The following is a chronological (neutral) account of the islands varied history.
Phu Quoc Island, much like Vietnam, has a diverse history filled with war and bloodshed having fought against the French, Cambodians, Thai’s, and the Americans. The island also has its own “Killing Field”, but on a smaller scale compared with its neighbor Cambodia. Initial inhabitants of the island include the Chinese, Khmer, French, and Vietnamese people.
Early History – Oc Eo Period 1ST-7TH Century
According to archaeological evidence (Tombs, tools, pottery, etc) found on the island, humans first inhabited Phu Quoc 2,500 years ago (1st-7th century AD). In Vietnam, this period is known as the Oc Eo period. Most of the artifacts were unearthed in the northern part of the island and there is not much known about who these early inhabitants were or their ethnic origins. A lot of this archaeological evidence can be observed at the Coi Nguon Museum in Phu Quoc Island, near Long Beach Village.
Phu Quoc Island today used to be known as Koh Tral by the Cambodians and the earliest reference to this island can be found in Cambodian documents dating as early as 1615, which include the island as being part of the Khmer empire. The exact number of Khmer’s living in Koh Tral during this period cannot be confirmed but one thing is for certain is that the Cambodian’s occupied the island first.
Around 1680, one of the Khmer kings granted Mac Cuu, a Chinese merchant from Leizhou city, Guangdong Province, China permission to settle and develop a large part of the southern Cambodian coast. Mac Cuu then established 7 trading centers, including Ha Tien and Phu Quoc Island, and shortly thereafter they were inhabited by Chinese and Portuguese traders. During this time there were a lot of battles between Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
In 1708, Mac Cuu merged Ha Tien (which included Phu Quoc) with Dang Trong, aptly known “the southern region”.
Around 1714 Mac Cuu changed allegiance and sided with the Vietnamese. In return he and his family were granted the right to oversee the development of 7 trading centers under the protection of the Nguyen lords who ruled southern Vietnam during this time.
In 1717, the Thai’s sacked and destroyed Ha Tien. The fate of Phu Quoc during this time was unknown.
From 1720 through to 1750’s, Phu Quoc island was inhabited by Cambodian’s, Vietnamese and Chinese people and these inhabitants were making a living mainly from fishing. The trade of sea cucumbers was quite popular during this time.
In the 1770’s, the French missionary Pigneau de Behain, who was seeking to expand his missionary, which was based in Phu Quoc Island. He established a seminary for Vietnamese and Khmer converts and it was during this time that he sheltered Lord Nguyen Anh, future emperor Gia Long, when he was hunted by the Tay Son rebels. From 1782 to 1786, Phu Quoc became a stronghold of Lord Nguyen Anh, who later recaptured the mainland from the Tay Son rebels and become Emperor in 1802.
In the 1800’s, under Emperor Gia Long, Phu Quoc had a local administrative office, military presence, and economic activity on the island.
In 1821 John Crawfurd, a British East India envoy visited the island and reported that there were approximately 5,000 inhabitants in Phu Quoc.
French Occupation of Phu Quoc
From 1862 Phu Quoc was occupied up by the French, as part of its colonization of Vietnam, and came under the administration of the Governor of Cochinchine. In 1867, Phu Quoc's Vietnamese authorities pledged allegiance to French troops after the French conquered Ha Tien. The French established rubber, pepper, and coconut plantations on the island. Due to its isolation, the French also established a prison on the island.
1964 to 1975 – Vietnam War (American War)
Where the French left off, the American’s took over and during the American/Vietnam war, the American’s took over the Cay Dua prison (coconut tree prison) and expanded it to house over 40,000 prisoners of war. Many of the Vietnamese prisoners were tortured here. When the war ended in 1975, the prison was closed and later reopened as a museum.
1975 to 1979 – The Vietnam Cambodia War
After Saigon fell in 1975, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge forces invaded and took Phu Quoc however the Vietnamese immediately reclaimed the island. Nearly 50.000 Vietnamese soldiers had been sent to Phu Quoc to prevent a further invasion by the Cambodians, who always claimed Phu Quoc to be a Cambodian island, called Koh Tral . The Vietnamese forces then went on to capture Phnom Penh in 1979 and bring about the downfall of the Pol Pot regime.
An agreement made in 1982 between Vietnam and The People's Republic of Cambodia (Kampuchea) ostensibly settled the territorial dispute.
Another treaty was signed in 1985 affirming Vietnamese sovereignty over the island.
Phu Quoc Today
The Vietnamese government has great aspirations into developing Phu Quoc Island as the next big Asian tourist destination. They have already built an international airport, paved all the main roads, and in the third quarter of 2017 the island will have numerous 5 star resorts. By 2030, the Vietnamese government are expecting to have 3MN tourists to visit the island annually. The time to visit Phu Quoc island is now!
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