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Van Don Island (Dao Cai Bau)/Vietnam

Introducing Van Don Island (Dao Cai Bau)

Van Don is the largest (around 30 sq km), most populated and most developed island in the Bai Tu Long archipelago. Now linked to the mainland by a series of bridges, it has a few places to stay, but more importantly it’s the jumping off point to other islands.

Van Don’s main town is Cai Rong (pronounced Cai Zong). Nearby, Bai Dai (Long Beach) runs along much of the island’s southern side and has hard-packed sand with some mangroves. Just offshore there are stunning limestone rock formations.

Cai Rong Pier (Cai Rong Pha), about 8km north of the bridge to the mainland, is the key port for boats to other Bai Tu Long islands. It’s a bustling port, full of karaoke bars and motorbikes, but there are decent hotels if you’re forced to overnight before catching a morning ferry.

Hung Toan Hotel is good value, while Viet Linh Hotel is fancier. Both are around 300m north of the pier. Just opposite the Viet Linh Hotel is a simple, unnamed restaurant that does great seafood and pork dishes – try the pork with ginger, chilli and lemongrass.

Down on Bai Dai, the Bai Tu Long Ecotourism Resort has beachside bungalows and more traditional rooms in stilt houses. It gets pretty noisy with karaoke and Vietnamese tourists on weekends, but the proximity to an OK beach makes for a relaxing weekday break. However, if you’ve got the time, a journey further afield to Quan Lan Island is highly recommended.

Frequent buses run between Bai Chay (Halong City) and Cai Rong on Van Don Island (55,000d, 1½ hours). Alternatively catch a Mong Cai or Lang Son bus to the Cua Ong turn-off, and then catch a xe om or taxi to Cai Rong Pier.