Situated 2.4km off the coast of Nha Trang, Hon Lao Island, known as Monkey Island, offers extraordinary sea and island experiences.
The 35ha island offers various entertainment activities, such as kayaking, ostrich riding, dog racing, go-karting and paintballing, as well as the monkeys and other wildlife.
Over 1,200 monkeys inhabit the island, making it a popular tourist attraction.
The island provides different options for tourists, who can stay in tents or beachside bungalows.
One-day tours start in the morning with a 30-minute coach ride to Da Chong Port, 18km from central Nha Trang.
Tourists take a motorboat from the wharf to cruise around Nha Phu Lagoon, which is dotted with dozens of islets and lobster farms.
The lagoon, 15km north of Nha Trang, is a rare mangrove swamp that covers over 2,000ha.
It’s beautiful landscape and clean environment are protected by a peninsula, with five islets guiding the entrance.
“Visitors can view the bay from the open air deck. The weather in the coastal city is sunny all the time, creating a mixture of blue skies, deep clear water and green mountains on the surrounding islands,” says tour guide Thanh Cong.
“Tourist can also visit lobster farms to explore how local people breed lobsters. Of course, lunch includes fresh lobster and other seafood,” Cong says.
Orchid Spring is the second stop where the boat docks at Heo Island.
The island has a cave with hundreds of species of orchids, and deer, elephants and ostriches roam the jungle.
“We manage the island for the benefit of the wildlife. Some of the animals attract tourists,” says Nguyen Thi Nhieu, tour marketing manager.
“Tourists have the chance to ride ostriches. Of course, they do not run as fast as they can on the African plains, they are trained how to walk with tourists on their backs,” she says.
Nhieu says guests can also enjoy a circus show featuring bears, monkeys and elephants.
Cong says that paintballing is another option for groups of visitors.
Rocky outcrops and trees provide the perfect battlefield for aspiring soldiers.
“Groups of visitors have a variety of entertainment options on the island. Young people like war games, so we set up this paintballing facility for them,” Cong explains.
“Scuba diving and snorkeling are also popular, as well as paragliding across the lagoon. Go-karting in 50cc engine karts is also thrilling entertainment.”
Once they have tired themselves out, visitors are usually hungry and thirsty. Lunch on the island includes fresh seafood from the farms and deep-sea fishing.
“Grilled lobster and fish are the most popular. Nha Trang is well-known for its premium quality lobsters. Chefs usually skewer the lobsters with sugar canes and grill them on charcoal stoves. Hungry visitors sit back and enjoy the food after a hectic day of activities,” the guide says.
A quick break near the beach refreshes visitors for their afternoon cruise.
The cruise docks at Lao Island – where the largest troop of monkeys in the country lives.
“The first monkeys were bred here in the late 1970s, and a troop of over 1,200 monkeys now thrives here. Monkeys are special to the island, and people refer to it as Monkey Island rather than its original name now,” the island manager says.
The monkeys are used to visitors now, and fruit and sweets are available for them to feed the animals.
“We ask each visitor to only give one piece of fruit to the monkeys, because up to 1,000 tourists visit the islands every day, and the monkeys could get fat and sick.”
The island also offers rubber rafts and kayaks for those who wish to explore the forests on the five islands on a two-day trip.
Christina Julia from Russia says she enjoys her time on the islands, the seafood and exploring the coral reefs.
“The service here is so good. Fresh seafood, ocean air, sunshine, green forests and naughty monkeys have created an unforgettable time for me. It’s been a great tour for me and my friends,” Julia says.
Nguyen Thi Thu Thao says she spent two days and one night with friends on a summer vacation.
“I really had a great time relaxing on the islands’ sandy beaches. We enjoyed lobster and explored the five islands during the trip,” Thao said.
“Nha Trang has built a reputation for its pristine beaches, but it was the isolated islands that attracted me. I hope to come back with my family one day,” she says.
According to tour company Long Phu, the site welcomed 170,000 tourists last year, 27,000 of whom were foreigners.
Ly Thi Nhu Le, a tour operator, says Russian tourists account for the majority of visitors to the islands during the second half of the year.
Summer is the best time of year to visit the islands, when up to 1,000 tourists a day flock to the idyllic setting.
Day trips to the island cost from VND380,000 (US$18) per person.