With 3,000 kilometers of coastline, Vietnam has countless beaches and seaside resorts to choose from. However, even though these places are beautiful, cities, noise, and traffic often aren’t far. So, if you are looking for a real getaway, deserted white sand beaches, historical sites and a truly local experience, Vietnam’s many islands are where you should look to. As many of them are simply not on the typical tourist circuit, they offer a wonderful place to relax, enjoy local cuisine and hospitality and give you the chance to experience the essence of Vietnam. To help you choose which islands to include in your itinerary, we’ve come up with a list of the top islands to visit in Vietnam. Whether you like to chill out, explore or party, there’s something for you here, so dive right in.
When to Visit Vietnam’s Islands
Home to a warm tropical climate and high humidity, Vietnam is a great destination year-round. Depending on which part of the country you look at, the weather can vary quite significantly though, so doing a little research beforehand to know what you should expect, is a good idea. This also goes for visiting Vietnam’s islands.
Generally speaking, a great time to travel to all areas of the country is early spring. Between February and May, most regions experience warm temperatures and lower chances of rainfall and storms. Especially if you want to relax at beautiful beaches and enjoy some water sports that’s something to keep in mind. Another point to consider are public holidays. During this time, otherwise deserted islands often experience a high volume of local visitors. This can lead to hotels being slightly more expensive and beaches being more crowded and noisy. Take this into account when planning your trip and go for off-peak travel dates.
Things to Keep in Mind When Visiting Vietnam’s Islands
While the larger islands of Cat Ba and Phu Quoc are quite developed and the locals there are used to tourists and visitors, this is not the same on many of the smaller islands in Vietnam. Some of them don’t even have hotels you can reserve via common online booking sites.
That being said, it’s no surprise that many people you will meet there are not very used to contact with foreigners. That’s what adds a lot of charm to visiting such places though as you will find a truly local experience that hasn’t been diluted by mass tourism. It also makes it particularly important to be respectful of local people and their culture. Another point to note is that some of these islands don’t have the infrastructure set up to deal with large numbers of tourists. That could mean questionable road quality, slow internet connectivity and a lack of garbage disposal systems.
Unfortunately, leaving trash behind is something tourists are often known for. Don’t be one of them. If there’s no proper place to dispose of something (e.g. plastic containers or wrappers), consider taking it back to the mainland and get rid of it there.
The Islands of Northern Vietnam
Cat Ba Island
If you’re already in the north of Vietnam and are visiting Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island should also be on your itinerary. It’s where quite a few cruises start from, so chances are you’ll have to go there any way to catch your boat. Even if not though, Cat Ba is a great place to visit and discover for a few days. It’s one of the largest islands in the area and is home to Cat Ba town as well as some smaller villages.
The best way to explore is to rent a motorbike and just get going. Drive along calm roads, take in the scenic landscape, rugged rock formations, endless green fields and fishing boats bobbing by the shore. Head up to the Divine Fortress to get a great view of the island and maybe take a short picnic break there. After that, check out the historic Cannon Fort, a military site which was used by the Japanese during WWII, the French during the Indochina War and the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Perched on a 177-meter high hill, it offers panoramic views of the bay and made for a great defensive point back in the day. You can go all the way up on your scooter or by foot if you prefer.
Another cool place to visit is the Hospital Cave. Half cave, half bunker this three-story building has 17 rooms, one operating theater and a natural cavern which was used as a cinema. Another interesting remnant of the Vietnam War, it’s worth a visit before you head back out to see more of the countryside.
Not far from Cat Ba Island and easily reachable by speedboat from Ha Long city, Quan Lan beckons travelers wanting to drop off the map for a couple of days. This tiny island is home to only a few simple hotels and restaurants and is the perfect place to relax, get to know the locals and sip an ice-cold Vietnamese coffee on a practically deserted beach. If you feel like exploring, rent a motorbike and go around the island as there some nice pagodas to visit and views from the island’s hilltops are quite stunning. Take a picnic lunch along so you can take in the sweeping views while you take a break from driving. Otherwise, find a cozy spot under a palm tree and doze off to the sound of waves gently coming ashore.
This infamous island has made quite a reputation for itself among backpackers and party lovers who come to Vietnam to have the time of their life. For over ten years now, a local tour operator offers an all-inclusive tour of some of Ha Long Bay’s most stunning sights as well as two to three nights (and days) of fun-filled parties and activities. After a day spent on the boat visiting some of the bay’s beautiful caves and sailing around its countless karsts, celebrations begin on board and last until the early morning hours. Then, get ready to do it all over again! If a three-day party complete with excursions through a natural wonder and a stay on a private island sounds like your thing, you should check this out: Ha Long Bay Castaway Tour
The Islands of Central Vietnam
Just about nine miles off the coast of Hoi An, the Cham Islands offer a complete change of scenery. From the busy streets of the World Heritage city to the soft sands and quiet roads of Hon Lao, the main Cham island, it’s only a short boat ride but it takes you to a whole new world.
If you’re tight on time, you can book a day-trip to Hon Lao with a local tour operator. This will include the transfer in a speedboat, a visit to the island’s main town, snorkeling, lunch on the beach and some time to relax and swim before heading back in the afternoon. There are hotels on Hon Lao as well, so if you have more time, want to get your fill of delicious local seafood dishes and get to know the rich underwater world a bit better, book one of the charming bungalows right on the beach and enjoy relaxing by the clear blue water, fresh coconut juice in hand. Hammock Homestay is a good homestay in Cham island.
Just off the coast of Quang Ngai province, you will find Ly Son Island. Over the years it has become increasingly popular with Vietnamese travelers, but foreigners have not caught on to this trend yet. That makes Ly Son a great place to visit if you want a place that has not yet been overrun by masses of visitors.
While the beaches here are mostly rocky and don’t really invite you to linger and relax, there are a few hills to climb for a great view and the local cuisine is absolutely worth a try. Known for growing mild, fragrant garlic and onions, Ly Son cuisine uses these two ingredients liberally to create yummy seafood specialties you won’t easily find elsewhere. To get a nice beach experience, head over to the neighboring An Binh Island. There you will find the kind of beaches travel blogs and magazines make your dream of… white sands, swaying palm trees and clear blue waters.
Still a new destination for international visitors, Binh Ba Island is worth a trip for several reasons. Firstly, it’s only 15 kilometers from Cam Ranh (close to Nha Trang) and can be reached by boat in about 90 minutes. Secondly, it offers a wide variety of activities so you won’t get bored even if you stay several days.
On Binh Ba, the day starts early as it’s the eastern-most island in Vietnam. Catch the sunrise from one of the beautiful beaches and take advantage of the gentle morning light to explore marine life. In this area, the underwater world is rich and colorful so if you want to go snorkeling in Vietnam, this is a great place to do it. After that, lounge around Bai Chuong beach, Bai Nom beach, or Nha Cu beach: all three are practically deserted and have soft sands and clear waters.
To get energy for exploring the island, try the freshly caught local seafood. Everything from clams and spiny lobsters to shrimp and prawns are here, so be sure to work up an appetite and try them all. If you’re adventurous, rent a motorbike and explore the island’s hills, pagodas, and war remnants. There are some great viewpoints complete with old artillery and watchtowers. Since there is still a military presence today, be aware and respectful of “no entry” and “no photo” signs.
Not far from Binh Ba, Binh Hung Island is another great place to bask in the sun on pristine white sand beaches. Easily reachable from Cam Ranh, Binh Hung is a must if you want to enjoy local seafood at its best and feel like exploring tranquil beaches and the island’s soft, rolling hills.
With little information about Binh Hung available in any language but Vietnamese, it’s not a surprise that you won’t find many foreign travelers here. There are also not many hotels, and the ones you will find are rather simple. A great option for accommodation on Binh Hung is a homestay as it will give you the chance to meet the island’s residents and spend some quality time with them.
A great way to see Binh Hung is by boat. Many locals offer tours on their own vessels and will meet you at the peer and propose their services. Agree on what you want to do (e.g. go around the whole island, stop for a swim, end the trip at a restaurant…), how much time you want to spend and how much you’ll pay, and be off on a private tour of this hidden paradise.
Feeling hungry? Stop at one of the floating seafood restaurants. See what’s on the menu today by checking the buckets full of the day’s catch outside the entrance, choose what you want and negotiate a price before you sit down and wait for your meal. Lobster is the specialty here so if that’s your thing, make sure you have it at least once. You can check the recommended homestay: 9 Len Homestay Binh Hung
The Islands of Southern Vietnam
Just southwest of Vietnam’s mainland coast and a one-hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City lies Phu Quoc, a beautiful tropical island slightly larger than most in the area. Over recent years it has been steadily developing into a popular destination for both local and international travelers, but it still maintains its off the beaten path charm. Our tip is to go there now before that changes.
There are plenty of things to do in Phu Quoc, so plan a few days on the island to do it all. For starters, the beaches in Phu Quoc are beautiful and the famous Long Beach offers the most wonderful view of the sunset. As the day ends, find a beach bar, get a cocktail and take at the moment when the burning sun dips into the sea. There are also plenty of other beaches to visit, so get ready to lounge and relax on some secluded stretches of white sand and enjoy the sound of gently lapping waves in the distance.
During the day, the best thing to do is to rent a motorbike to get around the island. Phu Quoc is famous for its pepper which is in high demand all around Vietnam. Visit a plantation and pick some up as a souvenir. Chances are you’ve never had such fresh pepper anywhere. The local cuisine also uses this delicious pepper liberally, so don’t miss out on the fresh local seafood prepared with this aromatic ingredient. Phu Quoc is also interesting to history buffs as it is home to former prisons used for political and wartime convicts. While this is a dark chapter in the island’s history, it is one you should check out if you have the time.
Only a quick one-hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Con Dao is a great place to go if you want to get away from noisy bustling cities, enjoy a tranquil beach and travel to an island rich in natural beauty and marine life. Stop by here if you’d like to discover miles upon miles of untouched coastlines or go for a boat tour to see dolphins and maybe even some turtles! Exploring the island is easy and fun by bicycle as it’s rather flat. Here is a great two-day itinerary to Con Dao.
Enjoy the scenery as you pedal from one beautiful beach to the next or visit some of the historical sights spread out on the island. These include the burial site of Vo Thi Sau, a Vietnamese national hero who fought against the French as well as a former prison ground which was used to intern political prisoners. Once you’ve worked up an appetite by cycling around, head to one of the many local eateries to get your fix of freshly made coconut milk and seafood caught that same morning. Most places will let you choose your favorite seafood from a display of fresh products. And if you prefer your food steamed, barbecued or fried, just let the staff know. They’ll be happy to prepare it any way you like.
Another place with hardly any English information about it, Phu Quy is for the travelers who want to get away from the crowds and do their own thing. If that’s you, hop on a ferry in Phan Thiet and get ready for a few days of undisturbed calm, endless beaches, and great diving opportunities. Since Phu Quy has only recently been discovered by international travelers, there are no huge hotels and resorts there yet. Accommodation available consists of small guest houses and hostels offering very basic yet clean rooms.
There’s also not much in terms of nightlife apart from the small roadside places locals operate out of their house’s ground floor. Don’t need all that action? Then Phu Quy is the perfect destination for you. Come here to snorkel around colorful coral reefs, indulge in sheer endless varieties of seafood, relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Reachable by ferry from Rach Gia, Nam Du is another great getaway when island-hopping in Vietnam. Nam Du is the main island of a small atoll and is famous for its hidden creeks and high mountains which give it a very characteristic look and feel. Stop by here for a few days to take in this island’s rich natural beauty and join local fishermen as they get some of the freshest fish and seafood you’ll ever have.
Maybe you’ll live in a homestay with someone who can take you out on their boat, show you around and help you bring in your own catch which you can then prepare together for your lunch. Now, with more energy, you can set out and explore once more. Get a motorbike or bicycle to go to the old Nam Du lighthouse or find a quiet spot on the island’s west coast to enjoy a view of the sun disappearing behind the horizon as the day slowly comes to an end in this tropical paradise.
Getting a feeling that Vietnam’s tropical islands are a place you’d love to go and explore? If all that talking about freshly caught and barbecued seafood, deserted white sand beaches and romantic sunsets has made you curious, then start doing your research now and plan your trip there while these destinations are still unknown to most other international visitors coming to Vietnam. In several of the places mentioned above, development is advancing very quickly and visitor numbers are steadily increasing, so head there now and be charmed by their tranquility and unique natural beauty.
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