Waiters wearing trilby hats deliver cocktails to diners next to a cascading lagoon pool as palm trees sway along a white sand beach and happy diners tuck into lobster rolls feeling the soft sand between their toes. It's a scene reminiscent of tropical holidays across Thailand or Bali but this is Phu Quoc, a Vietnamese island roughly the size of Phuket you've likely never heard of.
Along Phu Quoc's 150-kilometre coastline, half of which is a national park set within Vietnam's UNESCO-designated Kien Giang Biosphere, international hotel brands including JW Marriott, Hyatt, Sofitel and Novotel have cropped up. Our home for the next few nights, the InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort, is one of the latest.
Once a sleepy archipelago of pearl farms and fishing villages popular with backpackers, the opening of a new international airport in 2012 was a game changer for Phu Quoc (pronounced "foo kwuk"). Direct flights, big name resorts and a flood of visitors followed with no sign of abating.
To get our bearings for this little-known island we head for INK 360, a squid inspired rooftop bar by Australian Ashley Sutton atop the resort's 19-storey Sky Tower. Mother of pearl and white marble evoke the ocean floor while giant octopus tentacles dangle from the ceiling and curl up from the bar. We take a seat on the alfresco deck of this, the highest bar on the island, and take in the expansive Gulf of Thailand vistas.
Resort general manager Piero Bellizzi says Phu Quoc is a hidden gem. "The opening of InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort helps to put the destination on the map for discerning international travellers," Bellizzi says.
The Sky Tower is flanked by two wings which house 459-rooms ranging from 49 square metres to palatial four-bedroom villas complete with lap pools that open to the beach. Club rooms and suites have access to a serene club lounge with its own private pool and where a la carte breakfast is served, as well as afternoon tea, drinks and canapes. It's like a resort within a resort.
Families are well catered for. Many rooms come with kitchens, villas cater for multi-generational groups and family suite reservations come with a personal welcome by a Planet Trekkers host for children under 12.
Our 101 square metre Panoramic suite is chic and spacious with a deep bathtub, walk-in rain shower, oversized terrace with private cabana; Vietnamese silks and monochrome photographs depict local life. Somehow InterContinental's landmark 1000th property offers a boutique feel that belies its size.
From our room, it's a short walk to the impressive 250-square-metre Planet Trekkers. This fully supervised kids' club offers games, a ball pit, bicycles and themed activities ranging from Vietnamese dress-ups, dancing, origami, and conical hat and lotus lantern making. But it's next door at the family pool that we spend most of our time, me dragged repeatedly – and embarrassingly – to the water slide by my 11-year-old daughter.
Also on offer are five restaurants, four pools, a cooking school (where we learn to make Vietnamese spring rolls) and a stunning bamboo spa designed by Vo Trong Nghia who also designed the signature LAVA restaurant. Our favourite food outlet however is the toes-in-the-sand Sea Shack with its barbecue and comfort food menu including those decadent lobster rolls. Dining here with a tiki cocktail in hand is nothing short of magic.
For now the resort's location, just 15 minutes from the airport, feels private and secluded but the clock is ticking. On one side the Regent Residences Phu Quoc, also owned by InterContinental, is under construction; the Phu Quoc Marina, a vast integrated entertainment and retail complex, the other.
With cranes reaching for the sky across the island, it feels like we got here just in time. Go before the rest of the world cottons on.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort.
Vietnam Airlines flies daily from Sydney and Melbourne to Phu Quoc via Ho Chi Minh. Direct flights also operate from Hanoi. Australians need a tourist visa. See vietnamairlines.com
A Classic Resort room starts from $335 a night. See phuquoc.intercontinental.com