If you were to mention the best islands in Southeast Asia to a friend, they would be sure to let a stream of Thai islands roll off their tongue. While they offer some of the most pristine beaches, charming local life and delicious fresh seafood, the islands in Vietnam are the country’s best-kept secret.
Much of the country’s limelight hovers over the abundant bucket-list-worthy destinations which punctuate the 1,000-kilometre stretch we know as Vietnam. However, while tours of Vietnam focus on the mainland, we are here to tell you the secrets of what lies offshore and why you should set your sights on Vietnam’s best islands next.
Composed of eight small islands, the Cham Islands (or Cu Lao Cham as they are locally known) sit just off the coast of the UNESCO-listed yellow town of Hoi An. The small archipelago can be reached by an express boat from Cua Dai harbour in Hoi An. As you draw near, the lush forests, mountainous landscape and pristine sandy beaches become visible.
As a recognised UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the Cham Islands have been protected from overfishing and other methods which may damage marine life and coral reefs. In turn, this has resulted in an abundance of snorkelling and dive spots where you can share the waters with scorpionfish, barracuda, octopi and even turtles!
Known for its strategic sunset positioning, Phu Quoc (pronounced ‘foo-woc’) sits on the southern tip of Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand. The island is one of Vietnam’s best-kept secrets, popular with locals and expats as an escape from urban life but not yet overly crowded by tourists.
This tropical paradise is home to dense forest inland and fringed by idyllic beaches such as Sao Beach which is lined with swaying palm trees and azure waters. The main town of Duong Dong hosts a fresh seafood night market each night where you can pick your fish from the tank, grab a beer and find a spot on a plastic chair while you wait.
With an international airport and several ports receiving ferries from the mainland in just a few hours, Phu Quoc can be and should be worked into a tour of Vietnam.
Just off the coast of Vung Tau City in the south of Vietnam, Con Dao National Park is an archipelago of 16 inhabited islands, all of which boast endless beaches and lush green forests. For those active tourists among us, Con Dao offers miles upon miles of coastal roads, hiking trails and fun outdoor and underwater activities.
While the islands are now known for their crystal clear waters and expansive beaches, they hold a history much darker than that you see today. During colonial times, the national park’s largest island -Con Son- was used to house French political prisoners and was the place where many were executed by firing squad.
Today, the islands turn heads due to their striking beauty. If you’re looking for a remote island escape where the only footprints in the sand will be yours and that of the local fishermen, then this is the place for you.
It’s worth noting that as Con Dao is a national park, you will need to seek permission from the national park headquarters to book your trip.
The largest island in Vietnam’s famous, UNESCO-listed archipelago we know as Halong Bay, Cat Ba has long been a favourite of locals and expats as an island escape from the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi.
Of all the islands, Cat Ba is arguably the most beautiful. Combined with its calm waters, pristine forests, expansive beaches and plenty of opportunities for adventure, Cat Ba has it all. Another draw of Cat Ba is that its temperature rarely exceeds 25 degrees celsius, a comfortable temperature in which to hike, kayak and more.
For the adventurers, Cat Ba National Park is home to an abundance of natural caves. You can hire a local guide and spend the day caving, which is sure to be a highlight of any tour of Vietnam.
The Ba Lua archipelago is a collection of 45 islets off the coast of Kien Giang Province in southern Vietnam. Often referred to as the ‘Halong Bay of the South’, only ten of the limestone islands are populated with local fishing villages.
One of the most popular things to do in Ba Lua is to walk along the sandbar from one island to another when the tide is low. You can easily walk between the three islands of Hon Gieng, Hon Duoc and Hon Duong which all sit very close to each other.
If you’re looking for a secluded island escape away from the busy cities of the south, where you can barbeque fresh fish at sunset and camp on the soft, white sand, then Ba Lua is for you.
For those travelling with young children, the Vinpearl Amusement Park which takes over Hon Tre Island off the coast of Nha Trang in Central Vietnam is the perfect fun-filled day out.
On the island, you’ll find a vast aquarium, golf courses, luxury resorts, water parks, an extensive shopping mall and a variety of rides. For nature lovers, the island’s beaches and hiking trails will provide hours of entertainment.
Before you reach the island, you are taken on an adventure. If you choose to travel across by cable car, you are rewarded with breathtaking views on the short 15-minute journey. Alternatively, speed boats can zip you across the water if you prefer to stay close to the ground!
Just an hour’s ferry ride from Vietnam’s central Quang Ngai Province, you’ll find Ly Son which consists of two islands – Cù Lao Ré and An Bình.
Over time, Ly Son has come to be known as the ‘Kingdom of Garlic’ for its rows of garlic crops which means that your time spent on these islands will be immersed in the familiar smell. Years of volcanic eruptions have left behind perfect soil conditions for this seasoning and as you would expect, it is a staple of Ly Son.
While Ly Son doesn’t have the swimming beaches like other islands in Vietnam, its natural scenery with views of Mount Thoi Loi, fresh seafood restaurants and beautiful Buddhist temples make up for it.
While these islands are beautiful now, they must stay that way. If you choose to visit any of these islands on your tour of Vietnam (which you should), be sure to leave it in the same way you found it.