Phu Quy means "rich", but the island district in the central province of Binh Thuan is a much cheaper, more unspoilt option than its better-known brethren
Phu Quy District is located 56 nautical miles from the famous resort town of Phan Thiet, and home to some a population of 27,000. Except for the main island, also known as Phu Quy, the nine other islands that make up the district are almost deserted.
Phu Quy (foreground), one of the ten islands that make up Phu Quy District in the central province of Binh Thuan. Photo: Diep Duc Minh
It takes between five and seven hours to reach the main island by boat, in case the sea is calm. Compared to boat services at more famous islands like Ly Son in the central city of Da Nang, Con Dao in the southern province of Ba Ria Vung Tau, and Phu Quoc in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang, boats to Phu Quy look obsolete.
In fact, my boat trip was not very pleasant. The boat was dirty and carried many more passengers than allowed. Despite a "No smoking" signboard, both passengers and the crew kept puffing away. Littering was another annoyance people threw almost everything into the sea, from an empty can to a plastic bag carrying numerous unidentified things.
All the irritations, however, vanished as soon as I reached Phu Quy. The island welcomed its visitors with vast green areas, wide roads and clean houses, as if it were making up for what I had suffered during the boat trip.
I started my visit in Phu Quy by renting a motorbike the most recommended means of travelling around the peaceful island.
Very soon I realized that food here must be among the cheapest in Vietnam with prices much lower than what they are in Con Dao Island or nearby Phan Thiet Town.
Common drinks like nước mía (sugar cane juice) are priced VND5,000 at most. For VND5,000, it is also totally possible to get two flans. Dishes like bánh canh (tapioca noodle soup) and gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls) cost between VND8,000-15,000.
It is the same for seafood which is abundant in Phu Quy. For VND60,000, one can get a kilogram of shellfish and the same quantity of small lobsters costs just VND280,000.
Nguyen Van Cuong, head of the district's culture and information division, treated me to many delicious meals with seafood during my stay there.
Speaking of eating in Phu Quy, I always enjoyed field trips to fruit gardens like mangos or guavas which are the island's specialties. Priced between VND10,000-15,000 per kilogram, the fruits not only taste sweet but also carry some subtle flavors that make them distinct from those planted in other places.
The second noticeable thing about the island is that it boasts a lots of religious monuments built centuries ago.
The Linh Quang Pagoda, for example, was built in 1747. It has three ancient Buddha statutes one made of stone and two others of bronze. Sadly, all the statutes have been newly painted, which now makes them look like they were made with cement.
Then there is Van An Thanh, a site built in 1781 for worshipping 77 whales, and displaying a whale skeleton that is more than 20 meters long. For Vietnamese fishermen, especially those who live along the central coast, the giant mammal is a deity that protects them.
Another famous pagoda is Linh Son, located on Cao Cac Mountain, which is more than 70 meters high and an ideal place to get a bird's eye view of the whole island. It is quite easy to reach the mountain top via stone steps. Trees on either side make mountain trips during sunny days more comfortable.
There is also the Linh Buu Pagoda on Cam, the island's highest mountain at a height of 108 meters. It is home to a lighthouse that is 18 meters high, and another favorite deck for island observation.
During my stay at Phu Quy, I never missed visiting its port every morning when fishing boats came back from the sea and sold their catch.
The morning market is lively with lots of noises and numerous marine species. With the help of locals, I learned to discern difference between different species of fish, squids and shellfish. I was also offered what I wanted at prices cheaper than at the local market. It was possible to get one kilogram of fish at just VND8,000.
From the main island, I took motorboats to visit surrounding islands like Den (black) and Do (red), which are just several 100 meters away. Their names need no explanation once you get there. Den has all its rocks and stones in black, and Do has them in red. The two colored islands are separated by an island named Giua (middle).
Tranh (blady grass) Island, some 700 meters from Phu Quy, is the second largest of the district. As can be guessed, the island is home to large fields of blady grass. It also has caves, coral reels, a whale temple and many other places worth exploring.
Some three kilometers from Phu Quy is Trung (egg) Island, which is dubbed the city of sea birds.
As most of the islands are deserted, they are great places for visitors wanting to get as far away from the madding crowd as possible, entertain themselves with fishing, catching shellfish and crabs, and, dare I say it, go skinny dipping.