Why Phu Quoc should be on your winter sun wishlist
Phu Quoc is a large, tear-shaped tropical island hanging off Vietnam's southern coastline but most people have never heard of it. It's Vietnam's largest offshore island, fringed by dreamy white sand beaches with alluring names such as Starfish, and Ice Cream Beach.
Phu Quoc, which is roughly the size of Ibiza, used to be considered a little off the beaten track with just a small collection of resorts and bungalows, but since the opening of an international airport five years ago, tourism is booming. If you're travelling from the UK, the good news is that TUI is set to launch the first direct flights (and accompanying holiday deals) from London Gatwick to Phu Quoc from November 2017 - ideal for some exotic winter sun with a difference.
Take your pick from Phu Quoc's beaches
The postcard-perfect beaches of Phu Quoc are legendary. Best among them are Bai Sao (Starfish Beach), where a stunning crescent of butter-soft sand leads out into warm turquoise waters shaded by bowing coconut palms. Here, you can bask in barefoot luxury in the balmy weather, or have fun on a rustic wooden swing hanging from a palm tree.
Bai Khem (aka Ice Cream Beach) boasts custard-hued sandy stretches, while Ong Lang Beach is a favourite for those after a little seclusion. South of the main town Duong Dong, Long Beach unfurls. Long Beach stars some of the island's top resorts including the colonial-style luxe at La Veranda, and the Salinda Resort with its contemporary vibe. One of the highlights is watching the sun go down on the horizon each night - a west coast advantage - from your sun lounger, or one of the bars which line the sands.
The lure of the glistening tropical sea is huge. The teal marbled waters of the Gulf of Thailand don't just make for leisurely swimming between drinking icy cocktails and swinging in your hammock. There's great snorkelling on several reefs, kayaks for gentle exploration, adventurous squid fishing on night boats, and the chance to see bioluminescence at night.
Most of the nautical adventure is to be had on the southern island archipelago of An Thoi in and around the 15 islands all reached by boat (well, until Hon Thom Island is connected by the ground-breaking cable car operation at the end of the year).
Paradise islands with stunning palm-trimmed beaches and pools of divine blue-green water, include Hon Mong Tay (Fingernail Beach), Hon Gam Ghi (now owned by La Veranda), Hon Vong Beach on Hon Vong Island, and Hon May Rut.
The island away from your lounger
Phu Quoc isn't just a fly-and-flop destination. Off the southern coast, you can swim, snorkel, dive and go squid fishing amid the islands of the An Thoi archipelago. The world's longest aerial ropeway is due to open at the end of the year, and will carry passengers in tri-cable gondolas eight kilometres to the largest of the An Thoi Islands, Hon Thom (Pineapple Island), in 16 minutes.
The wooded northern interior of Phu Quoc is a national park and part of the Kien Giang UNESCO biosphere reserve, which recognises the rich haul of inland forest - home to hornbills, macaques, and slow lorises - and the natural treasures of the ocean - manatee, marine turtles and corals. Mangroves along Rach Tram River shelter otters and turtles.
After hiking one of the forest trails, or taking a boat tour, look to cool off inland, by heading to the Tranh Waterfall, which cascades prettily over black rock to a pool below.
Phu Quoc foodie adventures
The Vietnamese, who've been unwinding here for years, also come for the island's stellar culinary credentials. Phu Quoc is famous for its fish sauce (nuoc mam). Locals, with their rigorous palate, say it's the best fish sauce in Vietnam. Tour one of the handful of factories on the island where you can see anchovies fermenting in wooden barrels, and learn about the fish-to-sauce method.
Did you know that Vietnam is the world's leading exporter of black pepper? When on holiday in Phu Quoc, you can visit the pepper plantations where tall thin shrubs, marching in straight lines, are a distinctive sight. Farmers harvest more than 1,000 tonnes of superior black pepper a year.
Another little known fact is that Vietnam is the world's 10th greatest exporter of honey. Busy bees can check out the process from hive-to-honey at the Phu Quoc Bee Farm.
As if that wasn't enough produce for one place, Phu Quoc islanders harvest the berries of the rose myrtle bush to make wine. Don't forget to tuck into Vietnam's delicious seafood at the Duong Dong night market restaurants. The island also has a growing number of rated restaurants serving Vietnamese and international cuisine.
If Vietnam's Phu Quoc Island sounds like your kind of paradise, then you must check out the latest deals from TUI on holidays to this exquisite gem of a destination. Remember, you can also see what the weather is like in Phu Quoc, and when we think is the best time to go for the ultimate beach conditions. Phu Quoc offers something a little different, and should certainly be on your winter sun wishlist for 2017/2018.
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