Everyone associates Vietnam with its thriving cities, be it Ho Chi Minh in the south or Hanoi in the north. These cities are often packaged with awe-inspiring cultural monuments and destinations saturated by nature just a short journey away — think Sapa, Halong Bay and the like. Rarely is Vietnam pegged as a destination for beautiful islands and beaches, especially when stacked against neighbouring Thailand, but that assumption is about to change.
The Land of the Blue Dragon is home to over 15 coastal provinces, each home to multiple islands and mini-archipelagos that offer tourists beach getaways of every persuasion, be it isolated retreats, lush resorts and spas or natural activities. In this guide, we suss out some of these lesser-known paradise islands in Vietnam well worth venturing to when you find yourself in the country.
Phu Quoc has become an up-and-coming holiday destination for those looking at Vietnam or Southeast Asia. The former warzone has transformed into what many dub as the Miami Beach of the Vietnam coast, an image accentuated by the many luxury resorts spotting its pristine beaches. Besides spending languid days under sand and sun, Phu Quoc also houses a national park where you can trek various trails, including a hike up its resident Mount Chua.
How to get there: Domestic flights to Phu Quoc run from most of Vietnam’s airports. If you are going there from Ho Chi Minh, you can get a bus to Ha Tien Pier and take a ferry. The latter journey totals half a day of travel.
Cu Lao Cham
Cu Lao Cham is a group of eight islands, just a quick boat ride away from Hoi An. The cluster is known for its rich marine biodiversity, making this a top spot to visit for avid divers or snorkellers. Past their turquoise seas, Cu Lao Cham is also a must for those who seek adventure on holidays, as they offer a variety of other activities like sea trekking (which involves walking underwater), long hikes and campsites for those who are keen to brave the elements overnight.
How to get there: The easiest way is by boat or private canoe in Hoi An.
Many who visit Halong Bay tend to do so via one-day boat tours, but Cat Ba is worth investing a couple of days in. This lesser-known (hence less tourist-infested) site houses the Cat Ba National Park, which offers long hiking and cycling trails flanked by the river, and a variety of other outdoor activities, including rock climbing and kayaking. Cat Ba is also neighboured by a number of smaller islands, and there are cruises available to take you on quick trips to each one. If you’re intent on a holiday that epitomises the slow life, then Cat Ba is your bet.
How to get there: A bus from Hanoi is the fastest, with about three hours of travel time. You’ll be required to take a quick speedboat ride in between the journey, but it does not take more than 15 minutes.
Binh Ba is home to three gems amongst all of Vietnam’s beaches — Chuong, Nom and Nha Cu. The first boasts breathtaking views of the sunrise and sunset, with the sky turning entirely red on occasion, while the latter two are bonuses for visitors who love a good dive or swim. Past the uncrowded beaches, the serene blanket that is Binh Ba belies a thriving seafood industry, which means seriously fresh catches served up at restaurants around the island.
How to get there: Find your way to Cam Ranh City and go to Ba Ngoi port, where you can take a quick boat ride to Binh Ba.
Ly Son may be humble in size, but that doesn’t mean the island is any less interesting than the other heavyweights on this list. It is home to a major garlic-producing economy, so the island is saturated with fields of these aromatics — don’t worry, it does not smell — that stand alongside some 50 different shrines and temples for all you culture junkies to marvel at. The beauty of Ly Son is how removed it is from urban life, so it offers the ideal, isolated escape away from the chaos of life back home.
How to get there: Ly Son is slightly tricky to access. Quang Nai, which is southeast of Da Nang, is where you need to head to in order to catch an hour and a half-long ferry from its resident Cang Sa Ky Port to Ly Son.