The 2017 blockbuster Kong: Skull Island centers on a team of scientists and explorers mapping a mysterious island. Led by a combat unit not entirely ready to return home in the waning days of the Vietnam War, they soon encounter the 100-foot tall Kong and all hell breaks loose. Of course, he’s not even the scariest monster they eventually face in their attempts to escape the island.
The A-list ensemble includes Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larsen, and John C. Reilly. Perhaps more impressive than the cast, however, is the otherworldly scenery. Rather than rely on CGI or green screens to create the ethereal backdrop, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts chose real-life locations: Australia’s Gold Cost, the island of Oahu in Hawaii, and several mystical spots in northern and central Vietnam.
Yes, the backgrounds may have seemed fantastic in the film, but we assure you that you can find the very real locales today by visiting the following sites.
Here are the filming locations in Vietnam of Kong Skull Island, in no particular order:
Ha Long Bay (Quảng Ninh Province)
One of the more easily recognizable Skull Island landscapes is the pillars of Ha Long Bay, one of the few must-see tourist attractions in Vietnam. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the area is made up of more than 1600 limestone islands, rising up from the turquoise waters of the bay. A popular way to experience the bay is through a day trip or overnight cruise aboard a junk boat. Kayak rentals and tours are also an easy way to get up and close with the vast array of hidden cave tunnels and secluded beaches.
In Skull Island, many aerial shots were filmed here, including the helicopter scenes. You’ll recognize the towering karst monoliths in the background to the movie’s opening minutes, as well as the moment the team first breaks through the storms surrounding Skull Island (~26 minutes in).
To fully explore more film locales, tour guides can take you by boat to the enormous Sung Sot Cave (Surprise Cave), one of the busier island stops, though definitely worth it to see the 100-foot tall ceiling. Or keep to land near Ha Long city and take the 30-minute climb to the top of Bai Tho (Núi Bai Tho), for a remarkable view.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park (Quang Binh Province)
Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage site, serves to protect one of the Asia’s largest and oldest limestone karst regions. There’s a reason it’s been dubbed the “Kingdom of Caves,” as it encompasses a system of more than 300 caves. Among them is the Sơn Đoòng Cave, considered the world’s largest.
In addition to Phong Nha, filming took place 70 km northwest, along the Rao Nan River and at the Tú Làn cave system. Not all caves are open to visit, but you can explore the enormous and ancient stalactites and stalagmites of Hang Chuot (Rat Cave), considered Kong’s Skull Island residence. Or visit nearby Yen Phu Lake, home to the film’s gigantic water buffalo (~41 min).
Other area attractions (many enjoyed by the movie’s stars when not working) include Nuoc Mooc spring, Tien Son cave, and of course the park’s namesake, Phong Nha cave, which houses the longest underground river in the world.
Bonus: Spend the night in the 3-star Phong Nha Lake House resort (affiliate link), which hosted stars Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson during filming.
Ninh Binh has been described as “Ha Long Bay on land” due to the hundreds of limestone pillars rising up from the ground. The region is ultra-traveler friendly, less than 100 km and an easy train ride from Hanoi, and with plentiful and cheap accommodation. The most popular attraction is the Tam Cốc– Bich Dong boat ride, which takes you up the Ngo Dong River through three natural caves. Interestingly, most guides row the boats with their feet.
The first filming in the region occurred at the Tràng An Scenic complex, which is also—you guessed it—a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 10th century capital of Vietnam, Hoa Lu, was here. Today the complex boasts numerous pagodas and small villages. In fact, for a few years, visitors could explore the rattan huts of the tribal village set as seen in the film. Movie extras were even hired as guides. But in September 2019, the set was dismantled to aid in conservation efforts. There are plans to build a replica of a prehistoric village to function as a museum.
Another film site you can easily visit is the Vân Long Nature Reserve, one of the largest wetland areas in northern Vietnam. Shots of the wetland lagoon feature prominently in Skull Island. Though it is a popular ecotourism destination, you’ll find far fewer tourists here than Trang An or Tam Cốc.
If you mention your interest in Kong, tour companies in each area can craft tours to meet your needs. Even without the movie connection, any of these sites is well worth adding to your Vietnam bucket list.