Few people realize that Vietnam has over 4,000 islands and these jewels in the Vietnamese crown are often missed as a result. In fairness most of the islands are so small that they barely show up on the map so you could be forgiven for not seeing them. The following islands are seven of the most exciting islands that you should try and build into your trip.
Top 7 beautiful islands in Vietnam
01. Co To (Quang Ninh)
Co To is the furthest inhabited Island in North East Vietnam, the island is hilly and surrounded with jagged cliffs and deserted beaches.
To visit Co To you must first obtain a permit, this is easily done through larger hotels or travel agents in Hanoi. You must have a permit before you travel to Co To or you will not be able to visit.
Co To has several welcoming guesthouses and restaurants. Co To Lodge Hotel is most noteworthy offering reasonable food and accommodation and exceptionally friendly staff, just ask and they will take you on a great island tour.
Take a romantic walk up the winding path to the lighthouse, with the vast array of flowers lining your path and the melody of birdsong in the background. Walking is a great way to see the island, gaze out from the cliff tops across the never-ending ocean and watch the sky change color throughout the day. An ever- changing piece of artwork!
Fast and slow boats depart from Cai Rong Pier daily taking 1.5 hours and 3 hours respectively.
02. Cu Lao Cham (Quang Nam)
The Cham islands consist of eight tiny islands that have recently been recognized by UNESCO as the ‘World Biosphere Reserve’. This tropical destination is endowed with a marvelous topography of steep mountain slopes and biological diversity.
The Cham residents are fiercely protective of the natural environment and work hard to maintain a balanced eco-system. You will notice as soon as you arrive that, there is a large sign requesting that tourists do not bring plastic bags onto the island.
That said, the Cham people are exceptionally hospitable and keen to show off their island to the tourists who visit. It’s refreshing to see local Vietnamese residents who are conscious of the need to balance tourist and the environment.
To visit these islands of paradise, either take the 30-minute express boat from Cua Dai Beach or book a tour from Hoi An, which usually includes a transfers and a tour.
The long sand beaches are perfect for those who want to relax, enjoy the sunshine and take an occasional dip in the clear ocean. Those in search of adventure will find plenty of activities including; snorkeling, water-skiing, paragliding, scuba diving and boat racing.
One of the main draws of the island is the huge marine diversity on display; soft corals, colorful fish and mollusks can be seen from the ocean surface. Take a boat tour of the island for around $2 and see some of the sea life in the deeper waters.
03. Ly Son (Quang Ngai Province)
Ly Son is actually two islands, one big and one small and both are considered to be the Garlic Kingdom of Vietnam. The reason is fairly obviously once you arrive, there is a huge amount of garlic grown on the islands – white garlic is even called a Vietnamese pearl.
Aside from the garlic Ly Son Island is full of historic monuments, religious temples and a wild landscape that draws you in. You will struggle to find an organized tour to the island though and are best making your own way on the ferry from Sa Ky port.
When you arrive on the island your first stop will be at the police station. Don’t worry, you aren’t in trouble, you simply have to register your ID. The big island has plenty of little hostels and hotels but they can get busy at weekend so book early.
The easiest way to explore the ancient ruins, temples and pagodas is to hire a scooter and make your own way around the island. You can get round most of the sights in half of day so there’s no rush – just enjoy it!
Ly Son has several beautiful beaches but this is more of a cultural and sightseeing island. The beaches are small but the water is crystal clear and beautiful to swim in.
A trip to the equally beautiful and entirely uninhabited small island has to be made by boat. It’s a short trip so you can either ask a local to take you or hire a boat to take yourself.
At the moment the majority of tourists on the island are actually Vietnamese day-trippers and there isn’t a huge amount of English spoken so be prepared to practice your Vietnamese phrases.
04. Binh Ba (lobster island)
A remote and beautiful island so called because of the local lobster fishermen that live there. This island is only just developing as a tourist scene, so be prepared to bring your own camping equipment or feel free to ask the locals if you can stay with them.
To get to Binh Ba Island take the boat from Ba Ngai port, the journey takes about an hour and the sea is fairly calm unless there are high winds. Be prepared for a delay of up to half an hour as the passport and police checks are conducted. The allure of this island is the sheer natural beauty and total lack of development.
The beaches are perfect, stretches of pure white sand and the clearest of ocean water. Try your hand at some fishing and see if you can catch a squid (although you might want a local to prepare it for you before cooking). You can hire BBQ equipment to have your own seafood feast on the beach. Chuong beach is especially well known for the magnificent flaming sunrise and sunsets.
Needless to say the succulent juicy lobsters are high up on most of the menus but squid and sea urchin are also favored. The squid is unusually thick and sweet and the urchins are served in a variety of unusual ways.
You can see everything on the seafood menu in real life by simply taking a snorkel and going out to explore the shallow waters. The live soft corals are colorful and unusual and provide home to many tropical fish breeds. Watch the local fisherman use spears to catch puffer fish; it really is like stepping back in time.
05. Binh Hung (Khanh Hoa)
Known also as Chut Island this is the perfect place to escape the city and indulge in a romantic paradise. You can get to the island from Nha Trang by taking the two-hour ferry from the Ba Ngoi Wharf in Cam Ranh City.
Alternatively you can depart from the Vinh Hy Pass in Phan Rang Province to Binh Tien Bich, which only requires a ten- minute boat trip.
The best time to visit the island is in summer when the waters are calm and you get a smooth boat trip across. The temperatures are fairly good all year round but try to avoid the rainy season. There is an untouched feel to Binh Hung Island, a pinch of wilderness adds extra excitement to the island.
If you truly want a walk on the wild side then hire a tent and sleeping bag and camp on the beach under the stars. Alternatively there are some genuine homestay opportunities where you can stay with the exceptionally friendly and informative local fisherman and their families.
The Hon Chut lighthouse makes the perfect vantage point for panoramic views over the island. If you continue on the lighthouse path then you can also see the ‘Egg Rocks’. The Egg Rocks are a collection of giant round rocks that look uncannily like giant dinosaur eggs.
The quickest way to tour the island is the take a motorbike around the coastal road; enjoy the wind in your hair, the salty sea air and the sun on your back.
Unsurprisingly the majority of the food on this island is seafood and you will discover some of the biggest lobsters that you have ever seen. These massive sea monsters are grilled to perfection and best eaten with your fingers (and a spoon), messy but delicious.
For the more adventurous why not try lobster blood and liquor – yes it sounds a little weird but it’s actually very good!
06. Con Dao (Vung Tau)
Con Dao is an archipelago of 16 islands and islets in Southeast Vietnam; the largest island is Con Son. You can get to the island by taking the 12-hour overnight ferry from Vung Tau Port or by flying into the Con Son airport.
The islands form the Con Dao National Park, which is intended to preserve both the environment and the animals, especially the nesting turtles. Dense forests cover most of the islands along with spectacular deserted beaches and nature trails.
Despite the serene beauty of the islands they do have a somewhat undesirable past. During the French Colonial period the island served as a holding area for political prisoners and other criminals. The conditions back then are a far cry from the immense beauty that you witness today.
If you are a keen historian then take a tour of the Revolutionary Museum where a guide will teach you about what the islands were originally used for. The Cemetery is also a poignant place, a shrine to 20,000 Vietnamese heroes. Finally stay up late to visit the shrine of Vo Thi Sau, Vietnam’s National Heroine. Even at midnight you will find dozens of people praying and burning incense.
The diversity of the marine wildlife is a major attraction for most tourists. Aside from the huge variety of fish and coral species you may also be lucky enough to see a Dugong, a very rare mammal similar to the manatee. Either find a snorkel or book a scuba dive to see the best spots on the islands.
If you prefer to stay on land then make sure that you visit the prehistoric looking jungle that sprawls over the majority of the islands. You can book tours but you can also follow the paths, just make sure you have a map and plenty of water, it can get very humid in there.
Con Dao’s claim to fame is that it was the chosen vacation destination for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in 2011
07. Phu Quoc (Kien Giang)
Now this island can certainly claim to have a somewhat international spirit, Phu Quoc is a Vietnamese island off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand. Unsprisingly there is some political tension over the true owner of this island, everyone wants a slice of heaven!
The French officially granted the island to Vietnam in 1949 and you can feel the Vietnamese influences everywhere, from the extraordinarily friendly locals to the food and culture.
Phu Quoc actually comprises of 28 islands and islets however the main island is the largest island in Vietnam (48km long). It is renowned for spectacular, white sand beaches and beautiful crystal clear ocean. The clean water, wide variety of corals and diverse fish species make this the ideal location for snorkeling and scuba diving.
If you get bored of relaxing on the white sands then take a tour of one of the many fish sauce factories. Phu Quoc is gaining quite the reputation for fish sauce in the international market.
Most of the island is a dedicated National park and there is an active marine conservation program. This, combined with very little tourist development and traffic, means that the island is in pristine condition.
That said this sleepy backwater island is starting to see some development with an international airport, new roads and even an ‘eco- casino’ in the pipeline.