Whale Island Resort

Whale Island Resort

Stunning island, meh service

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French-owned Whale Island Resort was established in 1997 and it remains the only place to stay on Hon Ong (translated as Whale Island or Ile de la Baleine), one small island of an archipelago in Van Phong Bay. Except for the hotel’s 32 bungalows, restaurant and dive centre clustered along a petite cove on the western side of the 100 hectare island, the remaining terra firma is rugged, rocky and wild, fringed with reef and a marine reserve with a no-fishing zone. The island is almost completely encircled by a piece of the mainland that extends like a giant curled claw, as well as another large island Hon Lon, forming a natural amphitheatre and making it an idyll protected from the elements.

Travelfish says:

Arrival in technicolour.

Arrival in technicolour.

The rustic beach bungalow has everything that you need: simple bamboo thatch but solidly built, mosquito net, fan, a beach chair, handy bamboo furniture such as a rack to dry your wet clothes, a plug and a basic attached bathroom with warm water shower and an awkwardly low toilet. And best of all, one-two-three-four-five – just five springy steps and you were frolicking in the ocean and viewing colourful tropical fish through a snorkel mask. There was a full compliment of non-motorised water sports available to rent: canoe, kayak, stand-up paddleboard and catamaran. It’s a good idea to keep yourself busy or else the small details about the resort will drive you mad.

Lux hut.

Lux hut.

Whale Island Resort is affordable but by no means cheap and for travellers like us, it’s a treat and a splurge. Consider the fact that most will travel two to three hours by road from Nha Trang or the airport and then by boat to get there, which will cost at least US$40 per person round-trip, US$80 for a couple. A free glass of water to newly arrived guests is a service detail that would cost them nothing. We asked for a beach towel – which turned out to be a worn out regular towel – and discovered on our bill it was 10,000 VND a day. Sure, it’s only US$0.50 but on the flipside, why bother charging for one at a beach resort?

Simple and comfortable, though not for those who are afraid of nature.

Simple and comfortable, though not for those who are afraid of nature.

The frustrating details start to add up. It’s having only one person checking in a boat full of people. It’s the broken bungalow window, the unsmiling staff who don’t return your friendly “Xin chao!”, the receptionist smoking on the job at the front desk and other staff sleeping on sun loungers. It’s the coffee served in the morning without a spoon and staff walking away once they notice you are trying to get their attention. It’s discovering on the last day that there is a drinking water dispenser guests can use to refill their bottles. If they had only told us at check-in, it would have saved four plastic bottles – ironic given the number of signs explaining their passion for the environment. It’s the several errors on the bill, including two things added that we never consumed. It’s the expensive shuttle with a reckless driver. It’s signing up for the 09:00 snorkelling trip and waiting until 09:30 for the boat to show up. Why can’t these midrange places seem to do what so many budget guesthouses do right?

The bar. FYI: tucked to the side is the drinking water dispenser where you can refill instead of buying plastic bottled water.

There’s WiFi at the bar, and FYI: tucked to the side is the drinking water dispenser for refills so you don’t have to buy plastic bottles.

So if you’re considering this resort, be mindful of the extra costs. A four-course set menu lunch or dinner is US$14. If you’re a couple, that’s potentially US$56 a day, not including drinks. Guests can of course opt out but there is no alternative to these full meals — not even a snack menu. We only wanted a light lunch and other guests we spoke to felt the same. If you bring your own snacks you risk ants and other critters as the bungalows are not fully enclosed and there’s no fridge.

Front row seats for end of day contemplation.

Front row seats for end of day contemplation.

Is it worth it? We thought about this long and hard after another staff member ignored our smile and “xin chao.” We sat alone on a floating dock in the middle of the bay just as the sun began her final bow behind the mountains. The water was so clear we could see straight down to shimmering silver fish darting below and in the air there was not a sound. To some, luxury is feeling like you’re on a deserted island, and it’s a luxury that often costs time and hard-earned money. If Whale Island Resort is well within your budget and if you can ignore the lacklustre hospitality, then that rare, precious feeling can be yours. But if a stay here is an indulgence, it may be difficult to shake the feeling that something is not quite right.

The only link to the outside world.

The only link to the outside world.

Getting to Whale Island
You can book yourself onto their daily shuttle bus from Nha Trang, available at 09:00 or 14:00. Transfer by road is 95 kilometres — it takes two hours to reach Dam Mon village, then 10 minutes by boat. Cost is US$20 per person. The return shuttle, an additional US$20, leaves the island at 11:30 and 16:00. Private transfers are available upon request.

WI_Whale Island Bungalow view_550

Bungalow with a view.

If you want to get there by motorbike, contact the resort about secure storage at Dam Mon. If it’s available, head north of National Route 1 for approximately 80 kilometres. Turn off at 12.804724, 109.340036, crossing the train tracks and follow the road another 19 kilometres. It will veer south eventually end in the village of Dam Mon, the location of the boat jetty.

Good morning? Great morning. Just don't expect good service.

Good morning? Great morning. Just don’t expect good service.

When to go
The best time to go to Whale Island is February to September. Rainy season is October to January.

Scuba diving & snorkelling on Whale Island
Whale Island was where Jacques Cousteau first discovered his passion for diving (so the story goes). The resort has a PADI 5 Star IDC Centre operated by Rainbow Divers offering PADI Open Water and advanced courses. While the diving is better in Hon Mun Marine Protected Area in Nha Trang Bay, doing your course here means down time in a spectacular, exclusive environment. Whale Island also features a small wreck and rare nudibranch (worth it for the name alone!).

There's a reef right at the restaurant.

Into snorkelling? There’s a reef right at the edge of the restaurant.

Diving is available on Whale Island from around January/February to mid-October only. Sample prices, which do not include cost of accommodation:
PADI Open Water Course (3 days), costs US$350
PADI Discover Scuba Diving (1 day, 2 dives), costs US$116
Snorkelling, costs US$25*
*we recommend joining this snorkelling rather than the lacklustre unsupervised US$7 trip offered by the resort.

Contact details for Whale Island Resort

Address: Van Phong Bay, Van Ninh District, Khanh Hoa Province
T: (058) 351 3871;  F: (058) 351 3873  
Email: whaleislandresort@gmail.com
Web: http://www.iledelabaleine.com
Coordinates (for GPS): 109º23'41.85" E, 12º39'12.49" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Room rates: US$50 to 100

Room rates

What we were quoted as a walk-in.

Standard single room
Garden room
US$36 US$40
Standard double room
Garden room
US$50 US$56
Superior single room
Beach bungalow
US$57 US$63
Superior double room
Beach bungalow
US$71 US$79

Reviewed by

Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.

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