Tourists, who are visiting Vietnam’s renowned Phu Quoc Island by the millions and complaining about its overcrowded, dirty beaches, seem to be unaware of virtually untouched islands nearby with white sandy beaches.
Nam Du Archipelago with 21 small islands has emerged as the new destination for those who look for clean tropical beaches fringed by coconut trees, and are happy to stay away from the hordes despite the availability of relatively few conveniences to enjoy the sand, sun, sea and fresh seafood.
Situated some 80 kilometers from Rach Gia town on the mainland, the archipelago’s main island Cu Tron can only be reached by boat -- two hours by speed boat and five by normal ones.
Huynh Van Khai, a tour guide who takes visitors to the islands, said more tourists visit the islands on their own than come in organized tours.
“For those who don’t get seasick, Nam Du is one of the best island destinations anywhere in Vietnam,” he said.
The island has a population of about 5,000 people, mostly fishermen. Photo: Minh Hung
A typical tour includes a boat trip around the islands, fishing, diving to see corals and visit popular destinations on the main island like the Nam Du Lighthouse and a freshwater reservoir serving some 5,000 islanders.
“Many foreigners enjoy the tour very much because of the pristine beaches. However, what seems to attract them most is the simple life on the island where electricity is only supplied for a few hours in the evening,” Khai said.
Tourists arrive on Cu Tron Island in the Nam Du Archipelago. The small island has several guesthouses and no luxury hotel. Electricity is available for just a few hours in the evening. Photo: Minh Hung
Every beach tells a story
Cu Tron is just nine square kilometers and has three popular beaches -- Chet, Ngu and Gieng.
It is said that Nguyen Anh, who became the first king of the Nguyen Dynasty in 1802, once fled to the island before returning to dethrone the Tay Son Dynasty (1770-1802).
At Gieng (well) beach, he ordered his soldiers to dig a well for water, and thus the name.
Because the soldiers found a strange but edible round root, he named the island Cu Tron (round root).
A view of Cu Tron Island from Nam Du Lighthouse. Photo: Minh Hung
Another of the beaches, Chet (Chinese), got its name in the 16th century following a fight between Chinese and Dutch trading vessels.
Hundreds of Chinese people’s bodies floated into the beach, and thus the name, locals said.
Another beach is Cay Men, which has been owned for generations by the Vo family. The current owner is Vo Van Phuong.
Phuong said he does not know the origin of the beach’s name, but his great grandfather had planted coconut trees on an area of seven hectares on the beach.
Tourists visit the Nam Du lighthouse, which is on a hill more than 300 meters tall, from where they can get a panoramic view of the island and nearby islands like Nom, Mau, Ngang, and Hai Bo Dap.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Ho Chi Minh City, tourists can book tours or take a Vietnam Airlines flight – the only carrier that flies to Rach Gia -- or a bus from Mien Tay Bus Station (50-minute flight; six hours by bus).
Several companies at Rach Gia Wharf operate boats to Nam Du, mostly in the morning, and most return in the afternoon.
Boats arrive near Chet Beach where there are many eateries and guesthouses that also serve food. These guesthouses also provide boat services for traveling around the islands.