Vietnam – Crossing the Vietnamese Border & Phu Quoc

We crossed from Cambodia into Vietnam at the Prek Chak International Border crossing.

We had looked into transport companies offering the route from Kep to the Vietnamese border but the reviews were nothing short of awful. We had read reviews of rusty old overloaded tour buses arriving hours later than indicated, if they actually arrived at all. Ultimately resulting in missed ferry rides to the island of Phu Quoc.

We were not interested. Kep and Prek Chak are just 45 minutes away from each other so what did we do? We had our guest house arrange an 8:30am tuk-tuk to the border for just $12 dollars. The ride took us along the coast and through small, lush villages. It was great watching the morning rituals of the locals on our couch-on-wheels. We loved the Cambodian tuk-tuks! Honestly the most comfortable in Southeast Asia and far more comfortable than a bus.

πŸš• Getting from Kep to Ha Tien Tip: Don’t book a seat on a bus or taxi. Ask your accommodation to organize a tuk-tuk. The price will range from $10 to $12. Once at the border, you will be approached by scooter riders offering transport into Ha Tien or the ferry terminal. Don’t take the first price offer. Work it down to $3 or wait until they realize that you are in no rush and they will start to drop their price out of desperation.

You will want to get to the Prek Chak border before 10am when the masses of tour buses start to arrive and the queues become painfully long.

We arrived at around 9:15am and there were only a handful of locals and tourists crossing the border. Before we even arrived at Prek Chak, we picked up a tail on our tuk-tuk. An elderly man armed with a big old friendly smile started following us on his scooter as we got closer and closer to the border crossing. When we finally arrived, he quickly hopped off and started asking us, in his broken English, where we were going. We told him that we were crossing the border and then heading for the Phu Quoc ferry. Ching-ching! The dollar signs lit up in his eyes. Apparently we had found ourselves our next ride, well, half of us had. A few seconds later, another local magically appeared on his scooter. 2 travelers, 2 backpacks, 2 locals, 2 scooters. The negotiations begun. We had actually read about this so we knew what to expect and what price was fair. The initial offer was $5 per person. We agreed on $3 each. We paid and thanked our tuk-tuk driver. The elderly gentleman pointed us in the right direction for passport control and indicated that he, and the other scooter captain, would be waiting for us on the other side.

Getting through passport control was a piece of cake. No fees – just stamps. We had applied for the Vietnamese e-visa, which is a must if you want to get through the border hassle free. Make sure you apply for the e-visa at least 5 days before you enter Vietnam but it should arrive in your email after around 3 days. Also make sure to check if you even need a visa into Vietnam. Celeste and I both applied for our e-visas. They cost us $25 each. The last time we traveled to Vietnam in 2014, we both were required to apply for a tourist visa. Perhaps the rules have changed but it actually turned out that I didn’t even need a Vietnamese visa as British citizens are entitled to a 15 day visa free stay. Oh poop. We chalked that up to a tourist tax and made our way across the border.

πŸ“„E-Visa Tip: Don’t go through a third party to book your evisa. Go directly through the government site, pay your 25USD, print a few copies and be done with it. You can access the site here.

Once we crossed the border into Vietnam, we jumped on our scooter taxis and set off. They took us to a ticket office for a boat company they obviously earn a sales commission from. We were expecting to pay about 230 000 Dong each for the ferry ride but because we only had USD on us, we ended up paying a higher exchange rate (about 250 000 Dong each). Cambodia is very USD friendly whereas Vietnam does not utilize the US dollar as much. After securing our seats and tickets, our scooter taxis took us to the departure platform where we settled up and thanked them.

We had about 45 minutes to wait until the ferry departed so what did we do? VIETNAMESE BREAKFAST! So much yum! We slurped down on a big bowl of pork broth and noodles as well as a glass of thick and powerful Vietnamese coffee. It was so good to be back!

After breakfast, we boarded the ferry and found our assigned seats. It was time to go to Phu Quoc! What did we know about Phu Quoc before we actually arrived? Well, from speaking with other travelers, we knew that it was built up. We also knew that it attracted tons of Chinese tourists but we decided that it would be the only time we would get to experience Phu Quoc as we probably wouldn’t be back to this side of Asia again. The ferry itself was actually very modern and comfortable. Waters and hand wipes were handed out by well-dressed attendants walking up and down the isles. There was a big flat-screen TV up front playing all the best Vietnamese romance music videos. Overall, the ferry ride was very smooth and pleasant.

Once we arrived at Phu Quoc, we got off the ferry, pushed our way through the crowds until we found a taxi waiting patiently at the far side of the port. We approached him, showed him the address of our hotel and he nodded his head. He took us to our resort, the Phu Quoc Valley Resort. As we arrived, the rain started to come down. We knew that it was monsoon season on Phu Quoc but from our experience, monsoons usually summed up to some heavy afternoon showers and then clear skies within the hour.

The grounds and our room at Phu Quoc Valley Resort

Low and behold, Phu Quoc monsoon season is different, meaning the rain never stopped. It may have stopped while we were sleeping at night to add insult to injury, but during the days, it rained constantly. We had no idea that it could rain so much. We offered the taxi driver dollars but he waved his hands indicating that he didn’t accept USD. The resort was nice enough to pay the driver and add the charge onto our bill.

Did we mention it rained?

The resort was beautiful. It consisted of chalets and a restaurant all situated on a lush property with a pool and bar in the center. It was really a little piece of heaven. The staff were really lovely and very helpful. On our first day, we asked the young lady working the front desk if there was a laundry service. She said there was but admitted that it was very expensive. She offered to take our clothes for us to a cheaper laundry service in town and bring them back for half the price, which we took her up on. The complimentary breakfast buffet was decent and the restaurant food was standard. Just don’t order the burger! It was bland and they served it with shrimp crackers. I think they just ran out of french fries or potatoes. Their great daily happy hour made up for the terrible burger. Cheap beers and cocktails.

When it rains, cocktails pour!

We booked a standard garden view room for 3 nights. The room was beautiful, modern and spacious. It had a big open air bathroom looking up into the jungle. The standard garden view room with breakfast included was just under $24 a night. The one thing we wish they had in the room was a TV, given the amount of time we had to spend inside due to the rain. On the first evening, once the rain had subsided, we decided to walk down to the main road to draw some money and grab some dinner at the Iris Cafe. We ordered some 50c draft beers and shared a plate of sweet and sour pork.

Find hotels and resorts on Phu Quoc Island

The next day, after breakfast, we rented a scooter through the resort ($6/day) and set off north to Duong Dong to buy a sim card. After successfully purchasing a sim card, we fired up Google Maps and set our destination to Sao Beach.

The scooters for rent at Phu Quoc Valley Resort

We had read that the west coast of Phu Quoc got more rain than the east coast so we decided to try our luck. We had also read that Sao Beach was supposedly the most beautiful beach on the island.

Sao Bao Beach…unbelievably packed

The clouds had partially broken and so we set off down south on our steed in search of white sand and crystal blue waters. As we arrived in the Sao Beach parking, it immediately became obvious that we would 100% not be the only ones there. The parking area was lined with tour bus after tour bus. People were bustling in and out of the main restaurant area which lined the middle of the beach. Hundreds upon hundreds of people everywhere. We decided to break right and head south down the beach with hope of finding a more secluded area or restaurant where we could rent some beach chairs. We went as far south as possible and even down there, it was busy and the beach chairs radically over-priced. We stopped and watched a Vietnamese or Chinese kid pull a giant starfish out of the ocean, throw it on the sand and proceed to stab it with a large piece of wood. All while the parents and friends laughed in amusement. This was our first taste of what this beach had to offer and we weren’t impressed.

Honestly, we felt disgusted and angry. We wanted to grab the starfish, put it back in the ocean, yell at the child and bystanders and walk away. But we knew that starfish had no chance of survival after the beating and prodding it just endured. The sad truth about Southeast Asia and Vietnam in particular is there is little regard for animal welfare nor environment.

Needless to say, we decided the southern side was not for us. We then walked to the north side of the beach and along the way, we saw piles and piles of plastic and trash. We also had to cross a dark brown stream which stunk to the high heavens. I’ll let your imagination decide as to its contents.

Plastic, plastic and more plastic trash. Sao Bao beach is the definition of irresponsible tourism.
Obviously the resorts, just a 100 meters away from the restaurants, made sure their beaches were clean.

The rental fee for the beach chairs up north were around 300 000 Dong per person. Absolute madness. We threw our sarongs on the moist sand next to two other western tourists and went for a dip in the murky waters. I am sure, perhaps 10 years ago, Sao Beach was absolutely stunning. I am sure the water was clean and the sand sparkly white but not today, not anytime in the foreseeable future. It has been completely overrun and ruined.

Oh hey, guess what? More plastic trash covering the beach.

After about and hour on the beach, we packed up and decided to find somewhere for coffee and then lunch. We ventured further south first stopping at Cafe Phu Quoc Diem Hen for some great Vietnamese ice coffees and then as far south as the road took us but found nothing that looked appetizing. Hungry and frustrated, we decided to ride back north toward Duong Dong where the food looked safer for consumption. We ended up at Heaven Restaurant in just the nick of time before the afternoon downpour commenced. The food was average but the beer was cheap and it provided adequate cover from the rain. So far, we had been striking out on good Vietnamese food. The best meal so far had been the pork noodle soups at the ferry terminal back in Ha Tien.

The following day we decided that, since we had already explored the southern side of Phu Quoc, we’d head north to Ganh Dau beach. We stopped in Duong Dong to grab some coffees and purchase our ferry tickets directly from the Superdong Ferry office for the following day and then set on our way. About 20 minutes into the ride, the mother of all downpours descended upon us. It felt as if we were riding through a tropical hurricane! We put the ixnay on that idea and quickly stopped at a roadside restaurant in seek of shelter. So our plan of heading north to Ganh Dau beach quickly changed into drinking beer and playing cards in a small road side restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The rain had thwarted our plans again! After the rain subsided, we returned to Duong Dong to pay for our reserved bus tickets from Rach Gia to Ho Chi Minh.

🚌Bus Booking Tip: When in Vietnam, this website is going to be your best friend for booking transportation – Vexere. How it works? Go online and find your route. Select the bus transport company you want to use and select your seats. Now, if you, like us, preferred drawing and paying in local currency, you can select to pay at one of their partner stores. We usually ended up paying at FPT stores or 7/11s.

On Phuc Quoc, the only option were the FTP stores in Duong Dong. If you don’t want to deal with cash and the hassle of finding a partner store to make a payment, just throw the charge on your credit card. An English-speaking Vexere representative will usually call you to confirm your booking and pickup location.

⛴️ 🚌 Getting from Phu Quoc to Ho Chi Minh Tip: Book your ferry tickets at the Superdong Ferry office in Duong Dong or through your hotel. Book the earliest ferry from Phu Quoc to Rach Gia. Go on Vexere and reserve seats from Rach Gia to Ho Chi Minh. Arrange a pickup location with the Vexere representative. We nominated the Dai Luong Hotel as our pickup point because we had a few hours between our ferry arrival time and the bus pickup time. We caught a taxi from the ferry terminal in Rach Gia and got some lunch and a coffee before walking over to the hotel and waiting outside for the bus.

After paying for our tickets at the FTP store, we decided to try out one of the popular bars along the west coast for a sunset cocktail. We stopped off at Rory’s Beach Bar, took one look at the drinks prices and hopped back on our scooter.

The beachfront at Rory’s Beach Bar

We then decided to try out the beach bar associated with our hotel, Joe’s Beach Bar, but there was not much happening there at all. It’s probably a far more happening spot during dry season. We ended up heading back to our hotel and having happy hour cocktails at the bar while looking into our next accommodation in Ho Chi Minh.

Wait what? It’s not raining?? To the pool bar for cocktails!

That night we settled our bill with the resort, organised a ride to the ferry port the next morning and called it a night.

Would we recommend going to Phu Quoc during rainy season in July?

No!

Avoid Phu Quoc in July by all means unless you enjoy looking like a drowned rat.

Would we recommend going to Phuc Quoc in the dry season?

Probably not.

If you are looking for clean white sand beaches with crystal clear waters, Phu Quoc is not for you.

Unfortunately, whatever beauty that Phu Quoc used to have, is no longer. It feels commercialized, sold-out, trashed and exploited.

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