Imagine stepping back 20 years to pre-backpacker Thailand. The roads are little more than dirt tracks, the beaches lie practically deserted and the fish comes fresh off the boat and onto the barbecue.
That’s exactly what you’ll find on the island of Phu Quoc on the south-west coast of Vietnam, a 567sq km island on the border of Cambodia which, with no international airport, feels like an undiscovered gem in an otherwise well-trodden tourist destination area.
Discreet enclaves of luxury have popped up along the palm-fringed shores however, including the Chen Sea Resort & Spa – a bungalow resort with stylish wooden huts nestling in the undergrowth behind a small private beach. Villas are almost colonial in style, with high beamed ceilings, wooden carved artwork and either a covered outdoor rain shower or sunken mosaic bath.
Stylist’s favourite daytime hang-out was on the cushioned sunloungers lining the infinity pool – one wave of your flag and an attendant appears as if by magic. What can I get you this time madam? A club sandwich, a fresh fruit cocktail, or maybe a private silver service barbecue on the beach? Decisions, decisions…
Why it's hot
Offering a respite from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, this unspoilt retreat is only a 50-minute (somewhat bumpy) flight away. Although a larger international airport is pencilled in by 2020 and hotel groups have bought plots of land, the island is still hard to reach, keeping it unspoilt and retaining the traditional Vietnamese culture and warmth of the local people. A trip to the lively night market, where you can pick up anything from pearl jewellery to a bottle of the local fish sauce, is a must.
And I’d recommend a snorkelling trip (most pick you up by car or boat from your hotel) along the coastline to spot a sea turtle or watch the local fisherman on their fleets of colourful boats bringing in the daily catch to port. What’s more, temperatures don’t vary that much here (27-32°C), but if you want to tour the region (from the romantic Halong Bay to party town Nha Trang), November to March is the best time of year to go to avoid the monsoon season.
Eating and drinking
Food is a serious matter in Phu Quoc. Like most of Vietnam, it specialises in seafood and fresh wholesome noodle broths. The hotel’s terrace restaurant is no exception, offering everything from an immense breakfast buffet with every flavour of bread you could imagine through to the á la carte dinner of grilled lobster and king prawns. Outside the hotel, take a trip to the nearby capital of Duong Dong which is lined with authentic (and cheap) restaurants and bars and is scattered with beach barbecue restaurants along the shoreline where you select your fish and watch it being grilled. The stalls at the night market also do takeaways if you want to sneak off and find your own private stretch of sand.
From the rugged to the sublime, there’s a beach for every taste in Phu Quoc. My favourite was Sao Beach on the east coast with pristine white sands – it’s a bit tricky to find so we recommend taking a local taxi. Once you’re there you’ll feel like you’re on a deserted tropical island – except for a couple of restaurants and a basic hostel. There’s also a national park to discover by foot although, be warned, the jungle can be quite dense so be prepared (flip-flops won’t cut it). However, the incredible views of the sunset over the long stretch of white sand and sparkling sea make the whole trip worth it.
Chen Sea Resort & Spa Phu Quoc, Centara Boutique Collection. From £216 per night to £427; centarahotelsresorts.com