paradise set in a volcanic crater, rising from the sea off Binh Thuan Province.
I. Overview about Phu Quy Island
Phu Quy Island may not be regularly seen on Vietnamese travel ads or brochures, but it is becoming a must-see for many Vietnamese backpackers.
120 kilometers away from the mainland of Phan Thiet Province, the entire island lies in the East Sea. The island will capture your heart with its natural beauty, as it hasn’t been spoilt by heavy construction. Of course, the essential infrastructure and facilities are still available, such as roads, ports, ferries and small hostels, ensuring a comfortable travel time.
Administratively, Phu Quy Island is a district of Binh Thuan Province. It consists of 3 communes, nearly 5500 households with more than 20,000 residents in an area of 16.5 km2. Among the 3 communes, Tam Thanh, located in the southwest of the island, is the largest and busiest. As the main fishing and commercial port is situated here, it is not hard to explain the liveliness of Tam Thanh commune. After going on excursions to discover spectacles around the island, this is where you return for accomodation, amenities and endless options of local delicacies. Ngu Phung, in the west of the island, brings a completely different atmosphere. Sitting under Phu Quy Lighthouse, it is a small, peaceful community with its own fishing fleet. Finally, Long Hai, in the northeast, attracts visitors with distinctive rock formations of Cao Cat Mountain.
For foreign tourists, travel permits must be obtained to visit Phu Quy Island. Though it may take a bit of time and money, there is almost no hassle in the procedure and the travelling experience in the end is well worth the effort.
II. What Makes Phu Quy Island Special?
There are many reasons to visit Phu Quy island at least once during your trip to Vietnam. Here explains why Phu Quy has become increasingly hot among travel lovers, especially the youth.
1. Stunning, Untouched Sights
Phu Quy Island, meaning ‘Island of Precious Riches’ in Vietnam, is just a small drop in the vast East Sea. Yet, the island is a hidden treasure for avid travellers, with many islets spreading around the area, all of which offer picturesque views into the ocean. You can also find crystal clear beaches with smooth white sand, making it perfect for swimming or strolling along the coastal lines.
The main island of Phu Quy resembles flat slabs of rock stacking together, with exceptional undulations emerging here and there. For rock climbing enthusiasts, northwestern Phu Quy Lighthouse and northeastern Cao Cat Mountain would definitely satisfy your desire.
Walking inland, the area is widely forested and agricultural. Most of the land is divided into rectangular lots where fruit trees are grown. A variety of tropical fruit can be found, such as banana, mango, coconut or jackfruit; but the most striking one is pandanus tectorius, a type of screwpine with exotic, pineapple-like shape.
Though it has been inhabited for a very long time, with a population quite large compared with other offshore islands, the island retains most of its natural beauty. Residents of the island, by maintaining a rustic lifestyle through generations, have civilized the area with minimum damage towards the environment.
Nevertheless, Phu Quy Island is facing a serious environmental issue, plastic pollution. So far, the attractions around the island have not been affected, the water is still one of the cleanest around Vietnam, the marine life (consisting of colorful fish and impressive coral reefs) is still impressive. Yet, the presence of litter (which is likely to increase with the rising popularity of the island) is posing a major threat to the area. If you are planning to visit Phu Quy, please contribute to the environment saving efforts of local authorities and citizens by putting your trash in the right place and bringing reusable items for usage.
2. Significant Historical Values
Asking local people around the island and they will say Phu Quy used to be deserted hundreds of years ago. Legend has it that the first person to set foot on the island was a Cham princess who was exiled from the mainland for disobeying the king’s command. Not so much evidence has been found, but it is believed that humans have been present on the island for one to two millennials as the island lies in one of the main shipping lanes in Asia during ancient times. Due to its far-off location from the mainland, Phu Quy Island has also been a place for escapees. The officials of previous dynasties, the French colonials, political prisoners, … the island has witnessed all the twists and turns in the history of the region.
Nowadays, as Vietnam claims sovereignty on the island, the national military officials and residents on Phu Quy Island are making their best efforts to treasure it. From an uninhabited island, Phu Quy has turned into a developed territory with paved roads running throughout the area, highly protected harbors, substantial embankment shoring up exposed bays. The whole district has been supplied with electricity and internet, erasing the limited access to information due to physical distance from the mainland.
The people here are well aware of the difficulties of living far away from the mainland. Yet, many choose to spend a major part of their life (to some, their entire life) on the island, endearingly call it their hometown, and later, pass on the affinity to the next generation.
3. Diverse Religious Temples and Shrines
For a remote location with a small population, the variety of places of worship in Phu Quy Island is quite impressive. You can find different kinds of religious buildings here, including Catholic church, Buddhist monasteries, Cao Dai Temple and ancestor shrines. Most of them are well-kept and colorfully decorated, reflecting the diverse but harmonious spiritual life of the local people. Visiting these places is quite an interesting experience as it gives you a unique feeling of tranquility, while admiring the intriguing architecture and discovering the fertile culture of the island. If you don’t have enough time to drop by all of them, here is our suggestion for the most fascinating houses of worship.
- Van An Thanh Whale Temple: Located right behind Phu Quy Port, the name of this shrine provokes the curiosity of anyone who comes to the island for the first time. Walking into the temple, your attention will be instantly diverted to the gigantic whale skeleton. Strange as it may sound, whale worship has been a long running tradition in Vietnam’s fishing villages for many centuries. Fishermen consider the colossal mammal as a sacred creature and believe it will protect them from natural catastrophe. That’s why the temple is also known as ‘Nam Hai Lang’, meaning The Mausoleum of The Grandfather of the sea. A small tip for foreign tourists, ask your hotel receptionist to make an arrangement before visiting the temple because the keeper, the one holding the key of the skeleton exhibition room, is usually not present and doesn’t speak English.
- Linh Quang Pagoda: One of the most striking structures on Phu Quy Island, Linh Quang Pagoda comes in the shape of a multi-level tower. It is visible from almost anywhere on the island, with flashy pillars, tiles and statutes. Lying right in the middle of Tam Thanh Commune, it can be easily accessed and is definitely worth paying a visit.
- Linh Son Pagoda: Moving to the eastern side of the island, you will find Linh Son Pagoda, the temple with one of the most stunning views. The temple is just below the peak of Cao Cat Mountain, so you need to reach the place via a steep staircase. At the top is a complex of religious structures, including prayer rooms, sophisticatedly ornamented altars, benches where sightseers can sit and gaze at the broad view of the island. And that’s not all Linh Son Pagoda has to offer. As you continue walking on a curling set of stairs, you will get to a shrine at the peak. The breathtaking view of Phu Quy Island from one of the highest points is absolutely a huge reward for your consistent endeavor.
On Ngu Phung Commune, you will find a Catholic Church as well as Cao Dai Temple. Cao Dai is a native religion established in southern Vietnam in the 1920s. Like any other set of beliefs, the worship house of Cao Dai clearly depicts the religion’s dogma. Inside every Cao Dai Temple, there is representation of the Divine Covenant of the Third Alliance, which was delivered by the honourable saints – Victor Hugo, Sun Yat Sen and Nguyen Binh Khiem.
III. Must Try Activities on Phu Quy Island
Many tourists say that one or two days may not be enough for you to explore all the alluring aspects of Phu Quy Island. And they are certainly not wrong. There are so many things waiting for you in Phu Quy. Marvelous sights unspoilt by human interference, benign residents always welcoming tourists with the brightest smile, vast space providing spectacular view of the East Sea. If you feel overwhelmed by the options and don’t know where to start with your planning, here is our list of must try activities on Phu Quy Island.
1. Chilling at Pristine, Uncrowded Beaches
Unlike popular destinations in the mainland, Phu Quy Island has yet to be spoilt by the exploitation of commercial tourism. Some of the beaches here have the best water quality in Vietnam. It is an absolute delight to soak yourself in the crystal clear water, listen to the soothing ocean waves, and leave behind all the tension of our daily life.
The Northwest corner of Phu Quy Island has its coastline running round a rocky cape. The calm and pellucid water makes it ideal for a diving experience. Put on your goggles and discover the fascinating life underwater, from school of fish swimming between sea bushes to starfish hiding in narrow canyons.
Moving to the southwest area, Bai Nho Beach is connected to the main road by a grassy pathway. Standing under Phu Quy Flagpole, the beach is captivating with its bright-blue water and white sand. Besides submerging yourself in the water, it is a good idea to take a stroll along the coast and rugged cliffs stretching on both sides of the beach.
Continue with your journey and at the southern tip, you will reach the most beautiful beach of the island, Vinh Trieu Duong Beach. The beach boasts a wide, curvy stretch of white sand and shallow, translucent water. Having a picnic under the casuarina trees behind the beach is favored by both islanders and visitors. The gentle rustling of the leaves harmonizing with the calming sound of the waves concoct a distinctive symphony that is hard to find in overcrowded beaches.
2. Exploring Islets around the Island on a Boat
Travelling around on a small boat is an exciting experience for anyone visiting Phu Quy Island. Several islets are waiting to be explored, but Hon Tranh Islet is obviously tourists’ most favorite. With rocky cliffs pointing out on both sides, extensive stretch of white sand and turquoise water, Hon Tranh Islet undoubtedly deserves an excursion.
Just ask your accommodation receptionist and a boat will be arranged in no time at a reasonable price of 300,000 VND to 400,000 VND per person. Remember to bring your swimsuit and goggles before setting off because the crystalline water is excellent for swimming and snorkelling.
3. Visiting Iconic Viewing Points on the Island
Observing the topography of Phu Quy Island, you will notice four distinct high points where rocky cliffs reach the sea. All of them offer fantastic views and thanks to the flat terrain of the island, you can easily get there on a motorbike or on foot.
Phu Quy Lighthouse is situated in the northwest of Phu Quy Island. It is a beautiful and solid structure which can be accessed via a steep but short staircase. At the foot of the lighthouse, there are benches where you can sit and admire the exquisite view of the island. The best time for visit is 4 to 5 pm, when the sun slowly descends on the horizon. The miraculous scene is just beyond words.
The next point in your sightseeing tour, Cao Cat Mountain, is the highest point of Phu Quy Island. It is a complex of Buddhist monastery, military installation and extraordinary layered rocks. Once you get to the top of Linh Son Pagoda, follow the stairs leading to the top of the mountain. The view from the peak is just incredible, especially around 5 pm, when the sunset colour the whole scenery in soft, orange-tinted light.
Unlike the first two viewing points, Phu Quy Flagpole sits on dramatic volcanic cliffs instead of mountains. You can easily access the site via the coastal road. From Bai Nho Beach, take a short walk to the south and in just a few minutes, a terrific scene will come into view.
Finally, your viewing trip would not be complete without visiting Mo Thay Temple and the cliffs surrounding it. Not much has been said about the temple, but it’s still attracting tourists thanks to the scenic view that can’t be found anywhere else on the island. The rock formations are astonishing, and there are little overhangs, carved by seawaves, where you can gather for a picnic. Try to reach the tip of the peninsula and a marvelous view of a double bay is just behind your back.
IV. Best Time to Visit Phu Quy Island
To enjoy the most of Phu Quy Island, the best time to visit would be between December and April. As the weather is mostly dry and sunny around that time, it will be comfortable for moving around and admiring the scenic landscape. The sea is often calm, so you will be able to immerse yourself in the crystal clear water.
V. What to Eat on Phu Quy Island?
Despite being far away from the mainland, Phu Quy Island has a variety of dining options that would satisfy tourists’ cravings. The most famous food choice is seafood, with sea cucumbers and king crabs being picked the most. Seafood restaurants are dotted around the island, serving the freshest dishes at a reasonable price. If you are looking for a foreign friendly restaurant with English speaking staff and English menu, look for big restaurants on Tran Hung Dao Street in Tam Thanh Commune.
The street food on Phu Quy Island may not be varied, but is decent for a town for a quite populous town. Come to Tam Thanh Commune to try the savoury, greasy pancakes with freshly caught prawns (often known by the name ‘banh xeo’). A wide selection of traditional Vietnamese noodles is also available, including the northern-style Pho and Bun Dau Mam Tom (rice vermicelli with fried tofu and pungent dipping sauce), the central-style Bun Bo Hue (Hue Beef Noodle) and Mi Quang (Quang Nam noodles).
With local cafes, smoothie stalls and beer joints scattering around the island, it is not difficult to grab a drink in Phu Quy. The local brew, ‘ruou dua’, is amber-hue, potent liqueur made by fermenting the fruit of the pandanus tectorius plant. It is sold at many stores around the island, at the price of 10,000 VND per 500ml bottle.
VI. How to Get to Phu Quy Island
1. Obtaining Travel Permit
As Phu Quy Island is part of the sea border of Vietnam, a travel permit is compulsory for foreign tourists. The procedure, though, is quite easy and straightforward. The legal documents are issued at the Immigration Department of the Provincial Police Station at 139 Mau Than Street, Phan Thiet.
Once you get there, go to Window No.3 on the first floor, where there is a sign in English ‘Receiving Documents of Foreigners.’ The staff are dressed in green uniform and speak a little English, so you won’t have much trouble communicating. Just state your request, and then the staff will ask for your documents and require you to fill in an application form. After that, you need to pay a fee of 250,000 VND and leave your phone number or email address for contact when the permit is ready to be picked up. Normally, you will have to wait for just 2 or 3 working days.
Here are the mandatory papers for travel permit application
- Valid passport
- Valid visa or temporary residency card
- Immigration stamp of latest entrance into Vietnam
- Name and address of accommodation in Phan Thiet
2. Getting to Phu Quy Island
From Phan Thiet, the only way to get to Phu Quy Island is by boat. There are three companies operating ferries to Phu Quy Island, namely Superdong, Hung Phat and Phu Quy Express. Depending on the boat and the weather, the sailing time is around 2,5 – 3,5 hours. Motorbikes and bikes can be taken on the ferries but the number is limited to a dozen or below so have a check with the shipping company beforehand. It is highly advised to complete your booking in person, as your visa and travel permit must be presented. And of course, do it at least one day in advance to handle any unwanted issues.
3. Travelling on Phu Quy Island
On the island, you can travel around by motorbike, bike or on foot. Vehicles can be rented at almost any guest houses or mini hotels, at the affordable price of 100,000 VND to 150,000 VND per day. There are several gas stations so you won’t have to worry about running out of fuel.
Phu Quy Island has all it takes to become a hot spot for tourists. The unspoilt nature, the hospitable people, the inexpensive accommodation and dishes. The wonderful experience on the island is absolutely worthy of some minor administrative process and a few hours sailing on the ocean.