Like Vietnam itself, Phu Quoc Island has a varied history with numerous nations occupying the island over the past couple of centuries, including Vietnam, Cambodia, France and America. Phu Quoc Island forms part of Vietnam, and even though the island was an area of dispute between Vietnam and Cambodia as recently as the late 1980’s, Vietnam today is nurturing the island as the next big eco tourist destination.
Up to the mid 1750’s Phu Quoc island was sparsely populated with the local population making a living off fishing the rich waters surrounding the island and harvesting and trading of sea cucumbers. Phu Quoc was famous for its sea cucumbers, shipped by Chinese merchant junks from Phu Quoc to the even the Emperor of China for many years.
From the 1760s through to the 1780s, the French missionary Pigneau de Behaine was based on Phu Quoc and it was during this time that he sheltered Prince Nguyen Anh when he was hunted by Tay Son rebels. From 1782 to 1786, Phu Quoc became a stronghold of Lord Nguyen Anh, who later recaptured the mainland from the Tay Son rebels and become Emperor Gia Long in 1802.
During the mid 1800’s, records show a total of 12 villages on the island of Phu Quoc some of which still exist today, including Duong Dong, Ganh Dau and Cua Can.
In 1869, Phu Quoc was occupied by the French and came under the administration of the Governor of Cochinchine. During this time the French set up rubber and coconut plantations on the island, though population records advise that less than 1000 people resided on Phu Quoc approaching the late 19th and early 20th century, of which most of these people inhabited remote fishing villages.
The temple on Diau Cau rock was built in 1937, and by the end of the Second World War in the 1940’s the population of Phu Quoc was still less than 5,000. There is evidence even today that the population during this time was centered around Duong Dong Town where the French commenced trading activities during their occupation of the island. In 1949, the French enacted a law passing the island of Phu Quoc from the administration of the French to the Vietnamese.
During the time of the American war the local population had increased to around 15,000. The Americans had taken over where the French left off and expanded Coconut Tree Prison (Cay Dua Prison) near An Thoi Town, to an area covering 400 hectares and housing 40,000 P.O.Ws, most of which were repatriated to the mainland at the end of the American War in 1975. Coconut Tree Prison remains one of the most visible historical places on Phu Quoc, and still operates as a prison today.
On May 1, 1975, Khmer Rouge soldiers raided and took Phu Quoc Island, however, Vietnam soon retook the island and the Vietnam-Cambodian War had begun. While this war missed the headlines, the Vietnamese forces eventually captured Phnom Penh in 1979, bringing about the downfall of Pol Pot. During this time, Phu Quoc became a stronghold of over 50,000 military personnel based mostly in the north of Phu Quoc Island. The discord faded when Vietnam withdrew its troops in the late 1980s.
Today, Phu Quoc Island is a majestic destination for tourists coming through a Phu Quoc tour, with plans for an international airport by 2010, development of modern infrastructure and extensive tourist resort facilities by the year 2020 with an expected 3 million tourists annually.