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We were joined in Vietnam by our great friends, the Giles family. They escaped the frigid Alberta winter for a warm weather vacation. Except, Vietnam was cold. There was an “Arctic front” freezing the entire northern hemisphere. It wasn’t bone-chilling cold, but it wasn’t the tropical vacation we had in mind. As we sat around the pool in Hoi An, dressed in long pants and sweaters, Pam and I decided we needed a change of plans. We cut down our 6 nights in Hanoi to 2, and booked a last minute stay at the Gold Coast Resort Phu Quoc.
I had no idea what to do in Phu Quoc, and I did zero research before we arrived. It’s not one of the destinations you’d find on a typical one month Vietnam itinerary. Our Phu Quoc resort arranged airport pick-up, and beyond that we had no plans except relaxing and staying warm. The short 2 hour flight from Hanoi transported us to a different world. Phu Quoc was sunny, hot and quiet. There wasn’t the busyness of Hanoi, or the pushy touts of Hoi An. It was laid back, the perfect spot for a vacation from our vacation.
Gold Coast Resort Phu Quoc
The first afternoon was spent lounging by the pool. I’m sure the other guests weren’t quite prepared for the onslaught of 5 rowdy kids! Randy cycled into town to find somewhere reasonably priced to have our laundry done, and the rest of us adults had a drink and soaked up some relaxation by the pool. When Randy returned 2 hours later all sweaty, I knew I got the better end of that deal!
The kids loved being in the pool. There were a few floaty toys, including one very large swan, and they spent all afternoon playing with them. The pool also had a fantastic shallow end where the kids could play without an adult in the pool. All 5 of them would’ve spent the entire time in the pool, and we pretty much had to force them to play in the ocean the next morning.
Walking out the front door of our beach-front bungalow was a little slice of heaven. The girls set up a foot spa by a few of the beach chairs, and invited us all to visit. With a bucket full of sand, they scrubbed and massaged, and then used fallen leaves to apply pretend nail-polish. Calais tried to drum up some business from the other customers, but surprisingly there were no takers!! I admire her entrepreneurial spirit, even if she was advertising a “free” foot spa!
Ganh Dau Phu Quoc
That afternoon we needed to pick up our laundry. Since Randy dropped it off, Pam and I decided we’d bike into town to pick it up. Randy told us, “turn left at the first T in the road. When you come to the next T, turn left and immediately look right. You’ll see a fish stall, and the laundry lady is right behind it. You have to step over the fish on the sidewalk to get to the laundry.” His directions were perfect!! I had a small piece of ripped cardboard containing the lady’s name and phone number. When we arrived at the fish stall, I showed it to the nearest person and it just so happens she was our laundry lady. I carefully stepped over the fish, collected the laundry, paid her, and we were off.
We slowly meandered our way along the coast, back to the resort. Many of the houses sat on stilts and backed onto the small fishing harbour. It smelled strongly of fish and sea water, but the locals didn’t seem to mind. They relaxed in the shade, hiding from the heat of the day. Groups of men gathered around short tables, playing card games, drinking tea, and smoking cigarettes. Women manned the shops lining the side of the road, and we picked up a few small things along the way.
Young kids and dogs played in the narrow street, jumping out of the way with each honking motorcycle. It made my heart lurch every time! As we reached the T in the road, we came across a group of kids having their bath. The family’s water source was a tap situated across the street from their house, beside a ditch. Three young kids splashed in the tap, slathering themselves with soap, and obviously enjoying the refreshing water.
I looked at my watch and realized that it was almost 5pm, happy hour was just about over! I frantically called Randy on FaceTime, and put in our order. We had drinks waiting for us on our return, which were much needed to sooth our sore bums! The bike seats were not comfortable at all, but it was a worthwhile pay-off for a glimpse into local life in ganh dau village. That, and the kids needed the laundry back for some fresh underwear!
Water sports…kind of!
The next morning, we loaded ourselves up into 4 kayaks, and headed out to sea. Kacela wanted to kayak 7km across the straight to Cambodia, and couldn’t understand why I didn’t think it was a good idea! Instead, we went East, along the area of coast void of resorts and development. The sun shimmered off the water, and periodically we could see fish swimming around the coral reef below. There was a disproportionately low number of fish given the volume of coral, but that’s a difficult judgement to make from the water’s surface. Occasionally a Styrofoam boat would pass by. These were ingenious! The base of the boats was made of Styrofoam blocks, a plastic lawn chair or two sat on the deck, and most had a wood or tin roof.
Part-way through our kayak we came across a clam-fishing operation. A handful of wooden stakes were set up in the ocean, connected by a thin net. Two men with a long blue hose and big green net waded chest-deep in the water. Thank goodness for the GoPro! Randy was able to film one of the men under water so we could all see what he was doing.
He was breathing through a long blue tube that was hooked up to an air compressor on shore. In one hand, he held a big net that dredged along the sandy bottom, using the other hand to scoop sand, and presumably clams, into it. When he lifted up the net, there was a handful of clams inside. As I watched him, I wondered how much longer he’d be clam fishing. How long would it be until the North coast of Phu Quoc was built up with resorts, much like the West Coast. How many years until his land was forcibly “purchased”, and he was serving drinks to tourists rather than fishing for clams.
Tourism has many positive benefits, but it’s easy to forget that there are negative effects as well. I don’t know how to minimize these, and just being a tourist I know I’m contributing to the loss of the very culture and environments I seek to visit. There must be a balance, but I have no idea what that balance is.
In between our adventures, we just enjoyed relaxing at the little resort. The tidal zone was speckled with some of the most amazing shells I’ve ever seen. All 5 kids spent hours roaming the small beach, gathering shells. Both families had a pretty big collection growing on our front porches. The kids each kept a few special ones, but most ended back on the beach, waiting for the next person to pick it up.
On our drive from the airport we’d enw rows and rows of tall green vines. I had no idea what they were. It turns out, they were pepper trees! Pepper farming is one of the major industries on the island, and Phu Quoc reportedly grows some of the best pepper in the world. We couldn’t leave without a short visit to one of the many pepper farms. The return drive to the airport passed many, and our driver agreed to stop at one along the way. We wandered through the many rows, and the kids had a blast running and playing. We sampled a bit of pepper, and bought some of the delicious Phu Quoc salt & pepper mix we’d enjoyed multiple times at the resort. It was the right ending to our mini-vacation in Phu Quoc.
Where We Stayed
Gold Coast Resort
We really enjoyed our time here. Our bungalow was spacious, with two queen size beds, air conditioning and mosquito nets. The front door led right out to the beach, while the back door joined a path between 2 bungalows to the pool. There were mountain bikes, kayaks and snorkel gear that was all free to use. It’s located about 2km from the little coastal village of ganh dau, providing a bit of local culture to go along with the beach vacation.
I also loved that they had a filtered water cooler in the reception, and it was plugged in!! It was nice to have cold water, and I always appreciate not having to use multiple disposable water bottles.
If you’re wondering where to stay in Phu Quoc, I highly recommend the Gold Coast resort! Check current prices on booking.com.
Cost: $150CAD/night for a beach-front family bungalow, with a great breakfast included.
A note about Phu Quoc
The North coast of Phu Quoc is quiet and less developed than the rest of the island. It’s the perfect place for a relaxing vacation. There are two small resorts, the Gold Coast Resort where we stayed, and Peppercorn Beach Resort Phu Quoc right down the street. I’ve heard it’s fantastic as well. If you’re heading to Phu Quoc with kids, I highly recommend spending some time at one of these lovely little resorts to truly get away from it all.
Where We Ate
There are a number of great Phu Quoc restaurants, but we were so lazy we only ate at the resort! The food was really tasty, although I’m pretty sure we all got a bit sick from it. The menu was so big I’m not sure how they managed to have all the ingredients on hand and fresh all the time. In the end, I decided that the snack menu and many of the fish dishes were likely okay. We stayed away from anything that could be made from leftover rice, and avoided many of the meat products.
Cost: We averaged $20 per person per day for meals (including adult beverages and at least one fruit smoothie a day for the kids).
How We Got There
We flew direct from Hanoi on JetStar. There are also direct flights from Ho Chi Minh City, and a few international flights now arriving at Phu Quoc International Airport.
Cost: $150 CAD return per person (booked last minute)
How We Got Around
Our hotel offered free airport transfer for bookings longer than 3 nights, which was fantastic as it was about 45min from the airport. They were even nice enough to stop at the Pepper Farm on the way to the airport for no additional cost.
Once we made it to the North coast, we got around on the free bicycles provided by the resort. We even walked into town once with the kids, although they complained a bit because it was hot!
You might also like to read about what I loved and didn’t love in Hoi An with kids!
Pin me for later if you’re thinking about visiting Phu Quoc.