Vietnam’s Islands: Exploring the Diverse and Dramatic Archipelagos


Vietnam is blessed with an extensive array of islands, totaling around three thousand, each offering unique landscapes and experiences. These islands vary widely, from tiny, barely-surfacing rocky outcrops to larger islands with thriving communities.

Gulf of Tonkin’s Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay, a gem in the Gulf of Tonkin, encompasses over a thousand islands stretching from the bustling port city of Hai Phong to the vicinity of the Vietnam-China border. This includes Cat Ba Island to the west, known for its critical national park and wildlife reserve. The geological wonder of these islands is characterized by dramatic limestone karsts, which form towering monoliths across the seascape, a product of millions of years of erosion and geological evolution.

Despite Ha Long Bay’s popularity, drawing in millions annually, its vastness allows for secluded retreats in less trafficked areas. Haivenu tours leverage traditional wooden junks to provide private and intimate experiences that navigate away from the crowded central zones, offering tranquility and a personal connection with nature.

Restricted Archipelagos: Truong Sa and Hoang Sa

The Truong Sa (Spratly) and Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelagos, despite their ecological richness and extensive coral reefs, are currently inaccessible to tourists due to ongoing territorial disputes with China. These disputes have unfortunately stymied conservation efforts and led to significant environmental degradation, overshadowing the regions’ natural beauty.

Nha Trang and Its Islands

Moving south to Nha Trang, the scenery shifts as over 70 islands dot the coastline extending deep into the East Sea. While a few of these islands are inhabited, most remain untouched, offering pristine environments. Although tours are available and tend to focus on the islands nearest to Nha Trang, they can feel commercialized. For those looking to escape the typical tourist paths, private cruises can be arranged to explore the lesser-known islands, providing a serene and unspoiled experience.

The Con Dao Archipelago

Further south, the Con Dao archipelago, once notorious as a penal colony, now serves as a quiet refuge with its main island, Con Son, supporting a small population engaged in fishing and agriculture. The introduction of air services from Vung Tau has made this once remote island more accessible. Con Dao offers unspoiled beaches, crystal-clear waters, and significant biodiversity, making it ideal for a secluded holiday, though visitors should be prepared for basic accommodations and infrastructure.

Phu Quoc and Tho Chu

In the Gulf of Thailand, the large island of Phu Quoc and the smaller islands of the Tho Chu archipelago lie off Vietnam’s southern coast. Phu Quoc has seen considerable development, with an airport and hydrofoil service enhancing its accessibility. It blends traditional industries like fishing and agriculture with a burgeoning tourist sector that offers accommodations ranging from basic bungalows to luxury resorts. In contrast, Tho Chu remains largely undeveloped and challenging to reach, representing a frontier for adventurous travelers in the future.

These diverse Vietnamese islands offer a spectrum of experiences from eco-tourism and adventure travel to quiet beach holidays and cultural explorations, catering to all tastes and preferences in one of Southeast Asia’s most enchanting destinations.