We all have that perfect, idyllic beach in our heads – white sand, palm trees, warm, clear water, maybe a couple of laid back bars or cafes and, best of all, no crowds. Sadly such places are becoming increasingly rare – as soon as such a place is discovered, it rapidly becomes overrun with tourists, as has been seen with many of Thailand’s previously deserted beach destinations.
Now whilst Vietnam may not be as well known for its beaches as Thailand or Malaysia, it is an up & coming beach destination with some fantastic resorts in places such as Mui Ne, Danang and Con Dao, and it also boasts my own personal dream beach – Bai Sao, on Phu Quoc island.
Phu Quoc, in the gulf of Thailand and as close to Cambodia as it is to Vietnam, is gradually creeping onto the tourism map, thanks to a relatively slow growth in the number of resorts there and the recent opening of a new international airport. Apart from the development around the capital Duong Dong on its west coast, most of the island remains unspoiled, a tropical paradise of jungle, pepper plantations, fishing villages, dirt roads and, best of all, barely accessible but stunningly beautiful beaches, with Bai Sao being the best of these.
Located on the island’s east coast, an area hardly visited by tourists, Bai Sao isn’t easy to get to – you need to rent a car/driver or taxi, or do what I always do and rent a motorbike. The beach isn’t signposted and lies at the end of a discreet dirt track off the main road, so it’s easily missed. This, combined with local government resistance to allowing resorts to take over the beach, means that very few visitors actually make it there, with even the few who have heard of it being unable to track it down. I first went there in 2007, and when I returned in 2011, it had hardly changed – a couple more small cafes, but still hardly any other visitors.
This lack of infrastructure makes for a seriously relaxing day out. There are no watersports, no beach hawkers, no noisy beach bars – just a few deckchairs and seemingly endless white sand lapped by warm blue water that remains shallow for a long, long way out, making it great for kids too. Nothing to do but pull up a chair, order some fresh seafood & cold beer, and enjoy the view while topping up your suntan. And that, for me, is what beach holidays are all about.
Getting to Phu Quoc is as simple or as complicated as you want to make it – you can fly direct from Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi or Can Tho, or you can travel overland through the Mekong Delta via Can Tho and take a boat from either Rach Gia or Ha Tien. Luxury accommodation remains fairly thin on the ground but Accor’s La Veranda resort is the best on the island, a beautiful beachfront colonial-style property with charming rooms and equally charming staff.