(2 Sep 2017) LEADIN:
Once a quite backwater, Phu Quoc island in Vietnam is developing rapidly thanks to increased investment and a booming tourism sector.
While local people welcome the economic benefits, some worry about downsides like increased environmental damage.
Located in the Gulf of Thailand just off the coast of Cambodia, Phu Quoc is the largest island in Vietnam.
The triangular-shaped island is 50 kilometres long and 25 kilometres across at its widest point, covering 574 square kilometres.
Forty years ago Phu Quoc had a population of 10,000, but today there are over 110,000 residents, many of whom are recent migrants from the mainland lured by plentiful well-paying jobs in the tourism sector.
The latest government statistics, produced in cooperation with several NGO's in 2016, shows that Phu Quoc welcomed 873,600 visitors that year. 151,700 of those were foreigners, earning US$139.5 million, up almost seven fold compared to 2010.
The government has a master plan to develop Phu Quoc into a high-quality tourism destination by 2020, when it aims to attract 2.3 million visitors a year.
As well as many new hotels, restaurants and other tourism related infrastructure, the government has constructed many new roads including this major north-south highway, although traffic remains light.
Born in Phu Quoc during the Vietnam War Si Huynh and his family escaped to the US in 1978, finally returning home for good four years ago to open the Crab House restaurant in the main town Duong Dong.
"From '97 till now it's… it was like night and day," he explains. "And it's definitely a change for the better as far as the local, you know… I speak a lot with the locals and they've been looking forward to this for a while, the changes you know, because…a better life, more job opportunities."
Phu Quoc's many white sand beaches are its biggest attraction, with Sao Beach on the southern tip and Long Beach near Duong Dong the most popular.
Long Beach, which stretches for 12 miles, has become particularly heavily developed in recent years, with scores of new hotels and restaurants opening.
Even on this rainy day in the low season there are lots of tourists enjoying the beach.
The numbers are helped because since March 2014 Vietnam has allowed all foreign tourists to visit Phu Quoc for 30 days visa free.
The opening of Phu Quoc International Airport in December 2012, with direct flights from Japan, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong, has also made it easier for people to get here.
Australian expat Rory Miles, owner of Rory's Beach Bar on Long Beach, says that tourist numbers are way up, particularly among mainland Vietnamese.
"I don't know what the figures are but you can just tell. The streets get busy at times which never happened before, But I think the development of the infrastructure is a very good thing and it's only going to get bigger and bigger," he says.
Besides the beaches, the authorities have developed other tourist attractions like this 1,000-acre former prisoner of war camp, which is very popular with Vietnamese tourists keen to learn more about their tragic recent history.
Built by the French in 1953, a year before their defeat at Dien Bien Phu, US backed South Vietnam took it over in 1967 and for a time it held 40,000 North Vietnamese prisoners of war.
More than 4,000 people are said to have died here during the war, although there are some who claim that the prisoners were treated well and claims of widespread brutality at the camp are untrue.
Phu Quoc native Linh An, owner of Phu Quoc An guesthouse in Duong Dong, says that overall the development of the island is good. However she is is worried about damage to the environment from mass tourism.
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