One of the most pristine islands in Vietnam is Hon Ong (Hòn Ông), which is better known as Whale Island. A stunning destination, Whale Island is surrounded by crystal clear water, vibrant coral reefs, and white sand beaches. Boasting a singular, remote resort, fewer crowds have helped preserve the island and its natural beauty.
A hidden gem just off the South Central Coast of Vietnam, word of Whale Island is quickly spreading around the globe. With international publications like Forbes Magazine listing it as one of the “Must-Visit Diving Destinations”, tourism to this quiet oasis is sure to ramp up in the coming years.
Tropical Island Off the Coast of Nha Trang
Whale Island is a small piece of land with a total area of 2.6 sq km (0.154 sq mi). The bulk of the island is square-shaped with a few spindly branches of land reaching out into the sea. On the southeastern portion of the island, the sea cuts in, creating a small cove. Most of Whale Island sits just above sea level and there are no large mountains inland.
Nha Trang is the closest major city to Whale Island, located 100 km (62 mi) away. Officially part of Van Phong Bay, the island sits at the very tip of an archipelago. Aside from Whale Island’s single resort and Van Thanh Commune, the rest of the island is uninhabited. Located near each other, most of the island has been left untouched.
The only way to get to Whale Island is by boat. Currently, guests will have to visit the pier in Nha Trang’s Dam Mon Village to arrange a ride to the island, which typically only takes about 30 minutes to reach.
Having little known history since it has been uninhabited, most of what is known about Whale Island comes from the development of its resort. Owned by a Vietnamese woman and her French husband, Whale Island Resort’s motto is “Back to Nature”. Hoping to help tourists escape the chaos of urbanization and industrialization, the resort is minimally intrusive to the island.
Often described as “wild and fresh” the front of Whale Island Resort lies by the sea while behind it is a large area of primitive forests. Being that areas outside of the resort are declared a nature reserve, further development of the island is unlikely.
- The Whale Island Resort opened in 1997.
- In French, Whale Island is called Île de la Baleine.
- The average temperature on Whale Island is 28° C (82.4° F).
Although Whale Island is small and mostly undeveloped, there are various activities that tourists can enjoy while staying at the resort. All showcasing the island’s natural beauty, forests, and unique ecosystems, popular activities include scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, water sports, spending time and the beach, and hiking.
Staff at the resort are happy to assist with arranging guided tours of the island, both on land and underneath the waves.
The pristine condition of Whale Island has ensured that its nearby coral reefs have remained undamaged. Teeming with marine wildlife, the reef’s ecosystems have made the island one of the best scuba diving sites in the world. Tourists interested in diving will have to arrange a guided tour through the resort.
Diving guides and scuba gear are provided by the Rainbow Diving Center, offering trips for beginner to experienced guests. The sea around Whale Island is quite shallow and most of the coral reefs will reach a maximum depth of 15 meters (49 feet). Additionally, the island’s clear and calm waters make it easy to view the coral reefs.
During the excursions, divers will most likely see a variety of marine species including stingrays, shrimp, cuttlefish, and seahorses. Popular dive sites around Whale Island include Hon Trau Nam, Napoleon Rock, Raoul’s Reef, Bai Su, Hon Ong, Hon Tai, and Hon Kho Trang.
An alternative to scuba diving is snorkeling. Being that some of the coral reefs are shallow enough to explore, visitors won’t need to strap on scuba gear to view the marine wildlife. Not requiring a guide like dive excursions, the resort is more than happy to arrange snorkeling tours that provide guests with all the gear they may need.
One of the best ways to see more of the island is by renting a sea kayak from the resort. Easy to navigate in just a few hours, visitors can circle the island. Offering mostly 2-seaters, guests can travel together, making it perfect for couples looking to spend some time together.
With some of the most popular times to kayak being during sunrise or sunset, tourists should stay close to the resort if they plan to kayak in the evening.
Beyond scuba diving and snorkeling, the resort can also assist guests with arranging a catamaran trip or windsurfing excursion on Whale Island. Sadly, while there aren’t waves nearby that are large enough to surf, visitors looking to get active can enjoy a game of beach volleyball.
Whale Island Resort is located on the main beach. Filled with soft white sand, its shallow depths ensure that the water maintains a bright blue color. Safe for snorkeling, swimming, and wading, lounges are provided by the resort, though tourists can simply park themselves underneath a coconut tree.
Not very big, the beach is still a great place to walk and enjoy the view. Curving into the island and somewhat sheltered from the sea, the water is very safe for swimming.
Behind the resort is a large ecological zone that’s perfect for hiking. Being that the island has a low elevation, most of the trails are easy to navigate and lack any steep inclines. The Whale Island Resort can provide a trekking map or visitors can hire a local guide.
Three of the most popular hikes on the island are the Yellow Trail, Blue Trail, Red Trail, and White Trail. The Yellow Trail is the shortest hike, taking about 15 minutes to complete while the Blue takes about 20 minutes. For longer excursions, tourists should check out the Red or White Trails, requiring about 1.5 to 2 hours to complete.
Offering guests a chance to see the island’s primitive forests, be on the lookout for rare bird species like the white-legged stork, pink-necked parrot, white eagle, and Indian pewit.
The only place to stay on Whale Island is the aptly named Whale Island Resort. There are no other hotels or resorts on the island, however, once guests see one of the 32 seaside bungalows, they won’t want to be anywhere else. Built with a thatched roof, each has basic furniture made from bamboo and a private bathroom.
Fairly rustic and lacking air-conditioning, the resort does provide mosquito nets. Able to accommodate 2 people, there are a few larger bungalows that can sleep 4 people in 2 double beds. Lined up in a group along the beach, there are a few that only offer garden views. Besides these overnight options, the only other buildings at the resort are the reception, restaurant, and dive center.
The Whale Island Resort is particularly popular amongst couples looking for an adventure, but the hotel can accommodate traveling families too. Children under the age of 5 may stay at the resort for free and a crib can be provided upon request.
Without any other communities on Whale Island, the only place to get food is through the resort’s restaurant. Provided by the resort for an additional fee, it’s highly recommended that tourists pay for the meal package as there is nowhere else to buy food, and bringing snacks can attract bugs.
Those who choose to get the resort’s food package will choose from a set menu for their breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not including drinks, most of the menu options at the restaurant are traditional Vietnamese dishes.
While there are no roads on Whale Island, the resort’s small size makes it very accessible. With a few ways to get around, including walking, kayaking, or taking a boat, you won’t have to go far to reach everything you need. Anyone heading into the forest will also be pleased to know that there are designated paths to ensure safe navigation.
The weather on Whale Island is typically mild throughout the year. There is a rainy season, which lasts from October to January, however, that doesn’t prevent individuals from still booking a trip. Basing their schedule on scuba diving and whale migrations, most visitors will head to the island from mid-February to October, with the best diving time being from April to September.
For the best chance to spot whales, tourists should visit the island during the dry season, especially from April to June. During these months, various species of whales and even whale sharks can be spotted in the area as they feed off schools of plankton and krill.
A stunning paradise near Nha Trang, Whale Island is perfect for those looking to spend some time on the beach or in the water. Boasting a mostly untouched landscape and incredible coral reefs for diving, individuals hoping to find some respite from their busy lives should plan a trip to this Vietnamese island destination.
Address: Thon Dam Mon, Van Thanh, Van Ninh, Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam
Season: Year-round | Best during the dry season