An hour’s flight from the urban cacophony of Ho Chi Minh City lies the paradise of Phu Quoc Island, an idyllic Vietnamese inlay in the Gulf of Thailand.
Unlike the charming yet commercialized village of Hoi An or the overwhelming bustle of motorcycles in Saigon, Phu Quoc is a low-key fishing island surrounded by shimmering turquoise waters. While the north of the island remains a dense, tropical jungle, much of it having been designated as a national park in 2001, the southern part of the island is home to an opposite dimension of a flourishing port and lively night market.
There is an endearing glow about a destination that requires time and effort to reach the feeling of disconnect and restoration, especially upon arrival. Dusty and parched from airport transit and bumpy drives along unpaved roads, I was greeted with cold towels and an icy fresh ginger lemonade at Mango Bay Eco Resort, which occupies its own stretch of Ong Lang Beach on the island.
All of the doors along the front and side of this picturesque, two-story eco-bungalow open out, epitomizing the lifestyle of indoor-outdoor living. I loved the small desk for tea, the perfect setup for journaling, reflecting, and planning. Upstairs was the canopy bed, where the staff comes around nightly to pull down the mosquito netting, a staple in tropical locales.
What struck me most about Mango Bay was its dedication to preserving the natural setting it occupies. The walkways between bungalows are unpaved; just enough grass is cleared for one person at a time. Electricity shuts off at night, leaving a glow of lanterns planted along the main path. Every detail of the place maintains a symbiotic relationship with its natural surroundings, including a snail who decided to make a home in my outdoor bathroom for the first evening.
On the very loose agenda the next morning was snorkeling at An Thoi, an archipelago of 15 islands just off the southern coast of Phu Quoc. It was the type of day you reminisce about months later; the kind of day spent in a sun-baked haze revolving between sunning, diving off boats, swimming in pristine water that’s neither too hot nor too cold, and drying off, punctuated by sips of cold beer and sunscreen reapplication. Throughout the day, we were anchored at various snorkeling spots around An Thoi and Sao Beach, home to powder white sand and azure water
On the way back to Mango Bay, we stopped at Dinh Cao Night Market and perused the lively seafood stalls, ordering freshly grilled shrimp and scallops seasoned by the smoky grill and a liberal sprinkle of lime and salt. Washing it down with a chilled glass of local beer, we wandered down to the beach and observed locals taking in the sunset. Brimming with gratitude and feeling a deep appreciation for the glow of a life well-lived was the perfect way to wind down this respite.
On the following day, after a nourishing breakfast spread eaten over placid water views, it was time to catch my flight home. While I was heading away from my respite on this sublime paradise, I vowed to continue to seek small sanctuaries of calm and quiet in the middle of city life.