Phú Quốc (known as Koh Tral by Cambodians) is the largest island in Vietnam. The island is part ofKiên Giang Province, has a total area of 574 square kilometres (222 sq mi) and a permanent population of approximately 85,000. The district of Phú Quốc includes the island proper and 21 smaller islets. The district seat, Dương Đông, is located on the west coast, and is also the largest town on the island. The economy is centered around fishing, agriculture and a fast-growing tourism sector; Phú Quốc being one of the most popular tourist destinations of Vietnam.
Located in the Gulf of Thailand, Phú Quốc island lies just 12 km south of the Cambodian coast, west ofKampot, and 40 km west of Ha Tien, the nearest coastal town in Vietnam. Roughly triangular in shape the island is 50 kilometres (31 mi) long from north to south and 25 kilometres (16 mi) from east to west in the north at its widest. It is also located 62 nautical miles (115 km; 71 mi) from Rạch Giá and nearly 290 nautical miles (540 km; 330 mi) from Laem Chabang, Thailand.
A mountainous ridge known as “99 Peaks” runs the length of Phú Quốc, with Chúa Mountain being the tallest at 603 metres (1,978 ft).
The island’s monsoonal sub-equatorial climate is characterized by distinct rainy (June to November) and dry seasons (December to May). The annual rainfall is high, averaging 2,879 millimetres (9.446 ft). In the northern mountains up to 4,000 millimetres (13 ft) has been recorded. April and May are the hottest months, with temperature reaching 35 °C (95 °F).
Tourism plays an important part of the economy with the beaches being the main attraction. Phu Quoc is served by Phu Quoc Airportwith air links to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)’s Tan Son Nhat Airport and Rach Gia‘s Rach Gia Airport. Plans are in progress for a new international airport for the island. Phu Quoc is also linked with Rach Gia and Hà Tiên by fast ferry hydrofoils.Phu Quoc is famous for its two traditional products: fish sauce and black pepper. The rich fishing grounds offshore provides the anchovy catch from which the prized sauce is made. Pepper cultivation is located inland in the center of the island. More recently a pearl farm was established.
An 1856 record mentions the island: “… King Ang Duong (of Cambodia) apprise Mr. de Montigny, French envoy in visit to Bangkok, through the intermediary of Bishop Miche, his intention to yield Phu Quoc to France. Such a proposition aimed to create a military alliance with France to avoid the threat of Vietnam on Cambodia. The proposal did not receive an answer from the French.
While the war between Vietnam, France, and Spain was about to begin, Ang Duong sent another letter to Napoleon III to warn him on Cambodian claims on the lower Cochinchina region: the Cambodian king listed provinces and islands, including Phu Quoc, under Vietnamese occupation for several years or decades (in the case of Saigon, some 200 years according to this letter). Ang Duong asked the French emperor to not annex any part of these territories because, as he wrote, despite this relatively long Vietnamese occupation, they remained Cambodian lands. In 1867, Phu Quoc’s Vietnamese authorities pledged allegiance to French troops just conquering Hà Tiên.
After Cambodia gained independence from France, sovereignty disputes over the island were raised since there was no colonial decision on the island’s fate. Dating back to 1939, the Governor-general of French Indochina, Jules Brévié had drawn a line to delimit the administrative boundaries for islands in the Gulf of Thailand: those north of the line were placed under the Cambodian protectorate; those south of the line were managed by the colony of Cochinchina. Brévié made the point that the decision merely addressed police and administrative task, and that no sovereignty decision had been made. As a result, Phu Quoc remains under Cochinchina administration.
Phu Quoc has been a sleepy historical backwater for most of its history. However, in the Twentieth Century, it was involved in a series of high-profile events.
The temple on Cau rock was built in 1937.
After Mainland China fell under the control of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, General Huang Chieh led 30,000 Republic of China Army soldiers to Vietnam and they were stationed at Phu Quoc. Later, the army moved to Taiwan in June 1953. There is currently a small island in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s Chengcing Lake that was constructed in November 1955 and named Phu Quoc Island in memory of the fleeing Chinese soldiers in 1949.
In 1967, during the period when Cambodia was under Sangkum control, the country’s ruler, Norodom Sihanouk, aimed to make the border internationally recognized; in particular, in 1967, the North Vietnamese government recognize theses borders. As written in an article from Kambudja magazine in 1968 (and quoted in the Sihanouk website), entitled “border questions”, this border definition recognize that Phu Quoc island is in Vietnamese territory, even if Cambodian claims were made later.
On May 1, 1975, a squad of Khmer Rouge soldiers raided and took Phu Quoc Island, but Vietnam soon recaptured it. This was to be the first of a series of incursions and counter-incursions that would escalate to the Cambodian–Vietnamese War in 1979.