Phu Quoc: The Pearl Island
Dubbed “The Pearl Island”, Phu Quoc Island in the south of Vietnam is about 600 square kilometres, making it the largest island in Vietnam even though it’s geographically closer to Cambodia. Two-thirds of the island consists of forests but the main draw for tourists are its white sandy beaches and pleasant weather all year.
With a total local population of just 103,000 people, Phu Quoc Island is the perfect escape from the overcrowded mess you find in many large cities.
There has been an increase in foreign investments over the years mainly due to the island having the lowest corporate and personal income taxes in the country. Land rents are waived for the first four years, and then halved for the next nine. Due to this scheme, the island now has a large number of hotel rooms to meet the rising needs of visitors.
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Currently, there are about 15,000 rooms rated three-stars and above, including 6,000 rooms rated five-star.
If you have a phobia of riding bikes, you’ll be pleased to know that there are now five taxi firms operating on the island, with a total fleet of about 1,000 taxis. Some of these include the low-cost Phu Quoc Taxi Company, as well as a fleet of Vinasun taxis after the latter expanded its operations into the island by buying a small taxi firm.
The Downside of Development
However, rapid development can sometimes lead to unwanted consequences and in the case of Phu Quoc Island, there are a few.
Due to the sudden surge of hotels and resorts on the island, the demand for trained workers in the hospitality exceeds its supply. One solution to curb this was for hotels and resorts to work with vocational colleges and schools to provide short training courses. Some resorts have also partnered with vocational schools to offer apprenticeships and internships to students to provide them with hands-on experience.
There has also been an increase in the number of workers relocating from the mainland to the island to work.
Environmental concerns in the form of waste and water treatment have also crept into the island. The current infrastructure is simply not able to fully support the massive amounts of waste generated—about 150 tonnes a day.
The river’s water has turned black mainly because of the residual oils being discharged from boats. To add on to the misery of marine life in the river, pollution is also rampant here with plastic bags and used plastic bottles, floating alongside old clothes and animal carcasses which have been spotted covering the water surface from Hung Vuong Bridge to Dinh Cau Estuary.
According to Phu Quoc Province’s Public Work Management Board, workers have collected more than three tonnes of garbage from less than one square kilometer of the river. The river stretches up to about 21.5 kilometres and is considered one of the main sources of water for daily use and production activities on the island. There are currently about 322 establishments operating along the river, including fish sauce producers and some of these businesses lack a proper sewage treatment system.
The island currently only has two landfill sites, one of which has been closed for months while the other is increasingly overloaded. The waste treatment plant in Ham Ninh Commune’s Bai Bon Village is also currently closed for maintenance and upgrading works, and is only expected to reopen in June.
The island’s authorities have also been having difficulties attracting investment in their wastewater treatment projects.
Other concerns that the island is grappling with include land disputes, fraud, pollution and social disorder due to land speculation.
However, moving forward, the island is expected to remain one of Vietnam’s top tourist destinations mainly thanks to recent policy changes.
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A visa-waiver policy adopted in 2014 allows foreigners a 30-day visa-free stay on the island. This includes foreigners from countries that would normally require a visa application to visit the mainland.
Phu Quoc International Airport is expected to undergo an upgrade that will increase its capacity from the current 2.5 million passengers a year to 5 million passengers by the year 2020, and a further increase to 7 million passengers by the year 2030. Plans are also underway to introduce direct flights to Japan and European countries soon.
However, the biggest news of all would be the recently-announced special administrative-economic zones, of which Phu Quoc Island is one of three in Vietnam. It has been the subject of nationwide debate, and even protests.
Although the details of this new law have not been officially confirmed yet, several improvements are expected, such as tourism services and the elimination of common tourism bugbears such as cheating and overcharging of foreign customers.
Other areas that will also be looked into include hygiene and food safety at traditional markets, better enforcement of traffic laws and tourist information booths at tourist spots.
Video source: Đạt Lê
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