Their own world

Islands and islets stretch along Vietnam’s coastline and many offer something out of the ordinary.

By Le Diem on May 06,2019 10:50 AM

Their own world

Photo: Le Diem

Vietnam’s more than 3,000 km of coastline is home to thousands of islands and islets, each with its own beauty but only a few boasting unique features not found elsewhere. The Guide introduces the country’s most distinctive, most of which remain virtually unknown, recommending not only pristine deserted beaches but also unrivalled experiences.

LY SON ISLAND VOLCANIC BEAUTY

About 30 km offshore of Quang Ngai city in the central province of the same name, Ly Son is the remains of a five-crater volcano that erupted 25-30 million years ago and is the country’s only volcanic island.

Lava flows erupted then cooled, creating exotic natural shapes that can only be found on Ly Son.

One is To Vo Arch, with black lava creating an archway, spectacular all day but especially at sunrise and sunset. It’s quite similar to the Azure Window limestone arch in Malta, which unfortunately collapsed after heavy storms in 2017.

Other attractions on the island include Thoi Loi Mountain, its highest and offering great views from about 170 meters above sea level, and Cau Cave, at the bottom of the mountain and carved out from millions of years of waves and wind and resembling a natural stone sculpture. The water is so clean you can see seaweed changing color from green to brown and schools of colorful fish from the beach.

Photo: Le Diem

Photo: Le Diem

Small Ly Son, a nearby islet only 20 minutes away by speedboat, is also worth a visit. Masterpieces of Mother Nature are found here, in the exotic dark blue carpet of the sea and black volcanic cliffs of various shapes and sizes.

Last but not least, the local seafood in Ly Son simply shouldn’t be missed and is always fresh, delicious, and cheap.

MONKEY ISLANDS

These three islands - one in the north, one in the center, and one in the south of Vietnam - are all inhabited by monkeys and perfect for those who like watching the clever but mischievous animals at play. Each island is home to different types of monkeys.

Photo: BEST PRICE TRAVEL

Photo: BEST PRICE TRAVEL

The first is in the Cat Ba Archipelago, just south of Ha Long Bay, and is called Cat Dua, with some 20 different types of monkeys brought from various places by forest management.

Heading far south, Lao Islet is about 15 km offshore of Nha Trang and known as the kingdom of monkeys. Over 1,200 live here, mostly red-faced and gray hair types. Some have been trained to perform acts such as husking and grinding rice, riding bicycles, and racing motorbikes.

Even further south, about 50km from Ho Chi Minh City, is a monkey islet in the Can Gio mangrove forest, home to some 1,500 monkeys of the long hair type.

The common feature of the three islands is the friendliness of the monkeys, who happily go about their daily business, such as climbing, delousing each other, teasing, and fighting, as visitors watch. Care should be exercised with any new friend, though, as food, drinks and even mobile phones and cameras may disappear in the blink of an eye.

YEN ISLAND SWALLOW KINGDOM

With a climate averaging 26-30oC and pretty beaches and islands, the coastal city of Nha Trang in Khanh Hoa province attracts a large number of not only tourists but also swallows, which provide a range of local specialties.

PHOTO: LOU NGUYEN

PHOTO: LOU NGUYEN

With “Yen” meaning swallow in English, the island is the natural home of about 800,000 swallows - a major attraction of the beach city. In Nha Trang Bay, Yen Island is best visited from March to September when the seas are calm and the birds are nesting. Trips are available to go out and watch them hanging on the cliffs or in caves, going about building their nests - the source of many unique products.

You’ll also see flocks of white gulls in the blue sky, creating a wonderful image of freedom.

Another feature of the island is it has the only “twin” beaches in the country. Its sandy beach has two sides, one with warm water and the other with cool water, from the ocean currents. Both are clean but not very deep, so be careful of small rocks on the sea floor if you go swimming. There are small huts with thatched roofs where you can lie down and relax and take in the sights. If you want an overview of the island, you can climb to the peak of nearby Du Ha Hill, 90 meters above sea level.

Since the island is under the management of the Khanh Hoa Salanganes’ Nest tourism company, you can’t go alone. Visitors can only go out between 7.30am and 2pm, with tickets costing VND490,000 per person, including breakfast, snacks, cakes, lunch, and an afternoon fruit platter. The boat takes one and a half hours from the mainland to the island.

DIEP SON ISLANDS WALKING IN THE SEA

PHOTO: NHATRANG4ME

PHOTO: NHATRANG4ME

There is only one place in Vietnam where you can travel between three islets without taking a boat or a plane.

Every day at low tide, Diep Son Island in Van Phong Bay, south-central Khanh Hoa province, becomes a mini-archipelago of three islets - Bip, Giua, and Duoc, linked together by a sandbar.

People visit either in the afternoon from the first to the 15th day of every lunar month or in the morning on other days to enjoy Mother Nature’s power in “parting the seas”, just like Moses in Biblical times.

As the tide ebbs away, you can leisurely walk barefooted on the wet smooth sand and take in the picturesque view. Stretching just 700 meters, you can head back and forth many times during the few hours it takes for the returning tide to submerge the sandbar.

PHOTO: KIWI TRAVEL

PHOTO: KIWI TRAVEL

There are no hotels and only few small little shops open. Besides swimming, other popular activities include fishing with local people or camping and enjoying a BBQ, but the last two must be done on your own, as no services are available. Visiting the peaceful green islets, home to only 80 households, also represents a real escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

BAI DONG ISLET THE DRAGON’S EYE

The famed Ha Long Bay in Vietnam’s north has impressed many with its spectacular seascape of nearly 2,000 limestone karst islands and islets, some resembling dragons and depicting the legend of the bay.

The name Ha Long literally means “descending dragon”, and stems from the legend that a mother dragon and her children were sent to help Vietnam defend itself from invaders. After a successful battle, they fell in love with the beautiful bay and decided to stay.

PHOTO: HA LONG TOURISM
PHOTO: HA LONG TOURISM

These “dragons”, it’s claimed, still keep one eye open for any enemy. For centuries, the actual place from where the bay was protected remained unknown, and was only recently “revealed”, by flycam, to be Bai Dong Islet in the south of the bay.

Like other islands and islets in the bay, Bai Dong features limestone mountains and is covered in forest. But it differs in having a circular lake at its heart surrounded by forested peaks, which resembles a blue eyeball and provides the name Dragon’s Eye Island.

To see the eye more clearly, you have to take ladders to the top of the island and then descend. Once there, you’ll also discover a nice white sand beach where you can lay down and sunbathe before taking a swim in the lake’s calm waters. Kayaking is also available, allowing you to discover more of its untouched natural beauty.

The island is totally uninhabited, with no fresh water, electricity, mobile phone signal, or accommodation. If you want to stay overnight, bring a tent, food, and insect spray to avoid becoming a delicious meal of thousands of hungry mosquitoes.

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09AM, 14 March

Those involved in community-based tourism must always consider cultural preservation and environmental protection.

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