The sketchy plan for the day is to travel from Kampot (Cambodia) via the border crossing at Hà Tiên (Vietnam), then hopefully catch a ferry across to the final destination of Phu Quoc Island to relax. Crossing a Cambodian border can be a headache at the best of times as “you never know what you’re gonna get”…
It was always going to be a long ‘travel day’ our name for the wasted day getting from one place to another, or one country to another. And after several border crossings in various countries during the past 8 months, this crossing was surprisingly painless.
The minibus from Kampot (Cambodia) to Hà Tiên and onto Phu Quoc (Vietnam) cost USD$20 and took us through the border crossing in both countries. This journey takes up to 2 hours.
The minibus arrived at the Cambodian Immigration point, where a helpful English passenger experienced in this crossing, took our passports for stamping.
Everyone waited on a dusty bridge area before heading on to the ‘other side’.
The Vietnamese border side was hilarious.
Everyone just stands in a line in front of a counter. An official in uniform waits behind the counter with a monitor above his head. The monitor is turned on and displays a constant body temperature of 38°C, whilst he collects USD$1 from everyone and waves a temperature stick in front of you.
On this particular day, each of the 20 people in line happened to have exactly the same body temperature of 38°C. Funny, as this was after walking a kilometre in the sweltering heat with our backpacks on our backs!
This small town in Southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region is about 7 kilometres from the border crossing and 93 kilometres from Rạch Giá city.
Thanks to this region’s beaches and landscape, Hà Tiên is a tourist destination. Didn’t see much of the town as the minibus took us straight through to the travel office.
The bus ticket from Kampot to Hà Tiên also includes the ferry ride to Phu Quoc Island, which is the final destination for the day. However, the ticket did not include the transfer minibus (USD$3) from the Green Travel office in Hà Tiên to the ferry terminal, which wasn’t advised. A minimal fee but there’s always a catch and an additional cost along the way…
Phu Quoc Island
The Superdong comfortable but busy ferry (230,000VND when purchasing tickets separately) left at 13.15 on the dot and arrived on the island about 1.5 hours’ later – impressive.
A minibus was waiting at the ferry terminal in Phu Quoc to take us to our hotel. The ferry terminal is on the eastern side of the island and about a 20-minute drive to Duong Dong (western side), which is where many hotels and restaurants are situated.
If you think this is going to be a quiet island, then think again.
Even though it’s winter and low season, it is still quite busy with foreign tourists (mostly Russians) and the island’s local population of 85,000.
From the city centre, it seems that most of the locals live on the northern side of the bridge, which is not touristy at all – you will get some odd looks when walking around this area. Locals are very friendly. It’s chaos with scooters on this side, especially after the bridge opens to allow boats to come and go. You’ll need nerves of steel regardless of whether you’re on foot or riding a bike!
Take time to visit the bridge when it opens – it’s a mad scrum and fun to watch; also great for photos.
We did have a minor bike accident at the round-a-bout in town.
A local with a child on the back of her bike didn’t see us and rode straight into us. The child had a minor scratch and the mother tried to blame us but as it was her fault, we didn’t make anything of it, and rode off.
The bridge opening times are every 2 hours starting from 08:00-08:30hrs up until 15:00hrs; then 19:00-23:00hrs again but as it’s not on time, you may have to wait.
There’s loads to do on this island if you have time and money.
Walks, treks, tons of snorkelling and scuba diving, lazing around on the beaches (with all the Russians); and Pearl Farms and Pagodas to visit. Other activities include fishing and night squid fishing tours, adventure Kayaking; visiting surrounding islands, fish sauce manufacturers, Coconut Prison, pepper farms, SIM wine factory, or just generally exploring the island.
The choices are endless and everything is easy to get to and designed to make you stay longer on the island. As it’s winter and a little chilly, I gave the swimming a miss.
An easy ride around the island
Hired a scooter for the day (130,000VND), which was a great way to get around and saves time as local buses are infrequent.
Once you leave the main town, most of the roads are not so busy and also sealed.
Rode from Duong Dong down to An Thoi Town and looked around (this isn’t so touristy and locals here still stare), it’s more of a small fishing village with a Naval Base.
From there, headed north again to Bai Thom and around the corner a little until heading back. Tiny villages dot this part of the island and there’s a distinct lack of flashy hotel chains or restaurants anywhere here.
Along the ride, you’ll see several pepper farms, which have quite tall and strange-looking spindly trees. I have never seen a pepper tree before.
There’s only one main highway on this island and you can’t get lost really. Although we started riding down the coast road to An Thoi looking for the War Monument (never found it), This turned into little more than a boggy track that was under construction before we had to backtrack, to find the highway again and head north.
Bai Tam Sao Beach
Visited this beach on the scooter, which is very pretty and has a couple of eating places there if you want to stop for a drink and some food.
Once you turn off the highway to go east to the beach, it’s about a 3-4 kilometre bumpy dirt pot-holed track.
Not comfortable on a scooter but worth the trip.
Hiep Thaoi Hotel Phu (65 Tran Hung Dao Street) – Spotless room and bathroom, bottled water and toiletries provided; good wi-fi, H&C water, cable TV, and very helpful staff (especially the owners).
The hotel is a 10-minute walk to the town centre, markets, and river but there are also restaurants along the way. You can hire a bike from the hotel for 200,000VND/day but we found cheaper down the road at 130,000VND.
Booked our ferry/bus tickets from here also, which is the same price as everywhere in town and also included a hotel pick-up.
- Buddy Ice Cream & Info Café (6 Bach Dang Street, opposite the Marina) – The service from all staff is great! The cappuccino is average, shakes are good, ice coffees and Frappuccino are also good. Sandwiches and spring rolls are OK.
- Night Market (Duong Dong) – Ramps up from 18:00hrs and hosts many small open restaurants on the street with an abundance of seafood. Sadly as a seafood lover, I found this expensive and very touristy. You can find cheaper local feasts further up from the markets.
- Baguette stalls – Try these tiny roadside stalls, which sell wonderfully delicious baguettes filled with Pâté, salad, and meats for only 15,000VND.
- Duong Dong River and close to the opening bridge – There are loads of street hawkers on the river side selling very cheap eats. Check out the good cheap bakery across the road and a little down from the bridge.
Leaving Phu Quoc
Slowly heading north, so decided on a short stop-over in Can Tho as the plan is to take trains when possible and buses if required.
The lady at Hiep Thaoi Hotel organised the boat/bus ticket (USD$22) to Can Tho and wrote destination times and places on an envelope for us, which was very helpful and efficient.
Although the pick-up in the minibus from the hotel was supposed to be at 07:00hrs, the bus arrived around 07:20hrs.
In true Asian fashion, we drove around the island picking up more passengers until there wasn’t any room left before heading for the boat, which left at 8:30hrs.