Vietnam is a country made of 50% coast and islands. Halong Bay alone is composed of over 2,000 islands. In this article, I introduce 10 lesser known Vietnamese islands, most of them rather untouched by tourism. If you fancy off the beaten track travelling, you may enjoy this selection and include them in your itinerary.
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Potato Island - Hòn Khoai
South of the southernmost end of the Vietnamese mainlands is a small archipelago with two noteworthy islands: Hòn Khoai, Potato Island and Hòn Sao, Star Island. The archipelago is 14.6 kilometers away from Cà Mau, the province capital of Cà Mau. The total landmass of the islands is about four square kilometers and the highest point is 318 m above sea level. The mostly untouched, pristine forests are rich in rare plants and feature a great biodiversity. The nice and wild landscape of the rocky islands attracts tourists to discover their mostly unknown charm.
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From the southernmost fishing village of Cà Mau, Trần Đế, you can catch a boat to Hòn Khoai.
There is a lighthouse on the island and a foreign-funded ecotourism location covering 700 hectares.
Banana Island is located in the Gulf of Thailand, covers seven square kilometers and is mostly covered by primeval forests. The island is home to about 50 fishermen and their families, settling along the coastline. There are no roads on Hòn Chuối, but a lighthouse and a post for the border guard.
Nam Du Island is halfway between Phú Quốc and the coast of Cà Mau province. Actually this is an archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand, consisting of 21 volcanic islands with a tropical monsoon climate. Rainy season lasts from April to October every year. The largest island of the archipelago, Nam Du itself, reaches an altitude of 309 meters above sea level.
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Like Phú Quốc, Nam Du belongs to Kiên Giang province. Nam Du literally means “Travel South”.
Not far from Nam Du to the northeast, there is Hòn Sơn. Hòn Sơn is the short form of Hòn Sơn Rái, which translates to Otter Island. Eighty percent of the island’s 11.5 square kilometer landmass is covered by primeval rainforests with a rich fauna of mostly monkeys, squirrels, lizards and the one or another python. The rest of the island is mostly consisting of orchards. Over 8,000 people call Hòn Sơn their home and mostly live of farming and fishery, as well as related crafts like ship building or the production of fish sauce. The sea around the island, once blessed with an abundance of anchovies, has been depleted. As a result, many fish sauce factories had to shut down recently.
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The highest point of altitude is Ma Thiên Lãnh, 450 meters above sea level. This little mountain range is also the most precious source of fresh water on the island.
Otter Island features five beaches. One of them, Bãi Bàng shows a beautiful scenery of white sand and leaning coconut palms.
Not to be confused with Hòn Tre near the coast of Nha Trang, which is connected to the manlands via cable car and contains a Vinpearl Land, the Hòn Tre I am talking about now is located in the Gulf of Thailand and not far from above mentioned Hòn Sơn. Actually if you use the ferry to go to or from Phú Quốc to Rạch Giá in Kiên Giang province, you pass Hòn Tre.
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Bamboo Island’s landmass is mostly covered by rough, natural forest landscape and agricultural areas. The two main mountains of the island give it the shape of a swimming turtle, hence the unofficial name “Turtle Island”.
The main source of income for the islanders is fishery. Hòn Tre is famous for shrimps and mantis shrimps, as well as oysters and various fish. Villages also grow coconut trees.
Most of the beaches are quite rocky and wild, but on some sandy stretches, namely Bãi Chén, you can enjoy seafood dishes in natural scenery.
Hòn Nghệ is also located in the beautiful Gulf of Thailand, exactly in the bay of Hà Tiên, Kiên Giang province. The island is home to over 2,100 people who live in an area of 3.8 square kilometers. The inhabitants mainly focus on fishery and aquaculture and while there is some tourist activity along the beaches of Hòn Nghệ, most of the inner lands remain untouched. Under these conditions, a rich biodiversity sustains, mostly composed of birds, lizards and squirrels.
The main non-natural sights are the Confucius temple and a 20 meter high Buddha statue.
Lý Sơn is a district of the Quảng Ngãi province and composed of the islands Lớn, Bé and Mù Cu, located about 30 kilometers away from the mainlands in the East Sea. The whole archipelago has a total landmass of about 10 square kilometers. Apart from fishery, the main source of income of the roughly 20,000 islanders is growing garlic. One of the unofficial names therefore is Vương Quốc Tỏi, which translates into garlic kingdom. The islands have been formed through volcanic activity that is still visible today.
The Cham Islands are conveniently located offshore of Hội An and, for an archipelago on a list of “lesser known islands”, quite popular. They are a part of the Cu Lao Cham Marine Park, a world Biosphere Reserve recognized by UNESCO. Archeologists date the settlement of these islands back for around 3,000 years. About 1,000 years ago, the place was used for transshipment of goods, intended for the Champa kingdom.
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While back then the major source of income was trading, rice and cinnamon bark, nowadays the islands are famous for their bird’s nest. Around 1.4 tons of bird’s nests are harvested annually, with a value of $4,000 US per kilogram.
Tourists can reach Cù lao Chàm by boat from Hội An.
Hòn Ngư is a small island in the East Sea, located in the Gulf of Tonkin in the north of Vietnam. Hòn Ngư is actually two islands, connected via a land bridge, around four kilometers from the coast, near the water mouth of the Cả River.
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The larger one of the islands reaches an altitude of 133 meters above sea level. Phan Huy Chú, a Vietnamese Mandarin administrator who lived between 1782 and 1840, wrote: “The twin mountains at the mouth of the Hoi Thong River look like two fish, that’s probably why the people call them Song Ngu (Two Fish).
Đảo Ngọc Vừng, also called the Jade Island, is one of the less known islands included in some Halong Bay cruises. Well, that gave away the location of Đảo Ngọc Vừng. It takes about five hours to reach the island by boat. Tourists can explore the place on mountain bikes, check out the beautiful sandy beach and try some delicious, yet surprisingly cheap (at least for Halong Bay standards) seafood dishes.
Vietnam has an abundance of islands. Alone the Halong Bay area contains over 2,000 bigger and smaller islands, most of which can be visited. Well, most islands are just rocks in the sea, but many have beaches or smaller mountains to climb. Since this part of Vietnam is largely untapped, it’s a great chance to see some nature and get the real Robinson Crusoe flair going.
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However, always keep in mind that most islands don’t have a source of freshwater, so bring plenty.