Sail away with us and explore some of Vietnam’s many island paradises
Vietnam is home to some 3,000 islands, many of which have long been home to indigenous Vietnamese people. It would take a long time to visit them all. For dreamers and adventurers, Vietnam’s islands are worlds of wonder. From the North to the South, from close to the mainland to the distant seas, these islands offer marvellous landscapes with the potential to become popular aquatic tourism destinations.
The North – a merging of sea and heaven
Formed over millions of years, Vietnam’s islands are like beads on a pearl necklace adorning our blessed coastline. From the northern sea in the Gulf of Tonkin all the way to the North Central region lie some relatively large islands with unique geological features.
At the northernmost point of the country is Vinh Thuc Island, where you can find the first of Vietnam’s 92 lighthouses. With an area of 50km2, this island features pristine scenery and crystal clear water. Southwest of Vinh Thuc lie Bai Tu Long and Ha Long Bays, where peaceful waters are home to countless limestone islands and islets, some with interesting cave formations. Thanks to its myriad islands, Ha Long Bay resembles “an oceanic orchid”, the nickname given to the bay by the late poet Che Lan Vien. He wrote this about the bay:“I want to go where waters and colors merge, where the seasons become fall…” Ha Long Bay’s nearly 2,000 islands comprise a unique geological area, contributing to its status as a Natural World Wonder.
The archipelagos of Cai Bau, Van Hai, Co To, and Cat Ba are comprised by large islands known for their beautiful beaches and delicious seafood. Some smaller islands are also scattered here and there, including Tuan Chau and Quan Lan. Further offshore lie islands like Long Chau and Bach Long Vi. Vietnam’s oldest lighthouses, Long Chau and Hon Dau, built by the French from 1892 to 1894, are often visited by tourists.
Northern Vietnam’s islands are closely associated with mainland culture, carried by settlers from the Red River Delta and the North Coast region. The trading port of Van Don was established in the Cai Bau and Van Hai archipelagos during the Ly dynasty in 1149, and operated for 600 years, cementing its reputation as arenowned historical site. Cai Bau and Cat Ba hold the title of Vietnam’s second- and third-largest islands. Cat Ba is home to a national park classified as an international biosphere reserve.
Amidst dangerous waves in the Central Region
Due to their geographical positions, the islands of Central Vietnam bear the brunt of nature’s wrath. Here, the idea that Vietnam is comprised of “seas and islands” is more apparent than anywhere else. The Central Region’s sea plays a significant role as it spans multiple latitudes, leads into the East Sea, and is home to many strategic islands, like Con Co, Ly Son, Cu Lao Cham, Cu Lao Xanh, and Phu Quy, just to name a few. Meanwhile, the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes reveal how far Vietnamese people have ventured across the high seas to hunt for resources and settle, with communities foraging and residing there for centuries.
The islands of the Central Coast have become appealing destinations in recent decades. Notable examples include Ly Son and Cu Lao Cham which, together with the neighboring touristy areas of Danang and Hoi An, serve as popular choices for tourist excursions. These islands testify to centuries-old voyages. Modern people remain amazed by the exquisite ceramics and handicrafts salvaged from shipwrecks in this region, reminders of the busy trade route between ancient kingdoms that once passed through these islands.
South Central Vietnam’s islands offer diverse landscapes fit for commercial and touristic activities in the heart of stunning bays. Formed by the Hon Gom Peninsula and the northern coast of Khanh Hoa province, Van Phong Bay is shielded from harsh winds by Hon Lon (Big Island). At the bay’s center lies Diep Son Island. Its famed sandbar serves as a passage through the sea.
In the bays of Nha Phu, Nha Trang, and Cam Ranh lie the popular tourist islands of Hon Mun, Hon Tre, Hon Tam, and Binh Ba, which extend like a string of pearls with pretty beaches and protected coral reefs. Commonly depicted in poems, Hon Yen Island off the coast of Cam Ranh Peninsula is famous for Khanh Hoa Salangane nests.
Finally, beyond the southernmost point of Central Vietnam lies Phu Quy Island, with majestic cliffs formed by volcanic craters.
A place of exile turned into a pearl
Mountains, waters, clouds and sky enchant my heart
Wave after wave trails to the sandy shore
As distant islands heed the melody of the ocean
(Your love is like the ocean – Nguyen Duc Toan)
Like a folk saying reminds us, Vietnam’s South Coast has fewer islands near the mainland and more far out at sea. Con Dao Island was mentioned in Western texts as early as the late 13th century under the name of Poulo Condore (meaning “pumpkin island”) in the notes of Marco Polo. Con Dao’s natural beauty is well preserved, its coastline shaded by ancient tropical almonds. Quaint old villas and beaches with powdery white sand overlook the crystal clear water. Sites like Dam Trau Beach, Hon Ba Island, Hang Duong Cemetery, the local sea turtle conservation area, and Con Dao National Park add up to create a destination that travel magazines have named “the most mysterious” or “the best island in the world”.
In Southwestern Vietnam’s waters within the Gulf of Thailand lie more exciting tourist destinations with fascinating histories. Off the coast of Ca Mau Cape, the Hon Khoai Island cluster lies near the place where Vietnam’s eastern and western seas meet. Here, it’s possible to watch both sunrise and sunset, particularly from the lighthouse that was built in 1920. Within the Gulf of Thailand itself, the islands of Tho Chu, Nam Du, and especially Phu Quoc are ideal tourism destinations. Phu Quoc, the largest island in Vietnam, covering 580km2, is similar to Con Dao in many ways. But unlike Con Dao, it has developed quickly, becoming a popular getaway spot thanks to its large area and bustling population.
With terrains ranging from sandy beaches to mountains and rivers, national parks, marine reserves, and small nearby islands, Phu Quoc boasts diverse ecosystems worth exploring. The island is now quite urban with a high density of hotels and resorts along with modern entertainment services. It is gaining recognition as a luxury resort destination. Each of Vietnam’s islands is like a miniature version of the mainland, preserving aspects of the country’s culture, cuisine, and lifestyle that appeal to tourists. Whether you are looking for pristine landscapes, adventures, or modern relaxation, Vietnam’s islands have you covered. Here, surrounded by the heavens and the sea, you can appreciate the gifts of nature.