Island-Hopping in Vietnam: A Guide

First published January 2020 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

A growing trend in Vietnam, island-hopping is gaining momentum among independent travellers. From north to south, the Vietnamese coast is flecked with islands. In the south, glistening mini-archipelagos lie in the calm, balmy waters of Vietnam’s portion of the Gulf of Thailand; in the north, the famous, jungle-clad limestone pinnacles of Halong Bay (and many other similarly captivating bays) grace the Gulf of Tonkin, all the way to the northeastern border with China; and off the coast of central Vietnam, volcanic craters rise from the East Sea, forming rugged and starkly beautiful isles. Vietnam has thousands of islands; hundreds of which are inhabited; and dozens of which can be visited by island-hopping travellers. A handful of these islands are already well-established tourist destinations, but many are only just emerging as potential attractions; finding their way slowly onto the traveller’s radar. As travel bans are lifted, regular boat connections established, and military control relinquished, Vietnam’s islands are creating quite a stir: this is an exciting time. And so, the island-hopping scene in Vietnam is guaranteed to grow with each year. Now is the time to get ahead of the curve and start your own island-hopping adventure.

Island-hopping in Vietnam: A Guide for Independent TravellersIsland-hopping in Vietnam is a growing trend for independent travellers

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GUIDE: ISLANDHOPPING IN VIETNAM


On this page, I’ve pulled together all of my island guides to create an introduction and overview to island-hopping in Vietnam, including a detailed map and direct links to my guides for further information. Use this page as a starting point for creating your island-hopping itinerary: each island in the list below includes a brief summary and an illustration with a link to my full guide. Obviously, there are many islands in Vietnam that don’t yet appear on this page: I will be adding to this island-hopping list as I continue to travel around the country and write more guides. Although only a few of the islands have direct transportation links between each another, there are dozens of ways to travel from one island to the next via nearby airports, ports, bus and railway stations. I’ve drawn relevant ferry, train and air routes on my map, and you can even book plane, boat, rail and bus tickets directly through the map by clicking the transportation icons and following the links in the pop-up box (or search transportation on Baolau.com). It’s also worth noting that motorbikes and bicycles can travel aboard the ferries to all but one of these islands (Dao Be Island). 

CONTENTS: LIST OF ISLANDS


MAP:

Island-hopping in Vietnam


View in a LARGER MAP


SEARCH & BOOK TICKETS:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: you can search & book ferries, flights, trains & buses to most of the islands in this guide by using the Baolau.com search box below or by following the links in the transportation icons on my map. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

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1. Con Dao Islands:

Where: southeast coast, East Sea: Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province [MAP]


Selected Resources What’s this?

Why go: history, myth, natural beauty & charm: a beguiling destination

When: March-September

Getting there: daily flights from Saigon, daily fast boats from Vung Tau & the Mekong Delta

Where to stay: good guesthouses, hostels, mid-range resorts & luxury boutiques

Full guide: Con Dao Islands: A Guide


Selected Resources What’s this?

Description: The Con Dao Islands is a remarkable place. You’re likely to experience two sides to the islands when you visit: one day spent swimming in the clear sea, walking upon white sand beaches, hiking in the jungle, riding a scooter along deserted coast roads, & drinking cocktails on the seafront promenade; another spent visiting the colonial-era prisons, learning about former inmates (many of whom are celebrated national heroes) & witnessing remnants of their forced labour, which caused thousands of prisoners to die. The former is the future of the Con Dao Islands as a tropical paradise; the latter is its past as a brutal penal colony. I have always felt deeply attached to the Con Dao Islands: a feeling which gets stronger each time I visit. If you’re a regular reader of this website, the chances are you share my general feeling for travel destinations, & you too will fall for these islands. Transportation to/from this dazzling archipelago is easier than ever, with daily flights from Saigon & daily fast boats from Vung Tau & the Mekong Delta……read full guide

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Con Dao Islands, Vietnam

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2. Hon Son Island:


Selected Resources What’s this?

Where: southwest coast, Gulf of Thailand: Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Why go: beautiful, green, rugged, charming, off the beaten track

When: October-May

Getting there: daily fast boats from Rach Gia in the Mekong Delta

Where to stay: limited but good, local, budget guesthouses & beach hostels

Full guide: Hon Son Island: Travel Guide

Description: Lying in the Gulf of Thailand, just over an hour’s boat ride from Rach Gia in the Mekong Delta, Hon Son means ‘Mountain Island’. Rising from the calm, blue sea, giant boulders dot the palm-studded lower slopes as they ascend steeply to several jungle-covered peaks. It’s a rugged yet green & exceptionally beautiful isle. You only have to look at a map to see that Hon Son is close to the Platonic ideal of a tropical island. It’s a gem. My advice is to go right now, because development is likely to be on the horizon, & when it comes it will change the island very quickly indeed. But, for now, Hon Son is still very much an off-the-beaten-track destination – very few foreign travellers visit – & there’s no doubting the island’s beauty, charm, allure, & huge tourist potential. It’s easily reached via fast boats, which run several times daily……read full guide

[Click image below for full guide]

Hon Son Island, Vietnam

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3. Ly Son Island:

Where: central coast, East Sea: Quang Ngai Province [MAP]

Why go: striking volcanic landscapes, dramatic cliffs, ‘garlic kingdom’

When: March-September

Getting there: multiple daily fast boats from Sa Ky Port, Quang Ngai Province

Where to stay: decent budget guesthouses, hostels & homestays, limited mid-range hotels

Full guide: Ly Son Island: Travel Guide

Description: A volcanic island surrounded by a ring of reefs, Ly Son is a striking, stark & geologically fascinating destination, off the coast of central Vietnam. Three large, extinct volcanic craters dominate Ly Son. Inland, the island is barren, dry & sandy; its flat patchwork of fields rising violently to dramatic cliffs that plunge to the brilliant-blue sea. The water quality around Ly Son Island is among the best in Vietnam. But this isn’t your typical tropical island: Ly Son doesn’t have long, sandy beaches, brushed by coconut palms. What it does have are coral reefs, crystal-clear seas, twisted rock formations, black cliffs, mesmerizing crater-top views & one of the most dramatically situated beaches in Vietnam. Easily reached by regular, 30-minute, fast boat ferries from Sa Ky Port, in Quang Ngai Province, Ly Son Island has fired the imagination of young, Vietnamese backpackers for several years. But foreign travellers have yet to arrive in numbers. Famous for its seafood & garlic, which grows in the island’s rich, volcanic soil, there’s lots to keep you busy on Ly Son, including hiking the volcanic craters, riding along the coast roads, swimming in the sea & snorkeling the reefs……read full guide

[Click image below for full guide]

Ly Son Island, Vietnam

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4. Cat Ba Island:

Where: northeast coast, Gulf of Tonkin: Hai Phong Province [MAP]

Why go: enchanting limestone landscapes & islets, hiking, climbing & kayaking

When: September-October, March-April

Getting there: bus-boat combo from Hanoi, fast boats & ferries from Hai Phong & Ha Long 

Where to stay: good budget hotels, beach hostels & mid-range hotels, some high-end resorts

Full guide: Cat Ba Island, Halong Bay: Travel Guide

Description: Lying in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the northeast coast of Vietnam, Cat Ba Island is one of the country’s star natural attractions: a favourite travel destination for foreign & domestic tourists alike. Part of the world-famous Halong Bay, Cat Ba is a large, green & rugged island, most of which belongs to a national park. The island’s interior is a forest of limestone karsts, whose pointed peaks are overlaid with thick jungle, echoing to the sounds of insects & animals; while its dramatic coastline is indented with myriad bays, coves & cliffs. Cat Ba is a beautiful island & there’s lots to see & do, including climbing, hiking, kayaking & boat trips to outlying islands. Daily fast boats, car ferries & even a cable car connect Cat Ba with the mainland cities of Hai Phong & Ha Long, and there are also convenient, cheap & easy bus-boat combo tickets from Hanoi……read full guide

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Cat Ba Island, Halong Bay, Vietnam

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5. Nam Du Islands:

Where: southwest coast, Gulf of Thailand: Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Why go: glistening archipelago of small tropical islands & white sand beaches

When: October-May

Getting there: daily fast boats from Phu Quoc & Rach Gia in the Mekong Delta

Where to stay: decent, cheap mini-hotels, guesthouses & beach hostels

Full guide: Nam Du Islands: Travel Guide

Description: A glistening archipelago of small tropical islands off the southwestern coast of Vietnam, Nam Du has been steadily gaining a reputation as an off-grid beach retreat. Lying in the calm waters of the Gulf of Thailand, travel to Nam Du Islands is still in its infancy; pioneered by young Vietnamese backpackers just a few years ago. Until very recently, foreign travellers weren’t allowed to visit. But now, the Nam Du Archipelago is open to all nationalities. Reached by daily fast boats from Phu Quoc Island & the Mekong Delta port of Rach Gia, independent travel to these beautiful & undeveloped islands is now very easy & a lot of fun……read full guide

[Click image below for full guide]

Nam Du Islands, Vietnam

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6. Phu Quy Island:

Where: southeast coast, East Sea: Binh Thuan Province [MAP]

Why go: starkly beautiful, isolated, off the beaten path, temples & cliffs

When: December-April

Getting there: daily fast ferries from Phan Thiet (Mui Ne), Binh Thuan Province

Where to stay: decent, local, budget guesthouses, mini-hotels & homestays

Full guide: Phu Quy Island: Travel Guide

Description: A fascinating drop of land in the East Sea, Phu Quy is yet another of Vietnam’s previously ‘unknown’ islands that’s recently opened its doors to domestic & foreign travellers. A flat, green island rising gently to two volcanic peaks, Phu Quy is very isolated – far out in the ocean, 120km east of Phan Thiet on the mainland. Like other such islands in Vietnam, Phu Quy is on the cusp of a tourism boom: its name is on the lips of most young Vietnamese backpackers. There’s very little tourist development so far, but infrastructure – roads, ports, ferries – is all in place. As the island is still controlled by the military, foreign travellers must obtain a permit to visit Phu Quy. But the process is fairly easy & it’s well worth the effort. There are daily fast boats from the Phan Thiet, good, cheap guest houses, beautiful bays, beaches & island vistas, inexpensive seafood, hospitable people, dozens of local temples, empty coast roads & an exhilarating sense of isolation……read full guide

[Click image below for full guide]

Phu Quy Island, Vietnam

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7. Pirate Islands:

Where: southwest coast, Gulf of Thailand: Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Why go: rugged, undeveloped, rough around the edges, off the beaten path

When: October-May

Getting there: daily ferry from Ha Tien, Kien Giang Province

Where to stay: limited, local, OK budget guesthouses & homestays

Full guide: Pirate Islands: Travel Guide

Description: A small, rugged archipelago with calm seas & green hills, the Pirate Islands have only recently opened to foreign travellers. Lying in the Gulf of Thailand, just off Vietnam’s southwest coast, for centuries the islands provided shelter for pirates, who lay in wait in the rocky coves, poised to attack commercial ships plying the lucrative Southeast Asia trade route, laden with goods. Today, the Pirate Islands have a wild & rustic charm: electricity is limited, accommodation is basic, the population is small, & the scenery is relatively unspoiled. But change is coming. Soon the Pirate Islands will be connected to the national grid, giving residents 24-hour electricity for the first time, & this is expected to spark a tourism boom. A daily boat plies between Ha Tien & the Pirate Archipelago……read full guide

[Click image below for full guide]

Pirate Islands (Đảo Hải Tặc), Vietnam

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8. Tam Hai Island:

Where: central coast, East Sea: Quang Nam Province [MAP]

Why go: sleepy, slow-paced & scenic, mural village, local character

When: March-September

Getting there: daily regular car ferries from Ky Ha Port, Quang Nam Province

Where to stay: only one: Le Domain de Tam Hai Resort

Full guide: Tam Hai Island: Travel Guide

Description: A small & tranquil island within fairly easy reach of Hoi An & Danang, Tam Hai has long beaches, coconut groves, volcanic cliffs & sleepy villages whose houses are splashed with colourful murals. Tam Hai is an island at the mouth of the Truong Giang River, in Quang Nam Province, Central Vietnam. The placid river flows either side of island, thus cutting Tam Hai off from the mainland. Accessed via small ferries from the north & south, the island retains its own character, with local festivals & temples, a distinctive dialect, some historical relics & even wildlife, including a population of Leopard Cats. Walking, cycling, kayaking, motorbiking, swimming, snorkeling, fresh seafood & boat trips to outlying islands are all good fun & worth making the trip for……read full guide

[Click image below for full guide]

Tam Hai Island, Vietnam

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9. Phu Quoc Island:

Where: southwest coast, Gulf of Thailand: Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Why go: long sandy beaches, inland exploration, sophisticated infrastructure, range of activities

When: October-May

Getting there: domestic & international flights, daily ferries from Ha Tien, Rach Gia & Nam Du

Where to stay: wide variety of good, beachfront accommodation in all price brackets

Full guides: Phu Quoc’s Beaches: A Guide Phu Quoc: North & East Coasts Phu Quoc by Boat

Description: With dozens of long, sandy beaches, Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island & fast becoming the country’s premier beach destination. Upgraded infrastructure – including an international airport, multiple ferry connections to the mainland & a road network across the entire island – has opened access to more & more of Phu Quoc’s beaches, not to mention its lush & lovely interior. As a general rule, the south & west coasts are increasingly developed & in the midst of major construction; whereas the north & east coasts are still quiet, beautiful & relatively untouched by mass tourism. Use this maxim as a guide to which part of the island may suit you best. Despite a lot of bad press in recent years concerning the destruction of the island’s environment (much of it justified), Phu Quoc is still a very rewarding island getaway: you just have to know when to go & where to stay……read full guide

[Click image below for full guide]

Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

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10. Dao Be Island:

Where: central coast, East Sea: Quang Ngai Province [MAP]

Why go: a tiny gem of an island with white sand, blue sea & volcanic rock

When: March-September

Getting there: daily fast boats from Ly Son Island

Where to stay: limited, simple & cheap homestays & hostels

Full guide: Dao Be Island Guide

Description: An enchanting little island off the central coast, Dao Be is a real treat. Every morning, fast boats whisk visitors from the larger island of Ly Son to the tiny drop-in-the-ocean that is Dao Be. The island is so flat that it barely protrudes from the sea, and so small that it can be circumnavigated on foot in just an hour. But for all its diminutive proportions, Dao Be is very beautiful & very charming. The sand is rice-white, the sea butane-blue, and the volcanic rocks are coal-black. Inland, the island is portioned off into rectangular plots, partitioned & terraced by stone walls. Garlic & peanuts are the main crops, but tropical fruit trees, such as coconut palms, banana plants & screwpines, grow in clusters, too. There’s only one settlement on the island: a hamlet of squat, angular concrete homes bisected by sandy alleyways, many of which are adorned with colourful murals of fishing scenes. Most people only visit for a few hours, but staying overnight in one of a handful of rustic, cheap & cheerful homestays is a memorable experience……read full guide

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Dao Be Island, Vietnam


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like these islands & I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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2 Responses to Island-Hopping in Vietnam: A Guide

  1. Nat says:

    You have absolutely nailed it for us with this article thanks Tom!
    We planned our first 3 week trip to Vietnam around your other guides back in 2018, and are heading back for another 3 weeks in March but wanting to do more island exploring this time, and this article is just perfect – thank you so much for your detailed descriptions, maps and accommodation suggestions. You’ve saved me ALOT of research time.

    • Tom says:

      Hi Nat,

      Thanks. It’s great to hear that. I hope your next Vietnam trip goes well – March should be a pretty good time for island-hopping.

      Tom

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