With its bustling street-food culture, gorgeous heritage buildings and striking natural beauty – thanks to diverse landscapes of enchanting rice paddy fields, limestone cliffs and tropical forests – Vietnam is a fascinating locale to explore. Although the country’s islands and archipelagos do not get as much attention as those of its neighbouring nations, that also means that that there are pockets of remote and isolated spots just waiting to be discovered. We share some of the best paradise islands that are worth taking a jaunt to when you’re in the country.
1. Phu Quoc Island
A teardrop-shaped island with fine-sand beaches, romantic sunsets and an idyllic palm-lined coast, this is an ideal location for a quiet getaway. The island, of which large swathes are still cloaked in dense forests, flew under the radar up until it got discovered by travellers a few years ago, which led to several swanky resorts springing up along the coast (read: you may want to visit before it turns into yet another crowded and well-beaten travel spot). Luxury boutique Salinda Resort and Fusion Resort, for example, offer spectacular beachside views. Take your pick from around 20 unspoilt beaches (Ganh Dau Beach is a little corner with flour white sand and breezy palm trees) or explore the sleepy villages and get your hands on some fish sauce from a local producer. End your day by admiring the setting sun at one of the slew of quirky bistros and bars.
2. Con Dao
This group of tiny, mostly uninhabited islands makes for a charming stopover to do some scuba diving, thanks to the clear turquoise waters, colourful corals and teeming marine life. The archipelago is also dotted with wild, beautiful beaches that are a scenic sight. You can make a pit stop at Con Son, the only inhabited islet, to understand its dark past: the island used to be a penal colony, and you can still see the prison walls along the road. Head to Con Dao Museum to learn about the brutal conditions prisoners faced and to view prison cells. Be sure to stop by the bustling marketplace to pick up some fresh produce like leafy vegetables and tuck into a hearty breakfast of bun rieu (crab noodles in tomato broth) or bun thit nuong (char-grilled pork with cold vermicelli noodles).
3. Cat Ba
The largest of some 360 islands that make up the Cat Ba Archipelago, this dreamy spot has a mystical ambience with its rugged terrain, limestone karsts and lush forests. Trek around the island’s Cat Ba National Park – a designated Unesco World Biosphere Reserve – or relax at one of its many small but scenic beaches. Make sure you set aside some time for a boat tour of Lan Ha Bay, in which you’ll spend an enchanting trip exploring its ethereal green waters, dark caves, secluded lagoons and karst formations.
4. Hon Ong (Whale Island)
This tiny, deserted island is known for its optimal surrounding water temperature and underwater gems, which makes it a popular spot among divers and snorkellers. Just two hours away from the coastal town of Nha Trang (which also boasts a beautiful stretch of sandy white beaches), this is an intimate oasis for a beachy getaway. The only place to stay is the Whale Island Resort – it has a slew of rustic bungalows made of sturdy thatched bamboo that come with simple creature comforts.
5. Cham Islands
Comprising a total of eight islands, the Cham Islands are located just 15km off the coast of Hoi An and have a history that dates back around 3,000 years. Scenic, natural and mostly untouched, it’s the perfect retreat for tired souls. The largest island, Hon Lao, is home to more than a thousand cheeky monkeys, charming beaches and traditional fishing villages (where you can get your fill of fresh seafood), while the other islands are mostly made up of rocky formations.
6. Binh Ba
Known colloquially as Lobster Island (the villagers rear lobsters as a livelihood), Binh Ba is where you can tuck into fresh crustaceans that are plucked straight from the waters and grilled in front of you. Seafood is plentiful in its waters so you’d also tuck into a wide variety, such as cockles, shrimp and squid, at affordable prices . The highlight of this spot is its pristine beauty and serene atmosphere that will allow you to enjoy fresh air, ample space and some peace and quiet.
7. Ly Son
The volcanic island of Ly Son is a well-kept secret among locals, and is treasured for its slow pace of life, traditional Buddhist temples and wild, unspoiled beauty. Hike up to the island’s extinct volcanic craters, ride a motorbike along the coastal roads, or take a dip in its sparkling blue waters. Don’t forget to visit one of many garlic farms scattered throughout this understated gem. While garlic is usually planted in deltas of rivers, Ly Son’s garlic is a specialty that’s rooted in sand through a painstaking process, and is thus highly sought after in the country.
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours as well as booking and seating requirements before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.