Phu Quoc: A Reef in Recovery


How Vietnam’s Coral Reefs have Recovered from Decades of Dynamite Fishing

Crossing borders are never really considered the “fun” part of travel. Especially in South East Asia, where border crossings are usually hectic and for the most part, pretty confusing. So as I stand in line crossing the border from Cambodia into Vietnam, I am feeling pretty eager to get across knowing there is a beautiful island with white sand beaches waiting for me on the other side.

When people think of Vietnam, they probably imagine lush green countrysides, bustling cities crowded with motorbikes, and delicious Pho served for less than a dollar. People come to Vietnam for all of these things and more, but it may not be the first on people’s list of diving locations. For this reason, I wanted to know exactly what Vietnam had to offer divers and how it compares to other well-down diving destinations in South East Asia.

Phu Quoc from Above
Phu Quoc from Above (my photo)

On the Island

Crossing the Cambodian border into Vietnam, I made my way to the island of Phu Quoc. Phu Quoc is a Vietnamese island in the Gulf of Thailand. It’s known for its stunning white-sand beaches, most of which are along the palm-lined southwest coast. More than half of the island is part of Phu Quoc National Park, which features mountains, dense tropical jungle, hiking trails and wildlife. Duong Dong is the largest town, with day and night markets selling crafts, produce, and lots of fish.

Settling into our hotel on the Southern tip of the island, my partner and I made our way around town in search of food. Right away I noticed the local fisherman selling their catch of the day, so fresh they were still alive! We instead settled for some Vietnamese pancakes (which are actually filled with meat and served for lunch) before settling in for the night.

Phu Quoc Fisherman at SunsetPhu Quoc Fisherman at Sunset (my photo)

On the Boat

Aside from the beaches, what really drew me to the island was the 15 islets known as the An Thoi Archipelago off the southern tip of Phu Quoc. So we booked a boat tour through our hotel that would take us boating around the islands, dropping us off at several stops along the way to explore underwater. There are several dive companies on the island including Rainbow Divers, Flipper Diving Club, and Vietnam Explore Dive Centre. Some take you diving on the north end, and some in the south.

That being said, the southern islands are gorgeous! White sandy shores and rocky cliffs surrounded by turquoise blue seas, calling us to explore below the surface.

View from the Boat

View from the Boat (my photo)

Under the Sea

Arriving at our first spot, we geared up and jumped in off the back of the boat. Since my underwater experience in Cambodia was not the most impressive, I did not expect much different from this site since we’re very close by. However as soon as we got in, I was very pleasantly surprised! I made my way around, noticing different types of brightly coloured coral, very much alive and healthy. Though the water was fairly shallow, the coral had been allowed to grow tall and create stacks of coral bommies that rose from the ocean floor.

According to Phu Quoc Island Guide, marine life in Phu Quoc is better than elsewhere in Vietnam. While you probably won’t spot any big sharks and mantas, the currents do allow for some larger life such as bamboo sharks or blue spotted rays. The area is better known for its macro life and its reef system which is making a recovery from decades of dynamite fishing.

For those who may be unfamiliar with dynamite fishing, it is basically using explosives to stun or kill large schools of fish to make them easier to collect. This is often illegal and can be extremely destructive to the surrounding ecosystem, as the explosions destroy the underlying habitat that supports the fish.

The good news is that the government is slowly creating a protected marine park around the An Thoi Islands to ensure a healthy reef for future generations!

During my time underwater, I spotted a plethora of hard and soft corals, as well as a variety of reef fish, cuttlefish, crustaceans, anemones, and even moray eels.

Scuba Diving in Phu Quoc

(Photo sourced from

Back on the Mainland

After a delicious lunch served on the boat and a well-deserved lay in the sun, we made our way back to the main island. Over the next few days, we took advantage of all that Phu Quoc had to offer, and there is a lot! The island itself is fairly large and has everything you could want from gorgeous beaches to lush green forests. There is even a 15-minute long cable car ride that will take you from the mainland, across the An Thoi Islands and back for only $6 USD!

The best way to get around the island is by motorbike, but please be careful as the driving conditions can be hectic in some areas, as can be expected in Vietnam.

Sao Beach, Phu Quoc
Sao Beach, Phu Quoc (my photo)

Overall Impressions

I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Phu Quoc Island, and believe it is a great place to spend a few days whether you are looking to dive or not. From my underwater experience, I would say the marine life looked healthy and vibrant and recovering beautifully. Although as the water was fairly shallow in the spots that I visited, I believe you could see most of the marine life just by snorkeling. That being said, I did only visit the southern end of the island, so the north may have more to offer in terms of actual deep-sea diving.

If you are keen on learning how to scuba dive, Phu Quoc is a great place as it is safe, cheap, and a less touristy alternative to Koh Tao in Thailand which takes over 2000 divers PER DAY. Vietnam’s tourism is still growing and Phu Quoc especially does not have nearly as many tourists as other popular Southeast Asian islands. It is a great place to experience a local getaway, as 80% of Phu Quoc tourism is Vietnamese, leaving only 20% of tourism to foreigners.

For a place growing as fast as Vietnam, I expect to see big changes to Phu Quoc in the next few years. Including the addition of an amusement park and an “Amalfi Coast” area that was under construction while I was there. This will inevitably bring many more tourist to the area, so if you are considering adding Phu Quoc to your Vietnam travels, now is a perfect time.

About the Author

I’m Harmony Rose, a California native passionate about exploring the world and sharing the craziness along the way. I’ve traveled across ten countries so far, and do not plan on stopping any time soon. This blog is a way for me to use my passion for writing and photography as a way to share my adventures!

You can follow Harmony: