IN SOUTH OF VIETNAM
Adventurous island-hopping off-grid in the South Chinese Sea
> 3 weeks on Phu Quoc Island and around the Con Dao Archipelago in Vietnam <
Among Southeast Asia’s countries with long coastlines, Vietnam actually has very few islands and island groups. This is not much given that Vietnam has more than 3,000 km of coastline! Indonesia tops the list with some 17.000 and Philippines has 7.000 islands. We wanted to keep it as a secret, but have to mention here that Myanmar has more than 700! Next, Malaysia and Thailand each have +100. Down the list, Vietnam only offers around 20 islands or island groups. Some of these are, however, among SEA's most untouched and amazing island getaways.
Vietnam is synonymous with the War in the ‘60ies, French colonialism, superb cuisine, super-friendly locals, densely populated cities with a high pulse, and stunning natural sights. In terms of island destinations, most visitors mention UNESCO-listed Ha Long Bay and its many lime stone islets. Sure, Ha Long is a scenic place, but it's also a bit polluted and crowded. So, instead we opted for the islands that are located off Vietnam's southern seaboard, and packed our snorkeling gear, started to salivate our taste buds, and jumped on the flight to Ho Chi Minh City.
Phu Quoc Island, closer to the Cambodian coastline, was a sleepy island just a decade ago. However, it has recently developed from infancy to adolescence and is poised to become the Koh Samui or Phuket of Vietnam. There is still a long way to go for this jungle-clad and authentic island. We found the atmosphere to be blissfully tranquil compared to mainland Vietnam. Phu Quoc's pure-white to brown-colored great beaches called for serious hammock time. We had laid the route around the islands off the Mekong Delta in the south and moved on to the more remotely located Con Dao Islands.
And wow, we’ve seen nothing quite like these anywhere else. The combination of historical isolation, wild landscapes, lack of tourism, unhurried ambience, and island-culture made Con Dao truly unique. The stunning 16-island archipelago has a spooky and deadly past as it was home to the most notorious penal colony in Indochina. There are jails and relics from the past hidden many places in the jungle. Con Dao was a perfect destination for island-nerds such as ourselves, nature-lovers wanting to get off the grid for a while, and back-to-bascis-backpackers seeking simplistic beauty, serenity and a natural paradise to relax in. We rented a French-era villa with a private pool for a week (it was very reasonable priced) and took exciting but slow-moving day tours around the main islands. We rented Honda mopeds to get around the main island, Con Son, on its one-only, small and winding road, which took us through dense rain forests, over wind-swept mountains, along wild coastlines and U-shaped bays, from one crazy beach to the next. For island-hops, we rented local fishing boats and visited secluded islets and coves. The nature was thriving with rare birds, dugongs, dolphins and turtles. To end by pinpointing what made Con Dao special besides the overwhelming natural beauty: Everywhere we went we utterly had the whole scenery to ourselves!