Situated 2.4km off the central coastal city 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. 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 downtown 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. Its 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," said tour guide Thanh Cong.

"Tourists can also visit lobster farms to explore how local people breed lobsters. Of course, lunch includes fresh lobster and other seafood," he added.

Orchid Spring is the second stop where the boat docks at Heo Island. The island has a cave with hundreds of species of orchids, deer and ostriches roam the jungle.

Over 1,200 monkeys also inhabit the island. "We manage the island for the benefit of the wildlife. Some of the animals attract tourists," said Nguyen Thi Nhieu, tour marketing manager.

"Tourists have a 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 said, adding that guests can also enjoy a circus show featuring bears, monkeys and elephants.

Cong said 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 explained.

"Scuba diving and snorkeling are also popular, as well as paragliding across the lagoon. Go-karting in 50cc engine karts is also thrilling."

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 said.

A quick break near the beach refreshes visitors for their afternoon cruise. The cruise docks at Lao Island – where the largest army of monkeys in the country lives.

"The first monkeys were bred here in the late 1970s, and an army 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 said.

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 said 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," she said.

Nguyen Thi Thu Thao said 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," she 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."

According to tour company Long Phu, the site welcomed 170,000 tourists last year, 27,000 of them foreigners. Ly Thi Nhu Le, a tour operator, said Russian tourists account for the majority of visitors to the islands during the second half of the year.

Summer is the best time of the 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 380,000 VND (18 USD) per person.-VNA