Off the Southwest Coast of Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand, Nam Du is a group of 21 tropical islands that form an archipelago. The Nam Du Archipelago and its islands are a popular vacation spot for Vietnamese nationals. Kept secret from outsiders, those who wish to visit may only do so if they are a resident of Vietnam and have an entry permit.
Well-known for its stunningly blue water, deep green forests, and white sand beaches, the Nam Du Islands are one of the most beautiful destinations in Southwest Vietnam. With limited infrastructure throughout the archipelago, some islands have overnight accommodation and others are uninhabited. Most tourists will head to the largest island, Hon Lon, before hopping to the neighboring isles.
Foreigner Restricted Islands in Southwest Vietnam
Of the 21 islands in the Nam Du (Vietnamese: Quần đảo Nam Du) Archipelago, only 11 are inhabited full time. Larger in size and having overnight accommodations, Hon Lon acts as the main base for tourists. Officially part of the Kien Hai (Kiên Hải) District in Kien Giang (Kiên Giang) Province, there are two communes in the archipelago: An Son (An Sơn) and Nam Du.
The closest major city to Nam Du is Rach Gia (Rạch Giá), which is on Vietnam’s mainland. The city is 83 km (51 mi) to the east of the archipelago while Phu Quoc, another famous island in the Gulf of Thailand, is 40 km (24.5 mi) to the northwest. Boats and ferries are the only methods of transportation to get to the Nam Du Islands.
Tourists can leave from either Rach Gia or Phu Quoc (Phú Quốc) Island, though the former is the most popular choice. Tourists can also fly from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) before purchasing tickets for a speed boat or ferry. Taking 2.5-3.5 hours from the harbor, boats and ferries depart once a day from Rach Gia.
Entry Requirements to the Nam Du Archipelago
Unfortunately, travel to the Nam Du Islands is restricted to Vietnamese nationals and residents. The only way for a foreigner to visit is by applying for a “permit for entry into maritime boundary areas”. Individuals have to go to the police station in Rach Gia, and provide a valid passport, visa, and Vietnam residency papers. which can take up to four days.
Taking up to four days to learn whether you’ve been granted permission, foreigners without residency will not be able to travel to the Nam Du Islands.
Not much is known about the history of the archipelago, which may be in part due to the lack of foreign tourism and investment. What is known is that the islands have been an important source for local maritime and fishing industries for centuries.
Individuals living on the island have always relied on the sea and there are a few traditional fishing villages still thriving in Nam Du. A more recent development, tourism has led to the development of Hon Lon and the other 10 inhabited islands over the past decade, making it a hotspot for local and national tourists.
- HCMC is 279 km (173 mi) away from the Nam Du Islands.
- The Nam Du Archipelago was formed by a volcano millions of years ago.
- The highest point in the archipelago is 309 m(1,014 ft) above sea level.
Even though life on Nam Du is laid back, there are plenty of activities to keep guests entertained. Boats and ferries drop tourists off on Hon Lon, but from the main port, local guides offer tours of the nearby islands too. Hopping to different islands, visitors can enjoy the archipelago’s pristine beaches, shallow reefs, dense forests, and friendly communities.
Hon Lon Island
Sometimes simply called “Nam Du”, Hon Lon (Hòn Lớn) is the largest island in the archipelago. Covering an area of 9 sq km (3.47 sq mi), it’s the most developed island in the archipelago. With motorbike rentals widely available, guests can circle the island on its 15 km (9.32 mi) long two-lane road. Along the journey, you can stop at various attractions.
Some of the most popular places to visit on Hon Lon Island are the Bai Tret Hamlet, Bai Soi Beach, Bai Cay Men, Bai Cay Nho, Bai Ong Ngu Fishing Village, Lighthouse, and Ma Thien Lanh Hill.
One of the most popular beaches in the archipelago is Chet Beach. According to legend, during the 16th century, the beach was the location of a battle between Dutch and Chinese merchants. Now a bustling destination on Hon Lon Island, Chet Beach is known for its soft sand and gentle waves. Located close to the island’s port, tourists can walk to the main seafood market.
Hon Dau Island
Covered in primitive forests and left 95% untouched, Hon Dau Island is the perfect stopover for tourists looking to relax under coconut trees. Boasting vibrant yellow sand and crystal clear water, there are a few small communities that can provide simple meals to travelers, however, overnight accommodations are not commonly found on Hon Dau Island.
Hon Mau Island
Tucked into the southeast corner of the Nam Du Archipelago, Hon Mau Island is famous for Bai Chuong Beach. Inhabited by a fishing village, the island is lined with coconut palms and boasts white sand beaches. Everything on the island is related to the industry, so travelers can learn more about traditional Vietnamese fishing techniques while visiting.
Homestays are available for tourists and there are a few small resorts. That being said, Hon Mau is much more popular as a day trip destination for guests looking to explore the island for a few hours.
Hon Ngang Island
Smaller than Hon Lon and about 30 minutes away, Hon Ngang Island is home to a large local community, which is great for those interested in learning about their culture. Lacking roads, guests will have to get around on foot, however, most of the touristy spots, like the pier and main community, are close together. Overnight options are also available, including homestays and guest houses.
Hai Bo Dap Island
Surrounded by gorgeous coral reefs and connected to the neighboring island by a natural sea bridge, Hai Bo Dap is a popular paradise. Typically covered by the sea, the bridge is only visible during low tide. Although uninhabited, the coral reefs beckon many tourists. Guides can arrange a day of swimming, snorkeling, and fishing, with camping excursions also being a possibility.
Beyond island hopping, the most popular tourist activities throughout the Nam Du Islands are swimming, snorkeling, diving, and hiking. On any of the islands, tourists are free to swim in the shallow water. Waves tend to be minimal during clear weather conditions, so swimmers won’t have to worry about rip tides or currents.
Those wishing to explore the coral reefs are encouraged to hire a local guide, who can provide information on the best snorkeling and diving spots in the archipelago as well as snorkeling and diving gear. Hiking is another fun activity, but guests should be aware that while beaches will have visible paths, inland and on habituated islands will typically require a guide for safety purposes.
Most of the overnight accommodation options in Nam Du are found on the main island, Hon Lon. However, a few of the smaller islands with local communities do have guest houses and hotels. No matter where you are in the Nam Du Archipelago, overnight accommodations tend to be small-scale and rustic. Bungalows and cabins are the most common designs.
Although, there are a few small hotels and overnight camping shelters too. Throughout the Nam Du Islands, the best places to stay are the Khanh Vy Guest House, Thao Thuong Camp, Phong Vu Guest House, Bai Soi Beach, Humiso Nam Du, Kim Xoan Guest House, Nha Nghi 5 Van, and the overnight camping shelters on Bai Cay Men Beach.
While some accommodations have on-site dining, local communities are a great place to try the area’s local specialty: seafood. Serving traditional meals on the beachfront, tourists can enjoy Xuong Xanh (blue bonefish), grilled scallops, steamed squid with ginger, sea urchin porridge, banh mi (bánh mì), sticky rice (xôi), broken rice (cơm tấm), and rice noodles (quán cơm phở).
Boats are the only way to get around the Nam Du Islands and depending on which one you visit, transportation options will range from walking to motorbikes. While visitors can rent or hire a motorbike on Hon Lon, many of the smaller islands will have very few roads and limited infrastructure. Uninhabited islands will require guests to go around by boat or simply walk.
The Nam Du Islands have a tropical monsoon climate, which means that there is a wet and dry season. Unlike some of Vietnam’s island destinations, tourism in Nam Du is year-round. Although, most travelers would prefer to explore the archipelago during the dry season, which begins in November and lasts until early April.
These months tend to be dry with clear skies and cooler temperatures. With the perfect weather, December to March are the busiest times for tourism in Nam Du. However, many tourists will brave the wet weather to cool off on Nam Du’s spectacular beaches. Keeping in mind that the rain can make travel difficult, temperatures will also be higher during the rainy season.
An archipelago in Southern Vietnam, the Nam Du Islands are a stunning destination for those who are granted access. Perfect for individuals looking to spend time hopping around both inhibited and uninhibited landscapes, these islands are the perfect vacation spot for Vietnamese nationals and residents.
Address: Nam Du Archipeligo | An Son, Kien Giang Province, Vietnam
Season: Year-round | Best during the dry season