Phu Quoc island a paradise of pearls, sunsets and surprises

June 08, 2012 | 14:44
(0) user say
Though I had heard much about the unique beauty of Phu Quoc, I could not help being amazed at its nature and specialities during my recent holiday to the largest island in Viet Nam.

The tear-shaped island is part of Kien Giang Province, which lies 45km from Ha Tien and 120km from Rach Gia.

It stretches 50km from north to south and 25km from east to west at its widest.

Having been to Ko Samui in Thailand, I understood why my friends always said Phu Quoc was still more natural and untouched than the Thai popular tourism destination.

I used up all the time I could swimming in the immense turquoise blue sea and enjoying the sunlight on the yellow sand beach.

Staying in the heart of Duong Dong Town, situated in the west of the island, I did not miss any of the spectacular sunsets.

Yet the most interesting part of my journey was to the east and west of the island, which contains many surprises beyond the bazalt roads filled with the fragrance of wild herbs.

Pearl island

Pearl farms are must-see attractions. Visitors are shown every aspect of oyster breeding, including the process by which mother-of-pearl dust is coated by a special substance inside the oyster to form pearls.

A guide will also demonstrate how to cut open an oyster to extract a pearl.

The farm showrooms display various kinds of pearls, including those in white, ivory, yellow, black and even red, as well as in all shapes such as circular, water drop, heart-shaped, square, triangle and lozenge.

Naturally produced pearls are much more valuable than man-made ones, yet their shapes remain rather rough. Man-made pearls are often more beautiful as they are shaped better, are more shiny and finer in colour, my local guide explained.

However, he said that only 20 per cent of pearls sold in shops and showrooms on the island were native to the island, most brought from other localities in the country or imported from China.

"Phu Quoc pearls are distinguished by their colour and shine," he said, "Natural pearls can heal scratches on the surface themselves. An easy way to recognise real pearls is by scratching them against each other. There should not be any scratches as a result, only some mother-of-pearl dust."

Japanese pearl expert Horikiri Seiji has judged Phu Quoc's pearl quality "as good as those from famous pearl producing countries in the world".

Explaining the reason for such quality, my guide told me that the crystal clear waters surrounding the island offers favourable living conditions for shelled molluscs like oysters and snails, many of which can produce beautiful pearls. This is why the island has been nicknamed "pearl island", he said.

Special dog breed

Another speciality of the island is its special breed of dog, well-known for its cleverness and strength in the wild. The breed is distinguished by a ridge of hair that runs along the back in the opposite direction to the rest of the coat.

I stopped at a Phu Quoc ridge back dog breeding farm, where I was lucky to meet and chat to the owner, Ngo Quang. His big garden is divided into several areas bordered by a 2m-high steel fence separating expectant mothers and puppies from other female and male dogs.

Quang, who ships his dogs to various parts of the country and even abroad, said this particular breed could run faster than others, and are loyal, clever and able to obey orders. He also showed me thin layers of skin, much like webs, between the dogs' toes, which facilitate their extraordinary swimming ability.

I was told the male dogs often jump over the fence at night to wander around, but always return at dawn.

"Though dogs have been tamed for quite some time already, locals prefer those born in caves, believing their wild natures give them strength," Quang said.

However, he added that the dogs made friends easily, which is not the best of qualities in a guardian.

Another drawback relates to mixed breeding, which makes the dogs vulnerable to intestinal bacteria, resulting in many deaths.

"Farms like mine aim to conserve the pure Phu Quoc breed," Quang said, "The dogs I sell never succumb to mixed blood problems."

Meeting point

Dinh Cau Night Market, located in the centre of town and boasting around 100 food and souvenir stalls, draws a multitude of visitors from right across the island.

Delicious smells make both domestic and foreign mouths water. Fresh seafood on charcoal stoves, bowls of vermicelli in alluring soup, boiled snails, squid and shrimps served with Phu Quoc's renowned fish sauce remain unforgettable memories to me. Reasonable pricing is another alluring feature of the market.

On leaving Phu Quoc, the salty smell of nuoc mam (fish sauce) and black pepper farms [where locals use waste matter from fish sauce production to enrich the soil] seemed to permeate the island, instilling in me a strong impression of both its land and sea.


What the stars mean:

★ Poor ★ ★ Promising ★★★ Good ★★★★ Very good ★★★★★ Exceptional