Forming an archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand in Southern Vietnam, the Ba Lua Islands (Vietnamese: Quần đảo Bà Lụa) proudly boasts the nickname, “Small Ha Long of the South”. With 42 various islands and islets, Ba Lua is ready to become a top tourist destination in South Vietnam.
Enticing visitors with the gorgeous tropical scenery, rich biodiversity, and friendly locals, the Ba Lua Islands will transform to become your own personal paradise. Of the 42 islands, only 10 are inhabited, so tourists can choose to stick with the crowds or head off on a solo adventure. Low tides and local boats make it easy to hop from island to island.
Small Ha Long of the South
Situated about 27.5 km (17 mi) off the coast of Ha Tien (Hà Tiên) City, the Ba Lua Islands are a part of the Kien Giang (Kiên Giang) Province in Vietnam. Rather compact, all 42 islands of the archipelago are spread out over an area of 70 sq km (27 sq mi) and range from large islands to tiny islets. Out of the 42, only 10 are inhabited by small communities, the largest being Hon Heo (Hòn Heo) or “Pig Island”.
All of the islands in Ba Lua have a low elevation with even the largest island not surpassing an elevation of 113 m (370 ft). Uniquely, the sea that surrounds the Ba Lua Islands can be quite shallow, especially during low tide. Often, people will walk between the islands during this time. At high tide, local boats can give visitors rides to inhabited or uninhabited islands.
The best way to travel to the Ba Lua Islands is by taking the ferry from Ha Tien City, which takes about an hour. Being on the far southwestern coast of Vietnam, Ha Tien City is 327.5 km (204 mi) away from Ho Chi Minh City. The drive from HCMC to Ha Tien takes about 6.5 hours, so many travelers choose to book a ticket on an overnight bus to the coast.
The Ba Lua Archipelago formed millions of years ago from sedimentary rock during the lower-mid Paleozoic period. Human habitation of the islands didn’t begin to be recorded until the 1800s, when various stories stake a claim to the name “Ba Lua”.
One source claims that the name, Ba Lua, came from the wife of an influential Frenchman who had come to colonize and exploit the area. A second source claims that Ba Lua means “Lady Silk’,’ and it was the name of a female general in Nguyen Trung Truc’s (Nguyễn Trung Trực) militia. This female general was said to have built a silk mill on the islands to supply the army.
Finally, a third source states that the name came from the year 1858 when a man married a woman who wanted to live away from the feudal officialdom, so they settled on the islands. Using the islands to raise silkworms, the woman wove silk and the Ba Lua name stuck with the islands.
- The Ba Lua Islands are a part of the Kien Luong (Kiên Lương) District.`
- The islands with the largest population are Hon Heo, Hon Ngang (Hòn Ngang), and Hon Nhum (Hòn Nhum).
- Before 1983, the Son Hai (Sơn Hải) Commune was called the Ba Lua Commune.
With the majority of the Ba Lua Islands being uninhabited, most tourists will head to the inhabited areas of the archipelago. Of the inhabited islands, the most popular to visit are Hon Heo, Phu Tu, and the Three Hon Dam (Hòn Ðầm).
With an area of 1.5 sq km (0.6 sq mi), Hon Heo, or Pig Island, is the largest in the Ba Lua Archipelago. Deriving its name from the days when the French colonized the island for pig farming in 1918, Hon Heo is home to the Son Hai (Sơn Hải) Commune. With more infrastructure than most of Ba Lua, travelers will often use Hon Heo as a home base while exploring the archipelago.
Home to friendly locals who welcome tourists, there are a few homestays and restaurants on the island. Most of the island’s tourist infrastructure is situated along the shore and beaches. Inland, the island has a small peak and lush forest. Tourists are welcome to explore the quieter areas of the island where beaches are lined with coconut palms and gently lapping waves.
Known for mimicking the look of Ha Long Bay, Phu Tu is the island where tourists head to snap their perfect vacation shots. With rocky formations that jut out from the shallow sea, tourists can take a boat to explore the stunning karsts or enjoy the view from onshore. A small community on Phu Tu Island provides limited services to tourists including overnight accommodation and locally-owned restaurants.
Although lacking infrastructure, there are more than 30 uninhabited islands in Ba Lua that draw in visitors with their wild nature and picturesque landscapes. While some are nothing more than a speck of land, a few are large enough to have sizable beaches. Tourists looking to explore Ba Lua’s wilder places should hire a local guide to take them by boat.
Off the shores of some of the uninhabited islands, tourists might get lucky and see rare marine species like dolphins or dugongs (related to the manatee).
Three Hon Dam
Known as Hon Dam Lon (Hòn Ðầm Lớn), Hon Dam Duong (Hòn Ðầm Dương), and Hon Dam Gieng (Hòn Ðầm Giểng), these three islands have become some of the most visited in the Ba Lua Archipelago. While each of the Three Hon Dam Islands is inhabited, their proximity to one another means that tourists can easily walk between the islands during low tide.
Similar to Hon Heo, there are plenty of quiet beaches scattered amongst the Three Hon Dam. The rocky beaches are lined with trees to shade visitors from the sun and the shallow waves ensure that everyone can swim safely along the shore.
Even though tourism in the Ba Lua Islands is still growing, there are plenty of activities that tourists can enjoy while visiting this amazing archipelago. Embracing nature and the local communities, tourists will fall in love with Ba Lua’s exceptional beauty, unique culture, and fun attractions.
An important part of every island is the beach and in Ba Lua, there are plenty of them. Varying in size and appearance, the beaches in Ba Lua are the best place to kick back and relax. While beaches in Hon Heo will be busier, those willing to go to lesser-known islands will likely have a private experience.
Each boasting a unique experience, travelers can head to resort-like spots to enjoy meals cooked by the locals. On uninhabited islands, tourists should remember to pack everything they need for the day including their own water and snacks.
One of the most popular activities throughout Ba Lua, camping tours take visitors out overnight, or multiple nights, to remote areas where you can sleep seaside, under the stars. Local tour companies set up tents and picnics, providing all the gear and meals needed for the trip. This option is particularly great for those hoping to spend more than one day on the Ba Lua Islands.
On Phu Tu Island, one onshore attraction that sits inland from the beach is the Hang Pagoda. Sometimes called the Hai Son or Cave Pagoda, this temple is a must-see destination. Past the ornately decorated gates, visitors are welcome to explore the main temple and gardens. A tour guide is not needed and the pagoda is open on a daily basis.
Hidden amongst the islands are a series of small caves and grottos. One of the largest systems is called Tien Cave and its entrance looks out over the archipelago. Travelers who are exploring the uninhabited islands may also find small cave entrances. Local guides are recommended to those wishing to explore these areas, particularly the lesser-known cave system.
With low elevations, many visitors to Ba Lau are interested in hiking. While not all of the islands have clear-cut paths, hiking is a great way to explore the area’s habitats. Popular paths will take visitors to the summit of a few islands or around the various beaches. While hiking is allowed throughout Ba Lua, tourists who want to explore uninhabited islands should take a guide for safety.
While there are small communities living on the Ba Lua’s islands, the area lacks major tourist development. Hon Heo does have some smaller resorts, but overall, there aren’t many established accommodations. Travelers looking to stay overnight can arrange a homestay on the island or stay at Green Hill Guest House or Hon Trem Resort & Spa on the mainland.
While hotels in Ba Lua will likely have their own restaurant, large dining establishments are not common. Instead, visitors can head to local restaurants and try Vietnamese meals featuring seafood such as grilled squid, steamed sea urchin, or fried fish. Travelers can also catch their own meals in the rocky tide pools and grill them on the beach.
If catching your own food sounds like an experience you don’t want to miss, heading around the Ba Lau Islands with a local fisherman is a must. Taking people out along the shore, visitors can head to the tidepools to find sea urchins, squid, and different fish. Guests can then cook their food or have a guide prepare a traditional meal which is usually served with homemade sauces.
The Ba Lua Islands celebrate big festivals throughout the year including Tet (the Lunar New Year). Typically held for 7-10 days in late January or early February, it’s the most popular festival in Vietnam. Boasting numerous ceremonies and performances, tourists heading to the Ba Lua Islands during Tet should make accommodation reservations in advance.
Most of the communities in the Ba Lua Islands will be compact enough that tourists can simply walk from destination to destination. However, local taxis can also be hired to take tourists around the island for an affordable price. To get between islands, tourists will have to take a boat.
Similar to taxis, local boats can be hired to take visitors to inhabited or uninhabited islands in the Ba Lua Archipelago. With all of the islands within close proximity to each other, boat rides are a quick and affordable way to get around.
To experience the perfect island paradise, tourists looking to visit Ba Lua should arrange their trip for the dry season. Beginning in November and lasting until March, weather in the Ba Lua Islands frequently has clear skies and lower temperatures. The ideal climate for island and beach hopping.
The worst time to visit Ba Lua is from April to October, which is when the weather is hot and stormy. Not only does the bad weather bring heavy rains but also makes traveling by boat dangerous. Beautiful, remote, and near Phu Quoc, The Bau Lau Islands are a stunning addition to any Vietnam itinerary.
Address: Southern Vietnam
Season: Year-round | Best during the dry season
Hours: 24 hours