Here at Life Before Work, we're no stranger to Vietnam, showing off the cascading rice paddies of Sa Pa and the throbbing streets of central Hanoi, the wonders of Ha Long Bay and the sunny party strips of Nha Trang. But what about the hidden treasures that languish away from the mainland? What about the destinations that make their home between the swells of the South China Sea and the waters of the Thai Gulf? Check out this list of the most beautiful Vietnam islands to uncover the paradisiacal tropics of spots like Phu Quoc, Nam Du and beyond. Enjoy…
Phu Quoc Island
Phu Quoc is a real Southeast Asian chart-topper if there ever was one. Although only a relatively recent addition to Vietnam's line-up of must-see places, it's now flaunting its shimmering cotton-white beaches and swaying groves of coastal coconut palms in the travel brochures for all to see. And while the crowds are responding, by filling up the clutch of resorts that now spill out onto the coves and sparkling shoreline of the east coast, there is still plenty in Phu Quoc that has the enticing, Robinson Crusoe-style ring of a desert island. Take the wild backcountry, where tropical jungles fall into dusty pepper plantations, or go for the reefs and the coral gardens, where bobbing sea kayaks give way to the trails of bubble blowers and parrotfish alike.
Nam Du Islands
Midway between the mainland's coast at Ca Mau and the tropical wonders of Phu Quoc, the speckling of isles that is the Nam Du archipelago offers plenty in the way of Southeast Asia's quintessential tropical perfection. Large granite cliffs tower overhead, patches of forest cascade from the ridges, and just a few tiny little slivers of glowing yellow sand hide between the headlands. In fact, there are only three real beaches in the whole group of islets, and these are interspersed with rustic pint-sized fishing hamlets where bobbing longboats and drying short mackerel coalesce along the ramshackle harbours.
Ba Lua Islands
Not strictly an island, but rather a whole archipelago in its own right, the cluster of jungle-dressed rocks that is Ba Lua is considered one of the real jewels of Vietnam's gulf coast. They pepper the waters between the flats of the Mekong Delta and the beauties of Phu Quoc (see above), offering up countless (there are over 34 islands in all) little coves and crevices and headlands and cliffs. Hidden amidst it all are some truly empty stretches of golden sand, peppered with black stones and sculpted boulders. And overhead there are caves too, carved over the centuries directly into the salt-washed faces of the islands. Heo and Ngang are the two biggest destinations in Ba Lua, and offer the best seafood restaurants and homestays.
Binh Hung Island
If you're looking for empty sands and sparkling bays where not a single other footprint marks the shoreline, or if you're eager to go where few other travellers in Vietnam get to, then the hidden jewel that is Binh Hung might just be the perfect island for you. Small and largely unknown to westerners, it can be found floundering out between the swells of the South China Sea, just a short ferry ride form the port town of Cam Ranh. The whole island is ringed by aquamarine waters that shimmer and shine in turquoise blue. There's great visibility for snorkeling between the boulders, and lunchtime heralds in a clutch of top-notch pontoon restaurants, where the lobster and seafood stir fries are accessible only by boat (that's usually included in the price).
Now protected with one of those prestigious UNESCO Biosphere tags, it's hardly surprising that the verdant rises of Cham Island and its surrounding archipelago, located some 15 kilometers from the sparkling coast of Hoi An, offers plenty of picture-perfect beaches and tropical bounties. LBW's Vietnam Explorer tours come right past this section of central coastline, which means there's plenty of scope for our groups to head out and explore said bounties too! Expect boulder-spattered sands around the rustic fishing town of Bai Huong; luxuriously powdered beaches in Bai Chong; awesome diving in the crystal-clear waters of the Cu Lao Cham Marine Park; shimmering shore waters of turquoise blue along the sands of Bai Xep – the list goes on!
Co To Island
Taking us all the way to the north-eastern fringes of Vietnamese territory, Co To Island languishes out on the far fringes of breathtaking Bai Tu Long Bay. A medley of rugged cliffs and grass-topped bluffs, it’s quite different from the sunny tropical paradises of the southern seas, but therein lies its charm. This one's beaches are windswept and crawled by packs of crabs; tendrils of sea vines emerge out of the nearby woods and towering pillars of rock loom overhead. There's one interesting lighthouse to see, along with a clutch of local fishing towns. Just be sure to bag that special permit before you arrive – it's necessary because there's a lot of military activity on Co To, probably due to the proximity of China in the north.
Con Dao Islands
Last but most certainly not least is this peppering of islands that sits isolated far off the southern tip of Vietnam and the Mekong Delta. You might be surprised to hear that recent decades saw Con Dao dedicated to political prisons. And while we can think of far worse places to be incarcerated, the history here is dark and disturbing. However, the beaches and sparkling coral inlets tell a totally different story; one of luxurious tropical temperatures, great snorkeling, SCUBA diving and more. Thanks to the proliferation of many package trips from the mainland, the Con Dao islands are also relatively easy to get to – there are regular flights in from Ho Chi Minh City, and ferries from ports on the south coast to boot.
Of course, there are oodles of other truly handsome Vietnam islands on the menu for travellers hitting this corner of Southeast Asia. If you can think of any more that should totally be on this list, then we'd love to hear all about them in the comments below. Or, if you think it's time you came and explored this land sandwiched between the South China Sea and the Thai Gulf, be sure check out our Vietnam itineraries.
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