Photo: Nam Du isn't all that busy.

Introduction

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There’s an island in Vietnam where ice arrives daily in great big blocks, a feast of meaty lobsters costs a couple of dollars, the ocean is the colour of hemimorphite gemstones and electricity runs for only a few hours each day. No, this is not “magic realism” born in the pages of a novel; this is Nam Du.



Important: As of late 2016 we’ve been advised by a traveller that ferry operators in Rach Gia are not currently allowing foreigners to get on a boat to Nam Du without a piece of paper from the local police station authorising a visit. Please check the situation on the ground before planning to head to the island.

The little known Nam Du archipelago (pronounced “nam yu”) is 21 islands and islets in the Gulf of Thailand off the southwest coast of Vietnam. The main cluster of 19 islands lies 52 nautical miles from Rach Gia, the capital of the Mekong Delta province Kien Giang. A few of the islands, like main island Nam Du, are large enough to be inhabited, with colourful fishing boats and gritty villages clustered along its crust, while tiny islets like hon Do Nai are no more than a bump of rock drowning in ocean.

The beaches on Nam Du are not too crowded. Photo taken in or around Nam Du, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

The beaches on Nam Du are not too crowded. Photo: Cindy Fan

As if this tale could not get more fantastical, the three islands of Hon Tre, Hon Son and Nam Du are connected to the mainland by a daily fast ferry – yet few foreigners venture there.

Nam Du (also called Hon Lon – “big island”) is the furthest and final ferry stop, a one-way journey from Rach Gia taking two and a half hours. The primary industry is fishing and up until recently, the only place for visitors to stay was in a room in a local’s home. The island is still relatively poor and developing, and tourism here is very much in its infancy, but recently a few purpose-built guesthouses have appeared, including one right on the water. Word has started to spread in Vietnamese media and the islands do attract a handful of domestic tourists. While you probably won’t be the only traveller, don’t be surprised to find yourself the only foreigner on the island.

Late light, more islands. Photo taken in or around Nam Du, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

Late light, more islands. Photo: Cindy Fan

Google Maps doesn’t work here but if it did, it would show that a single road wraps around most of the island hugging the coast. Explorers on motorbike will be overwhelmed with dramatic breathtaking views. Several turns around the island are a must, for photos and for swimming. Bai Cay Men is the postcard-perfect beach of the island, with palm-fringed white sand, calm crystal waters and a family that keeps the beach clean. Thankfully it has not been developed yet. There are just a few huts, hammocks and fresh coconut water for sale.

If you’re impressed by Bai Cay Men, then just wait until you see the beach at Hon Mau. An organised half-day boat trip is a great way to get out to see some of the archipelago, swim at Hon Mau’s gorgeous beach, eat a lot of seafood – and watch tourists trample coral reef. If a group tour is not your thing and you have some cash to spare, you can always hire a private boat.

The view from above. Photo taken in or around Nam Du, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

The view from above. Photo: Cindy Fan

Seafood lovers: prepare to be spoiled. There are very few formal eating options on the island, only a couple of eateries and coffee stands in the village. But with some notice your guesthouse can prepare meals including a seafood feast: crabs, lobsters, squid, clams, scallops, mussels, fish, urchins. Forget the overpriced seafood on Phu Quoc, this is the real deal, where your meal goes from the boat to the barbecue to your plate, all fresh and inexpensive. And if you’re not a fan of seafood…well, bring snacks.

It’s a lovely, laidback, languid little place with character. Intrepid travellers, see the Nam Du islands before some of that magic disappears.




Orientation
There is no ATM on the island. Stock up on dong on the mainland before travelling.

There is a telecom tower on the island but 3G service is still intermittent. WiFi is a rarity.

Just cruisin. Photo taken in or around Nam Du, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

Just cruisin. Photo: Cindy Fan

Electricity is only available during certain hours of the day. Having your own torch will come in handy. A lucky few including some guesthouses have generators.

Nam Du islands share the same weather as the Mekong Delta and Phu Quoc. Dry season lasts from November to April while rainy season lasts from around May to October. Expect the ferry to be cancelled during high wind conditions.

While we felt safe on the island and found everyone to be friendly, remember that you are very well off compared to most. It’s prudent to secure your valuables.

Many thanks to Travelfish reader Peter Kromar who first alerted us to these islands, you can read about his experience on Nam Du here. Thanks Peter!

What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Nam Du.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Nam Du.
 Read up on how to get to Nam Du, or book your transport online with Baolau.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Nam Du? Please read this.





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