Vietnam Coracle http://vietnamcoracle.com Independent Travel Guides to Vietnam Tue, 23 Apr 2019 07:56:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Phu Quy Island: Travel Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/phu-quy-island-travel-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/phu-quy-island-travel-guide/#comments Thu, 18 Apr 2019 11:22:12 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=28276 A new & exciting destination, Phu Quy Island is but a drop of green land in the vast blue ocean, and has only very recently opened its doors to domestic & foreign travellers. A fascinating place with a real sense of isolation, this is my comprehensive guide to Phu Quy Island.... Continue reading

The post Phu Quy Island: Travel Guide appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
First published April 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

A fascinating drop of land in the East Sea, Phu Quy is yet another of Vietnam’s previously ‘unknown’ islands that’s recently opened its doors to domestic and foreign travellers. A flat, green island rising gently to two volcanic peaks, Phu Quy is very isolated – far out in the ocean, 120km east of Phan Thiet on the mainland. Like other such islands in Vietnam, Phu Quy is on the cusp of a tourism boom: its name is on the lips of most young Vietnamese backpackers, and developers are scouting the island for suitable locations to build. There’s very little tourist development yet, but infrastructure – roads, ports, ferries – is all in place. As the island is still controlled by the military, foreign travellers must obtain a permit to visit Phu Quy. But the process is fairly easy and, in my opinion, it’s well worth the effort. There are daily fast boats from the mainland, good, cheap guest houses, beautiful bays, beaches and island vistas, inexpensive seafood, hospitable people, dozens of local temples, empty coast roads, and an exhilarating sense of isolation. Now is the time to visit.

Phu Quy Island, travel guide, VietnamPhu Quy Island is a new & exciting destination for travellers: now is the tme to visit

[Back Top]


GUIDE: PHU QUY ISLAND


Below is my full guide to Phu Quy Island. I’ve divided this guide into several categories, and then sub-sections within each category. Remember that all foreign travellers must obtain a permit before visiting (see Getting the Permit for details). My favourite time of year to visit Phu Quy is from December to April, when the weather is generally dry, bright, and sunny, rainfall is light, and seas are calm. I’d also advise visiting on a weekday, because weekends and public holidays can get quite busy. I could happily spend a week on Phu Quy Island, but two nights is sufficient for those who haven’t the luxury of more time (but remember you also have to factor in time to apply for the permit).

Click on a category below for more details:

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Phu Quy Island, Binh Thuan Province


View in a LARGER MAP

[Back to Contents]


Location & Background:

Below I’ve written a description of the location and topography of Phu Quy Island and a little bit of history and background, followed by some information about the current state of the natural environment.

Bai Nho Beach, Phu Quy Island, VietnamPhu Quy Island is still very quiet, calm, undeveloped & off the beaten path


Phu Quy Island, Binh Thuan Province, Vietnam


Orientation & Topography:

About 120km east of Phan Thiet, Phu Quy Island is way out there, all on its own in the East Sea. Đảo Phú Qúy, which means ‘Island of Precious Riches’ or ‘Rich and Precious Isle’ in Vietnamese, has only recently opened to tourism. The main island is but a drop in the ocean, with only a few other outlying islets, most of which are tiny outcrops, with the exception of Hon Tranh to the south of the main island. The topography and shape of Phu Quy resembles a naan bread: ovaloid, mostly flat, but rising here and there in almost undetectable undulations. There are two high points on the island: the lighthouse, in the northwest, and Cao Cat Mountain, in the northeast. The coastline consists of a series of long, open bays, broken only at the northern and southern tips of the island, where volcanic bluffs rise dramatically, forming striking escarpments. Inland, the island is green, agricultural, and forested. Fishing is obviously the main industry, but much of the land is farmed: portioned off into rectangular lots for growing fruit trees, such as banana, coconut, mango, and jackfruit. But the main crop on the island is pandanus tectorius, a type of screwpine which yields an exotic-looking, pineapple-like fruit used to make the island’s special brew. Approaching the coast, the land becomes more arid and sandy, but in the south, there are large grassy meadows along the cliffs, resembling a temperate coastline, such as the U.K, rather than a tropical one.

Rock formations, Phu Quy Island, VietnamPhu Quy is remarkably flat except for two high drifts of volcanic rock, including fascination formations


Fruit of the screwpine, Phu Quy Island, VietnamPhu Quy is surprisingly agricultural: the screwpine (pictured) grows everywhere on the island

Phu Quy appears to be a very pious place – the number of temples and shrines for such a small community is remarkable. Like many of the larger islands in Vietnam, Phu Quy has its own myths and legends. One goes that a beautiful Cham princess was exiled from the mainland by the Cham king for not obeying his commands. However, I’ve found it difficult to find any in-dept history about the island.* But there have probably been people living and fishing here for at least one or two millennia, as the island was in the ancient shipping lanes between India, Southeast Asia, and China (in fact, it’s still one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world today: giant tankers are a constant feature on the horizon). As well as a place of banishment (like so many of Vietnam’s islands), Phu Quy has also been a place of escape. Over the centuries, people have fled to the island to avoid persecution, prosecution, or oppression on the mainland. Ming officials from China, fleeing the rise of the Qing dynasty, also landed and settled on Phu Quy, before crossing over to the mainland. The colonial French, too, must have had a presence on the island. But, despite some very French-looking and -feeling compounds, I couldn’t find anything out about it – except that the French knew the island as Poulo-Cérci-de-Mer. The people of Phu Quy are famous for their open and friendly attitude. As a foreigner on the island, you’ll attract a lot of attention. Being so isolated, Phu Quy has developed its own culture, and the local accent is, to my ear, extremely idiosyncratic. It was noticeable, too, how young the mothers appeared to be on the island; or perhaps I’m just getting older.

*Please note: Historical information in this article is based on my reading of various sources & conversations with people: I am not an historian.

Religious iconography, Phu Quy Island, VietnamFor a small island, Phu Quy has an extremely wide variety of religious buildings, temples & shrines

Phu Quy Island is a district within the province of Binh Thuan. As it’s technically a sea border area, there’s a significant military and official presence here. The island is divided into three xã (‘communes’), which are essentially the three main settlements on Phu Quy. These are: Tam Thanh, in the southwest of the island, the biggest and liveliest of the three, where the main fishing and commercial port is located, and most of the island’s accommodation and food options; Ngu Phung, in the west of the island, a quiet, very attractive little community with a small fishing fleet, under the watchful eye of Phu Quy lighthouse; and Long Hai, in the northeast, where a large, bustling, rugged and fairly rustic community live sprawled beneath the tortured rock formations of Cao Cat Mountain. The three communes account for most of Phu Quy’s 20,000 inhabitants, quite a large population compared to other islands in Vietnam. Infrastructure is good – paved roads criss-cross the island, harbours are protected by large breakers, exposed bays have been shored up with substantial embankments, and electricity and internet are everywhere. However, Phu Quy feels much smaller, quieter, slower, and less developed than most other Vietnamese islands of comparable size. For me, Phu Quy is like an island version of the mainland coastal province of Phu Yen: with all the the slow, rural charm, attractive fishing villages, rustic beach scenes, and picturesque seascapes of that province compacted into one tiny island. It’s a charming place to spend a few days.

Bai Nho Beach, Phu Quy Island, Vietnam


Ngu Phung commune, Phu Quy Island, VietnamPhu Quy Island is divided into three ‘communes’ or villages, each of which has its own character

[Back]


Environment & Pollution:

Although Phu Quy is relatively clean and undeveloped, it is by no means pristine. Like many places in Vietnam, but particularly the islands, Phu Quy is facing some serious environmental problems. Plastic pollution – on the land and in the sea – is the most obvious and visible of these. Most of the beaches and bays, and forests and fields, on Phu Quy Island are tainted by plastic. Whether in the form of fishing-related detritus or household waste, Phu Quy is choking on plastic. But this is not unusual. If you’ve travelled extensively or lived in Vietnam, you’ll know that there are very few places left that are not blighted by plastic waste. So far, the water quality is still very good – some of the clearest water I’ve experienced in Vietnam – with the exception of the main harbour where the ferries dock and a large fishing fleet deposits all its waste directly into the sea. Even the coral and marine life, including colourful tropical fish and pretty sea flora, are still quite impressive. But on the beaches, whether sandy or rocky, there is always the presence of litter. Much of this is flotsam and jetsam, washed up from the wider ocean, but a great deal of it, especially around the fishing hamlets, in particular Long Hai, is simply household trash discarded by the local population. Indeed, one section is essentially a ‘plastic beach‘.

Trash on the beach, Phu Quy Island, VietnamAs with most other coastal regions of Vietnam, Phu Quy has a serious trash problem, especially plastic

There is a daily trash collection service on the island and a significant recycling area, which collects plastic bottles and tin cans, packages them up, and sends them on a ship back to the mainland. Three huge wind turbines in the north of the island suggest a move towards renewable energy for Phu Quy. There are also lots of government signs urging the population not to throw waste into the sea and on the land, and warning of the dire consequences this practice has for people’s health and the health of the ocean which provides much of the population with their living. But, so far, they appear to have had little impact. What’s particularly disturbing to me is that soon a whole generation will have grown up with ‘plastic beaches’ as the norm: they won’t even view plastic-strewn beaches as ‘polluted’ – for them, this is simply what a beach is. I think this is clear in the completely unselfconscious way that people (of all generations) throw their trash in the sea and on the land. I think, and I hope, that it will get better, but I also think it’s possible that things will get worse before they get better. Phu Quy is set to become a trendy backpacker destination for Vietnamese youth. And, sadly, based on the appalling mess left behind in other popular backpacking hotspots across the nation (Dalat, Ha Giang, Nam Du, Phu Yen and many more), it seems like this will be a catalyst for even more irresponsibly discarded trash. None of us are blameless, of course. Just by visiting Phu Quy, I also create my own trash, even it I do throw it in the bins, not the sea. You can reduce the impact you have on the island by taking reusable items for daily use, such as a thermos, a straw, a bag etc. For more about what to use and where to buy these items, please read this.

Wind energy turbine, Phu Quy Island, VietnamPhu Quy Island has three large wind turbines, which could indicate plans for green energy in the future


Plastic bottles for recycling, Phu Quy Island, VietnamPhu Quy has a trash collection: some garbage is separated, bagged & sent to the mainland to be recycled

[Back to Contents]


Beaches & Things to Do & See:

There are plenty of things to see and do on Phu Quy Island. The three main villages each have their own character, with temples, shrines, old houses, and fishing fleets; the island is ringed by a coast road with great sea views and access to lots of beaches and bays for swimming; several excellent short hikes lead to viewing platforms with stunning vistas, hilltop shrines, lighthouses, and fascinating rock formations; a couple of islets and reefs, reached by hired boat, offer good snorkeling and sandy beaches; and the inland network of small lanes leads through tropical fruit orchards. The best way to see, explore, and get around the island is by rented motorbike or bicycle, but walking is also good, and taxis can be arranged through your accommodation (see Getting Around for details):

Phu Quy Island, Binh Thuan Province, VietnamThere’s plenty to see & do on Phu Quy Island for at least a couple of days


Beaches, Bays & Islands:

The sea around Phu Quy Island is excellent for swimming. The water quality is among the best and clearest I’ve swum in anywhere in Vietnam. There’s even some decent coral, beautiful marine flora, and colourful tropical fish. Much of the west coast of the island is either protected by long, concrete embankments or very rocky. However, swimming is still very good off the rocks, especially in the northwest (this was my favourite place to swim). The south and east coasts have plenty of wide, sandy beaches, including one or two excellent ones, as well as some dramatic rocky capes. Sadly, however, most of the long, sandy beaches in the south and east are covered in household trash from the villages, and flotsam and jetsam washed up from the ocean. It’s still easy to find a good, empty, clear place to swim on the island, but don’t expect pristine conditions everywhere you go. Below I’ve listed all of Phu Quy’s beaches in order of my personal preference.

Ganh Hang Cliffs, Phu Quy Island, VietnamAlthough much of Phu Quy Island’s coastline is rocky, the water quality is some of the best in Vietnam


The Northwest [MAP]: Under the watchful eye of the hilltop lighthouse and the humming wind turbines, the northwestern corner of Phu Quy is rugged and captivating. As the coast road lifts around a rocky cape, there are sandy paths leading through casuarina trees to exposed bays of pebbles, dead coral, and black volcanic rock. When I was here, the sea was calm and still, and access to the water was fairly easy through the rocks. Once in the water (with my goggles on), I could gaze at brightly coloured fish that swam between yellow and silver sea bushes, and starfish hiding in deep, narrow, underwater canyons. The water is clear and cool; the swimming good. The stoney beach is exposed, so it’s best to swim here in the mornings or late afternoons, when the sunsets are fantastic. There’s a disused, bricked-up military bunker here, too. The litter is mild on this beach because it’s away for the main villages, but the casuarina forests are strewn with picnic trash.

The northwest of Phu Quy Island, Binh Thuan Province, VietnamI enjoyed swimming off the pebbly beach in the quiet northwest of Phu Quy Island


The northwest of Phu Quy Island, VietnamThe northwest coast is calm & swimmable (at least during the first half of the year)

[Back]


Bai Nho Beach & Gành Hang Cliff [MAP]: Accessed via a steep, grassy pathway from the road, Bai Nho Beach is a slice of white sand and black rocks in the shadow of the Phu Quy Flagpole. At the southwestern tip of the island, the coast here is weather-beaten and barren: the exposed bluffs are treeless, covered in a heather-like brush. The water is clear and bright-blue where the white sand slides under the surf, but out in the bay it becomes bruised where large submerged rocks lurk beneath the swell. The sunshine brings out the vibrant tropical colours of this coastal scene; but when overcast, the coastline takes on a bleak, Hebridean quality. I found it a compelling spot: not only for swimming in the lovely water, but also for hiking along the rugged cliffs that stretch either side of the beach. Great volcanic escarpments, with swollen ruptures and gaping fissures, meet the sea where an old military bunker keeps a look out. Litter on Bai Nho Beach is in the form of a crust of flotsam and jetsam consisting of polystyrene and fishing equipment washed up from the wider ocean.

Bai Nho Beach, Phu Quy Island, VietnamBai Nho is a strikingly beautiful beach accessed via a steep path just below Phu Quy Flagpole


Bai Nho Beach, Phu Quy Island, VietnamThe rugged & attractive coastal scenery continues north & south of Bai Nho Beach to Ganh Hang Cliff

[Back]


Ngu Phung Beach & Marina [MAP]: The road between Tam Thanh and Ngu Phung villages is a delightful, shady, quiet stretch of tarmac, passing by a walled marina and then onto a tree-lined boulevard, where a small park opens onto a small white sand beach. Although there’s litter in the park, the sand and sea here are still very attractive. Water quality is clear, the colour is bright blue, and the fine white sand is made up of old coral. It’s a small, working beach with a little boat yard at one end and a war-era Martyrs’ Cemetery at the other. It’s a very peaceful spot in the middle of a hot, lazy island day for a quick dip in the velvety ocean.

Ngu Phung Beach, Phu Quy Island, VietnamNgu Phung commune has a little patch of good beach with white sand from eroded coral

[Back]


Vinh Trieu Duong Beach [MAP]: At the southern tip of the island, Vinh Trieu Duong should be one of the best beaches on the island. In fact, it probably was the best beach a few years ago, and maybe it will be again. But, for now, this wide, curving spread of white sand and bright blue, shallow water, is nowhere near as beautiful as it should be, thanks to: picnic trash. A favourite spot for islanders and visitors alike, the remains of hundreds of al fresco lunches and dinners lie strewn across the wide sands and the lovely shady stand of casuarina trees behind it. Vinh Trieu Duong is still a very attractive spot for a swim and a quiet drink under the trees, but it’s no longer pristine. I assume the beach will be cleaned up before long, and it looks like prime land for a resort. Oh well, at least then it will be looked after with more care and attention. (The harbour wall is currently being extended to the east of the bay, which might be a bit of an eyesore, but it will protect the beach from rough seas.)

Vinh Trieu Duong Beach, Phu Quy Island, VietnamVinh Trieu Duong Beach is very attractive, but spoiled somewhat by picnic trash left on the sand

[Back]


Dong Hai Beach [MAP]: What I suppose is technically the island’s fourth village, Dong Hai is a collection of alleyways and fishing homes on the northeast coast. As you wind through the alleys, there are some remarkable old houses with attractive courtyards, white-washed facades that have faded in the rain and sun to pale pastel tones, and fishing nets, floats, hooks and other equipment hanging from the porches like lanterns. It’s a charming little hamlet and it fronts a pleasant strip of sandy beach backed by a grassy verge. As the community here is much smaller than the three main villages on the island, the level of household and fishing trash on the sand is much lighter. It’s well worth coming here to explore the alleys and architecture, if not to swim and snorkel in the bay. For me, the scene is redolent of Greek fishing communities on the Cycladic islands. Word must have gotten out about this spot, because when I was here (March 2019) a film crew were shooting day and night in a house on the beach.

Dong Hai Beach, Phu Quy Island, VietnamDong Hai Beach is a beautiful spot backed by a grassy verge & an attractive hamlet


Old houses, Dong Hai Hamlet, Phu Quy Island, VietnamDong Hai hamlet has some lovely old houses & courtyards near the beach

[Back]


Bai Da Cape [MAP]: Between Trieu Duong Bay and the Phu Quy Flagpole, a series of rocky cliffs jut out into the ocean at the island’s southeastern-most point. The cliffs form a dramatic seascape, with the waves churning the water and the views stretching far out to sea. The cliffs are carpeted in grass and very pleasant for hiking, although they are treeless and very exposed to sun, wind and rain. There are lots of signs of military activity here, including bunkers, trenches, and gun placements. The sea is clear and good for swimming on a calm day, but perilous when rough.

Bai Da Cliffs, Phu Quy Island, VietnamBai Da Cape is rugged & rough with a desolate seascape that’s almost Hebridean

[Back]


Hon Tranh Islet [MAP]: Just off the southern tip of Phu Quy and easily visible (almost swimmable) from the port, Hon Tranh is a small, fish-shaped islet. With rocky, volcanic cliffs at the northern and southern ends, and an excellent white sand beach with crystal clear waters on both the western and eastern sides, Hon Tranh is definitely worth an excursions for a few hours. It should be easy to arrange a boat through your accommodation. Prices should be around 250,000vnd per person. But it might be significantly higher if you’re going alone or as a pair. A short ride takes you across the water from the mainland to the islet. The swimming and snorkeling are very good.

Coral on the beach, Hon Tranh Islet, Phu Quy Island, VietnamWith a good, long & deserted beach, Hon Tranh Islet is just off the main island

[Back]


Other Beaches & Islets: The long, new embankment that stretches most of the way from the port, through Tam Thanh commune and on to Ngu Phung commune, is great for strolling along in the mornings and late afternoons. Temple-hopping between all the seaside shrines is good, too. But, although the sea is very pretty to look at and relatively clean, it’s not ideal for swimming because access is via a steep concrete ramp from the embankment. But it’s definitely worth exploring. Bai Phu is a series of arcing bays – some sandy, some rocky – on the east coast. Lovely to look at from afar, and famous for its floating seafood restaurants, unfortunately when you get up close it’s rather ruined by litter and fishing debris, either discarded or washed up on the surf. Again, it’s good for wandering around and hiking, but the swimming isn’t great. In the northeast of the island, the village of Long Hai sprawls beneath the slopes of Cao Cat Mountain and along the sandy beaches surrounding it. However, because Long Hai is an active fishing village and proper waste disposal (coupled with the general practice of throwing everything in the sea) has only recently been implemented, the beaches, although quite scenically located, are awfully polluted by plastic and general trash. It’s a sad, almost apocalyptic sight, but there are signs that it may get better: several recycling plants and government initiatives aim at cleaning the beaches here. It’s still possible to enjoy (and swim) on one section of the northeast beaches: the sandy bay spreading north from Mộ Thầy Temple, whose clifftop position provides a good vista of the beach.

The embankment sea wall, Phu Quy Island, VietnamThe embankment between Tam Thanh & Ngu Phung communes is scenic & great for a stroll

Bai Phu Beach, Phu Quy Island, VietnamBai Phu Beach looks attractive from afar, but up close it is blighted by litter


Trash on Long Hai Beach, Phu Quy Island, VietnamThe beaches around Long Hai commune, in the north of the island, are full of household & fishing trash

[Back]


Villages & Communes: 

Phu Quy Island is divided into three xã (‘communes’ or villages). These are Tam Thanh in the southwest, Ngu Phung on the central-west coast, and Long Hai in the north. Dong Hai, in the northeast, is a little hamlet that’s grown into what is essentially the island’s fourth village. In reality, Tam Thanh and Ngu Phung blend into one another, as do Long Hai and Dong Hai. But still each commune has its own character: its own temples, market, and local government edifices, and its own fishing fleet and harbour. Exploring the three (of four) communes on foot or on two wheels is very pleasant and interesting, and a great way to get under the skin of this remote island. Below, I’ve written a brief description of each village:

Dong Hai commune, Phu Quy Island, VietnamThe island has three communes, each of which has its own market, places of worship & fishing fleet


Tam Thanh Commune [MAP]: Spreading west from Phu Quy harbour along the southeast coast, Tam Thanh is the focal point for most things on the island: commerce, fishing, ferries, food, accommodation, places of worship, and new development. Around the harbour there are several temples (see below), and the back streets either side of the port are pleasantly quiet, cool, shady and laid-back. Apart from the port, the main place of commerce and activity is on Vo Van Kiet Street (particularly around the intersection with Tran Hung Dao) and the grid of streets around the new park just to the north. This is where most of the island’s food and accommodation options are. There’s no shortage of general stores for water, snacks, electrical supplies etc. It’s at its liveliest in the mornings and late afternoons/evenings. The streets are lined with a combination of new townhouses (in the classic 21th century Vietnamese style: narrow, 2-3 storey boxes) and older dwellings bearing the hallmarks of Vietnamese Modernist architecture: angular and squat with little Art Deco flourishes (I find them very attractive). The latter date from the ’60s to ’90s (see below).

Tam Thanh commune, Phu Quy Island, VietnamTam Thanh commune is the focal point for commerce, fishing, food & accommodation on the island

[Back]


Ngu Phung Commune [MAP]: Although it’s difficult to determine where exactly Tam Thanh ends and Ngu Phung begins, the latter has a very different character. Whereas Tam Thanh is all commerce, business and development, Ngu Phung is sleepier and older with a ‘stuck-in-time’ feel about it. For me, the transition between these two communes on the west coast happens when 27 Thang 4 Street glances the ocean at Lang Co My Khe Temple and proceeds along a pleasant, casuarina-lined harbourfront, then on through a French-feeling boulevard and into the narrow, sun-and-shade-filled back-streets of Ngu Phung village. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I loved Ngu Phung commune: The streets lined with umbrella trees and frangipani flowers; the decades-old Modernist homes with swept front yards leading to open wooden doors and front rooms filled with ancestor altars; the little lanes leading to the embankment where shrines and temples wax and wane in clouds of incense; the food and drink stalls hidden around corners where school children gather for snacks; the fading edifices of government buildings; fish drying on wooden trestles; a small military airport where the tarmac is used for raking crops; the fishing fleet at the north of the bay, idling on the calm sea in the late evening sun; the fishermen’s shacks selling fresh seafood; and the green patchwork of land rising to Phu Quy Lighthouse with views across the entire island.

Ngu Phung commune, Phu Quy Island, VietnamNgu Phung is a quiet, very attractive & appealing commune with a friendly & slow atmosphere

[Back]


Long Hai Commune [MAP]: At the northeastern tip of Phu Quy, Long Hai is possibly the liveliest of the communes on the island. A tightly packed network of narrow lanes and single-storey, box-like homes spread around the base of Cao Cat Mountain, Long Hai has an active market with street food and a general buzz about it. Long Hai is also the most rustic, rugged, and, sadly, the most littered of the island’s villages. The beaches here are covered in trash, although the roads are clean and people’s housing looks OK, if cramped. It certainly feels as though Long Hai is the poorest of the communes on Phu Quy. But the people are very welcoming and excited to see foreign visitors, and several homes are starting to invite tourists in as part of a growing trend in homestays. When I visited, I felt Long Hai hadn’t the charm or the laid-back quality of Ngu Phung or Tam Thanh, but it does have lots of local life and opportunities to sit, eat, drink and talk with people. The views over Long Hai from the pagoda atop Cao Cat Mountain are superb (see below).

Long Hai commune, Phu Quy Island, VietnamLong Hai sprawls beneath Cao Cat Mountain: it’s probably the liveliest but poorest of the communes

[Back]


Dong Hai Hamlet [MAP]: Phu Quy’s unofficial ‘fourth village’, Dong Hai is on the northeast coast, just south of Long Hai. A pretty and appealing little place with some interesting architecture and an attractive coast, see Dong Hai Beach for details.

Dong Hai hamlet, Phu Quy Island, VietnamDong Hai is the unofficial fourth hamlet on the island: an interesting little place with some cute houses

[Back]


Temples, Pagodas & Architecture:

For such a small island, Phu Quy has a remarkable number of temples, shrines and other places of worship. Each of the three communes boasts an array of religious buildings: from mountaintop monasteries to communal village temples. Most are very well-kept, with quiet, leafy grounds and colourful adornments. They’re all active places of worship, including Buddhist sanctuaries, Catholic churches, ancestor shrines, and Cao Dao temples. I’ve listed some of the more interesting, attractive, and striking below, but there are many more. Also, riding around Phu Quy, I found the architecture of people’s homes and government buildings to be intriguing. Most are what I think is correctly termed Vietnamese Modernist-style, spanning half a century, from the 1960s through to the early 2000s. Angular and modern, but with touches of French colonial architecture and Soviet Brutalism, these buildings are well-preserved, but it looks are though many are just about to be torn down. There are even a few very old-looking homes with mini-courtyards and tiled roofs supported by columns. 

A Buddhist altar, Phu Quy Island, VietnamDozens of temples, shrines, pagodas & other places of worship are scattered about Phu Quy Island


Van An Thanh Whale Temple [MAP]: Often referred to as Lăng Nam Hải or the ‘Whale Temple’, this attractive complex of gates, temples, altars and courtyards is just behind Phu Quy Port. Accessed from the north or the south, Van An Thanh is most notable for it enormous whale skeleton, which is housed in an exhibition room to the side of the main temple (look for the wooden doors with the words ‘Nhà Trưng Bày Cốt Ông Nam Hải‘ above it). Whale worship is a long and active tradition in Vietnam, stretching back centuries. Whales are considered gods or spirits of the ocean that can protect sailors and fishermen from harm while out at sea. There are two words for ‘whale’ in Vietnamese which reflect the mammal’s size and importance: Cá voi (elephant fish) and Ông Nam Hải (grandfather of the sea). Inside the ‘whale temple’, the scale of the skeleton is breathtaking. I’m used to seeing whales in the ocean (in TV documentaries), where there’s very little sense of scale. But here, in this exhibition room, one really gets a sense of just how colossal these animals are, and it’s no wonder they were (and are) considered sacred. I found it quite moving, not least because the experience felt very similar to gazing at dinosaur skeletons in natural history museums, when one feels overwhelmed that an animal of such size once existed on the same planet where one is living today. There’s an unsettling pathos that, perhaps, my children or grandchildren might stand in front of a whale skeleton like this one and be thinking the same thing: imagine a world where mammals like this lived in our oceans.

The main whale on display died in 1963. But there are other smaller skeletons around it of whales and dolphins, some of which date back 150 years. It’s a nice idea to light some incense at the altar beneath the whale’s jaw. Note: although the temple complex is always open, the ‘whale room’ is almost always closed. There are two phone numbers (0908 846 774 or 0163 4700 427) on a blue plaque at the bottom of the temple gate at the south entrance, which you must call in order for the ‘whale keeper’ to come open the doors for you. No English is spoken so it might be a good idea to ask the staff at your hotel to call and arrange a time for you. It’s well worth it. Entrance is free, but donations are appreciated.

Van An Thanh Whale Temple, Phu Quy Island, VietnamVan An Thanh ‘Whale Temple’ houses a large skeleton of a whale & many other smaller ones, too

[Back]


Chua Linh Quang Pagoda [MAP] is one of the most recognizable temples on the island. On Vo Van Kiet Street in the centre of Tam Thanh commune, this temple boasts an impressive, highly decorated, multi-level tower. Although it appears to be a fairly recent structure, apparently the original temple dates back about 250 years. Easily visible from just about anywhere one the island, Chua Linh Quang is one of the tallest structures on Phu Quy. With colourful and ornate dragons, tiles, pillars, reliefs and statues, it’s a real riot and a lot of fun. A few blocks south of here, on the seafront embankment, is Mieu Thanh Hoang Shrine [MAP]. I love the peace and quiet of this little temple: the crispy, rust-red leaves of the umbrella trees falling on the hot stone courtyard; the sound of the gentle sea lapping the harbourfront; and the way the entrance gates frame the placid ocean, as if it were the terminal of an ancient and exotic Southeast Asian trading port.

Chua Linh Quang Pagoda, Phu Quy Island, VietnamChua Linh Quang is an ornate pagoda & one of the tallest structures on Phu Quy Island


Mieu Thanh Hoang Shrine, Phu Quy Island, VietnamMieu Thanh Hoang Shrine sits right by the ocean; its stone courtyard is a quiet, reflective place

[Back]


There are several interesting places of worship in and around Ngu Phung commune. Thanh That [MAP] is Phu Quy Island’s Cao Dai temple, the century-old, home-grown religion, worshiping the religious and creative icons of world history, including Muhammad, Buddha, Shakespeare and Victor Hugo. Caodaist temples are famous for being colourful and decorative, and this one’s no exception. There’s a Catholic church [MAP] is the back-streets, and Chua Linh Buu [MAP] is an ornate and attractive Buddhist temple set among trees at the foot of the hill beneath the Phu Quy Lighthouse.

Chua Linh Buu Temple, Phu Quy Island, VietnamChua Linh Buu is a Buddhist temple set among trees beneath the Phu Quy Lighthouse

[Back]


Perched on a mesmerizing volcanic rock cape in the northeast of the island, Đại Môn Mộ Thầy [MAP] is an interesting temple in a scenic position. I couldn’t find out much about it, but the name means something like ‘The Master’s Tomb’, which is mysterious enough to fuel your imagination. But more than the temple, it’s the location that’s the main attraction. Continue walking along the peninsular to the very tip and look back at a beautiful double bay. The rock formations here are fascinating and the sea has carved out little overhangs – like petrified waves – where locals gather for picnics. (Unfortunately, there’s a lot of trash around.) Another intriguing sight here are the fish farms clinging to the rocky coast. A series of rectangular stone walls, the fish farms look as though they’re ancient ramparts protecting the island from attack by sea.

Walled fish farms, Phu Quy Island, VietnamDai Mon Mo Thay temple is set on a volcanic headland surrounded by walled fish farms (pictured)

[Back]


You couldn’t find a more stunning position for a temple than Chua Linh Son Pagoda [MAP]. Accessed via a steep staircase, the main temple is a monastery just below the peak of Cao Cat Mountain, the highest point on the island. The stairs are guarded by golden dragons, which are a sight to behold when set against the pink shower of bougainvillea. At the top, Buddhist monks go about their ablutions in the prayer rooms and elaborately decorated altars. There are benches on which to sit and gaze out over the island. But save your photos for the shrine at the peak, reached via a curling set of stairs, leading around incredible volcanic rock formations with swirling fissures. From here the views are something else. Try to get here around 4pm to watch the sunset. I spent hours sitting on the rocks at the peak: reading, writing, contemplating, strumming my guitar, soaking in the views.

Chua Linh Son Pagoda, Phu Quy Island, VietnamChua Linh Son is dramatically situated near the top of Cao Cat Mountain, with fine views


Chua Linh Son Pagoda, Phu Quy Island, VietnamThe steps leading up to Chua Linh Son are guarded by golden dragons & bougainvillea

[Back]


Modernist Architecture: All around the island, but particularly along the streets of Tam Thanh and Ngu Phung communes, there are excellent examples of Vietnamese Modernist architecture. This takes the form of residents’ homes and of local government buildings. In the past, I always felt as though this architectural style was too cold, stylized, and geometric to be sympathetic. But now I find myself drawn to it: partly because, as time goes by, these houses and civic buildings have become a part of history, imbued with nostalgia; but also partly because, thanks to various people drawing attention to the style in recent years, I’ve opened up to the line, decorative motifs, space, light and air of these buildings. I really can’t claim to know anything much about Vietnamese Modernist architecture, but you’ll see what I mean as you ride around Phu Quy Island. Some of the homes and government buildings are very well kept, whereas others are fading, soon to become rubble. Many of the houses have dates on them: ranging from as early as the 1960s to as late as the early 2000s. If this sparks your interest, check out Mel Schenck’s blog about Vietnamese Modernist buildings.

Modernist house, Phu Quy Island, VietnamPhu Quy has dozens of older homes in the Vietnamese Modernist style, dating from the 1960s onwards


Modernist house, Phu Quy Island, VietnamSome of the Modernist buildings are well-kept; others are crumbling & in disrepair

[Back]


Hiking & Viewing Points:

There are four spectacular viewing points on Phu Quy, all of which correspond to high points in the topography of the island or where volcanic cliffs meet the sea. Two of these are hills in the north of the island, where the land swells and rises several hundred feet. The other two are dramatic cliffs and capes. Hiking on Phu Quy is good because the land is flat, the scenery pleasant, and the roads and lanes are quiet.

View from the Phu Quy Lighthouse, Phu Quy Island, VietnamAlthough Phu Quy is mostly flat, there are a few high points where the views over the island are fantastic


Hiking: Because Phu Quy is criss-crossed with quiet paved lanes and pathways through the brush, and because the terrain is mostly very gentle, it’s entirely possible (and enjoyable) to walk everywhere on the island. The distances are relatively short: the island is only about 8km long and 5km wide. Of course, what takes 5-10 minutes on a motorbike, will take 15-30 minutes on foot. But for hikers Phu Quy really is a great destination. You could walk to any of the places mentioned in this guide. In particular, the four viewing points listed below are well-worth hiking to.

View from Cao Cat Mountain, Phu Quy Island, VietnamHiking can be a rewarding way to explore Phu Quy Island: there are pathways up to the high points


Rock formations, Phu Quy Island, VietnamOn foot, you can hike the inland hills & fields, and coastal cliffs & headlands

[Back]


Phu Quy Lighthouse [MAP]: In the north of the island, the two high points are the Phu Quy Lighthouse, in the northwest, and Cao Cat Mountain, in the northeast. These are both accessed via steep but relatively short stairways. To get to the lighthouse (Hải Đăng Phú Qúy), continue along the road to the left passed Linh Buu Pagoda (ignoring the No Trespassing sign). When the road ends, turn to your right and walk up the steps. After a bit of a climb, bear right at a fork in the path (bearing left will take you to a Ho Chi Minh monument, which doesn’t afford as good views as the lighthouse). The lighthouse is a handsome and sturdy structure. Behind it is a military installation, which is off limits. However, you are allowed to ascend the stairwell up to the top of the lighthouse for stupendous views across the entire island. There are also benches at the foot of the lighthouse, so bring a thermos of coffee and a snack to enjoy while looking at the views. Try to arrive between 4-5pm for the best light. When you’re up here, you get a sense of how green Phu Quy is, and how isolated it is: just a speck in the ocean. It’s a thrilling sensation.

The Phu Quy Lighthouse, Phu Quy Island, VietnamPhu Quy Lighthouse sits atop a green hill affording views over the entire island


View from the Phu Quy Lighthouse, Phu Quy Island, VietnamClimb the spiral stairs to the top of the lighthouse and enjoy the enormous views

[Back]


Cao Cat Mountain [MAP]: The highest point on the island, Cao Cat Mountain is the site of a Buddhist monastery, another military installation, and an extraordinary escarpment of stratified rock. To get there, take the road as far as the shrine (you can continue beyond the shrine around the mountain, but ultimately the road stops at a military site), then walk up the stairs behind the shrine until you reach the monastery. From here, there are stairs leading behind the monastery to the gigantic rocks at the top of the mountain. The views are incredible, and the rock formations – swirling and curvaceous – look martian. Bring a drink and some snacks, get here around 5pm, and watch the sun set over the island, bathing everything in a soft light, while listening to the chimes of the gong from the monastery: it feels like Phu Quy Island is all yours (if you can ignore the enormous communication towers either side of the peak).

Cao Cat Mountain, Phu Quy Island, VietnamCao Cat Mountain is reached via several staircases: at the top the views are excellent


Cao Cat Mountain, Phu Quy Island, VietnamThere are pagodas, shrines & fascinating rock formations at the top of Cao Cat Mountain

[Back]


Phu Quy Flagpole [MAP]: Easily accessed via the coast road, the island’s flagpole (cột cờ Phú Qúy) is a good vantage point. From here, cliffs spread north to Bai Nho Beach and Ganh Hang Cape, and south to Bai Da Beach. Hiking in either direction is great and the scenery is terrific: barren, stark; almost Hebridien.

The cliffs & bay by Phu Quy Island Flagpole, VietnamPhu Quy Flagpole (in the distance) is a scenic stretch of volcanic cliffs & headlands with coastal views

[Back]


Mo Thay Temple Cliffs [MAP]: The volcanic cliffs stretching beyond Mo Thay Temple have great views back across a double bay with Cao Cat Mountain behind. (See Mo Thay Temple for details.)

Volcanic cliffs, Mo Thay Temple, Phu Quy Island, VietnamThe strange rock formations along the cliffs at Mo Thay Temple offer good views & walking

[Back to Contents]


Accommodation:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use any of the relevant links below to book your accommodation, I make a small commission (at no extra cost to you). All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

Because foreign visitors must acquire a permit before visiting Phu Quy Island, most travellers will need to spend at least one night in Phan Thiet, on the mainland, before catching the ferry to the island. Therefore, I’ve included accommodation options for both Phan Thiet and Phu Quy below:

Bao Tran Hotel, Phu Quy Island, VietnamBoth Phan Thiet (where the boats to the island depart from) and Phu Quy have a decent range of hotels


Phan Thiet Hotels: A very likable city on the banks of the Ca Ty River as it flows into the East Sea, Phan Thiet has some good accommodation for a night or two while you wait for your permit to be made. Bear in mind that you’ll also need to give the name and address of your hotel when applying for the permit (see Getting the Permit for details). The resort town of Mui Ne is also nearby (just 10km up the coast from Phan Thiet) where there are hundreds of hotels to choose from. However, I much prefer Phan Thiet, so I’ve only listed Phan Thiet hotels below, starting from budget up to mid-range. (For Mui Ne hotels you can search here):

• Mini-hotels near the port [MAP]: Conveniently located on Le Loi Street, just east of Phan Thiet port, a string of good-value mini-hotels and guest houses line the road. All have decent, clean, bright and plain rooms for $10-$20. Try Minh Duc Guesthouse for the cheapest rooms, or Hoa Binh 2 for no-frills charm, or for a few more bucks check-in to Hotel Minh Hang, or Hoang Kim or Nhat Linh. In short, there’s lots of choice on Le Loi Street [MAP]

Phan Thiet Port, Binh Thuan Province, VietnamThere are lots of good value mini-hotels along Le Loi Street, conveniently located near Phan Thiet port

• Moon Hotel [MAP]; $10-$15: [BOOK HERE] An excellent new budget option, Moon Hotel stands all on its own in a newly developed part of town. The rooms are bright and clean (some even have balconies with sea views) and the area is quiet. It’s a 5-minute taxi ride from the port. [BOOK HERE]

• Doi Duong Hotel & TTC Premium Hotel [MAP]; $25-$40: These two mid-range hotels are pretty good value considering they both have swimming pools, ocean views, and easy access to Phan Thiet’s municipal beach and park. I prefer Doi Duong [BOOK HERE] because it has balconies, but the breakfast isn’t great. TTC Premium [BOOK HERE] has large but soulless rooms without balconies, however its breakfast is much better.

• Ocean Dunes Resort [MAP]; $35-$60: [BOOK HERE] With excellent facilities (including two pools, large, green gardens, and children’s play area), the Ocean Dunes is very good mid-range accommodation. Rooms have big balconies with either sea or mountain views, direct access to the new beachfront promenade, and a good breakfast. (Read my full review here.) Average rates are $35-$60 a night [BOOK HERE]

Balcony of sea-view room at Ocean Dunes Resort, Phan Thiet, VietnamThe Ocean Dunes Resort is good value for money, considering the sea views & facilities

[Back]


Phu Quy Island Hotels: There are currently about a couple of dozen mini-hotels, guest houses, and homestays on Phu Quy Island. Most are clustered around the main port area and Tam Thanh commune which surrounds it. However, there are several other notable accommodations further afield, in the other two communes of Ngu Phung and Long Hai. Almost all accommodation follows the same pricing: singles/doubles = 200,000/250,000vnd | quads (two double beds) = 400,000vnd. The general standard is good, with clean, bright, spacious, and fairly new rooms. Camping is very tempting, if you have your own gear, because the coastal meadows and casuarina forests are perfect for a campsite. But, because there are so few foreign visitors, it would be wise to ask permission before you camp. There aren’t any beach resorts or big hotels yet. However, Phu Quy’s accommodation scene is set to change within the next year or two. The following places to stay are in order of my own personal preference:

Hai Ha Hotel, Phu Quy Island, VietnamPhu Quy Island has some good mini-hotels & guest houses and prices are reasonable


• Sao Bien Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 090 464 0108 | 250,000-450,000vnd: This excellent guest house is on the beautiful, casuarina-shaded stretch of road linking Tam Thanh and Ngu Phung communes. Just across from a placid, walled marina where a small fishing fleet lies at anchor, Sao Bien is a spotless, bright, brand new, modern structure. Managed by a friendly family, the rooms are plain but comfortable, with firm beds, tiled floors, air-con, hot water, TV, and windows. A couple of the rooms have sea views, and there’s a great rooftop terrace from which to watch the sunset. The area is quiet, cool, and slow. There’s excellent seafood next door at Quán Phú Qúy 2 and the shady grounds of Cherry Cafe on the other side. It’s the perfect place to base yourself for a few days on the island.

Sao Bien Guest House, Phu Quy Island, VietnamSao Bien is an excellent, clean, comfortable, inexpensive guest house in a lovely, quiet location

• Bao Tran Mini Hotel [MAP]; Tel: 094 619 1123 | 250,000-400,000vnd: A classic mini-hotel on the grid of streets surrounding a new park, Bao Tran has nice, clean rooms with windows and small balconies at the front overlooking the square. It’s run by a handsome local family who make you feel at home. It’s not on the coast (although you can see the sea from some of the rooms) but it is walking distance from all of the best food and drink options in Tam Thanh commune. A pleasant place for a night or two.

• Tam Thanh Mini-Hotels [MAP]: Along Vo Van Kiet Street near where it intersects with Tran Hung Dao, and the grid of streets just to the north, surrounding a new park, is probably the greatest concentration of hotels and guest houses on the island. There are lots to choose from and they all have similar prices (250,000-450,000vnd) and similar quality rooms (clean, comfortable, air-con, hot water, TV, windows). In particular, check out Khach San Phu Quy (tel: 091 647 3245) and Hung Phat Hotel (tel: 093 300 9927), who are neighbours on the high street and among the largest hotels on the island; and Hien Duoc Hotel (tel: 090 291 9678) and Khach San Mini Hai Ha (tel: 091 6264 101), also on the high-street. These are all solid places to spend several nights.

• Truong Huy Hotel [MAP]; Tel: 094 341 4488 | 250,000-400,000vnd: Just a couple of minutes east of Phu Quy Port, Truong Huy is a good hotel with lots of rooms, some with nice big windows looking over the lane and trees. The rooms are big and clean but sparse. It’s a quiet location and walking distance from Trieu Duong Bay and the harbourfront, which is very convenient if you’re catching an early morning boat back to Phan Thiet.

Truong Huy Hotel, Phu Quy Island, VietnamTruong Huy is a good value mini-hotel with large but sparse rooms & a central but quiet location

• Long Vi Hotel [MAP]; Tel: 091 768 0344 | 150,000-400,000vnd: In the northeast of the island, Long Vi consists of a couple of simple structures decorated with brightly coloured murals. Inside, the rooms – most of which have sea views – are basic but clean and the walls are adorned with floral patterns. There’s a kind of hippy-cutesy vibe to the place. It’s popular with Vietnamese backpackers, as is the attached seafood restaurant. The position is quiet and scenic: on a bay, walking distance from a clifftop temple, and in the shadow of Cao Cat Mountain

• Hoang Phu Hotel [MAP]; Tel: 091 970 9550 | 250,000-450,000vnd: A three storey building down the narrow backstreets near the embankment in Tam Thanh commune, Hoang Phu Hotel has good, clean rooms and sea views. It’s a pleasant and quiet position, perfect for strolling up and down the new seafront promenade and exploring the village on foot. It’s popular with visiting groups from the mainland, so it fills up quickly.

• Homestays: Around the island there are a handful of homestays. However, I found it difficult to find information about them, and the hosts seemed unsure about accommodating foreign guests. But it’s worth looking into, especially if you speak some Vietnamese or are travelling with Vietnamese companions, because Phu Quy locals are famous for their hospitality and sense of fun. I’d also expect homestay-style accommodation to grow over the next year or two. For a start, you can try asking at Thien Su Cafe, in Long Hai, where the owner’s family have a room or two for guests, if available.

Long Vi Hotel, Phu Quy Island, VietnamLong Vi Hotel is by the sea with a few bright rooms and a kind of hippy-cutesy vibe

[Back to Contents]


Food & Drink:

Phu Quy is, naturally, famous for its seafood. Sea cucumbers and crabs are among the island’s specialities. There are dozens of informal seafood eateries and restaurants across the island. Because of its relatively large population (for an island), Phu Quy also has a decent range of street food available in its three main villages (or communes). Noodle soups, savoury snacks, and other tasty treats are sold from streetside vendors. Fruit juices and smoothies are available from kiosks, and there are lots of local cafes. Phu Quy even has its own brew: rượu dứa – a local liquor made from the fruit of a kind of screwpine, called pandanus tectorius. Although there are places to eat and drink all around the island, the largest concentration of dining and drinking options is in Tam Thanh, spreading west from the main port.

Street food, Phu Quy Island, VietnamPhu Quy has enough dining options to keep you going, including excellent seafood & street food


Seafood: 

There are informal local seafood restaurants dotted all around the island. Look for signs saying quán hải sản. However, if you’re not familiar with ordering in Vietnamese, a good place to start is the ‘foreigner friendly’ restaurant at Long Vĩ (where some English is spoken), or the big restaurants just off Tran Hung Dao Street in Tam Thanh commune, such as Cột Buồm, Quán Hải Thắm 2, or Quán Lộc Phát, which have big menus with pictures and prices. A popular option for seafood are the floating restaurants just offshore at Bai Phu Bay. Sometimes doubling as fish farms, the food here is extremely fresh. Prices are reasonable and there are at least half a dozen floating restaurants clustered together in the bay. A small boat ferries you over. It’s worth noting, however, that the beach is strewn with trash and if you’re unlucky (or lucky, depending on how you view it), there may be a seafood-karaoke party on the same floating restaurant as you, in which case it’s a very loud dining experience (and there’s no escape). If this doesn’t appeal to you, there are dozens of good, local seafood joints around the island to choose from. I barely scratched the surface when I was there, but I particularly liked Quán Phú Qúy 2 and Hải Sản Ánh Huyền, both near Ngu Phung commune. The former is a restaurant with an open-air terrace upstairs, with reasonable prices, good seafood, and a relaxed atmosphere. The latter is a local fishermen’s haunt, housed in a concrete shack with blue wooden shutters by the embankment, where the fish come straight off the boats from the fishing fleet moored in the bay.

Seafood, Phu Quy Island, VietnamPhu Quy is famous for is fresh, delicious & inexpensive seafood straight from the ocean


Seafood, Phu Quy Island, VietnamSeafood is everywhere on Phu Quy: from the fishing boats to fish drying in the sun to local fish restaurants

[Back]


Street Food: 

Although street food on Phu Quy is nowhere near as varied and ubiquitous as in any town on the mainland, for an island it has quite a decent selection. In the mornings and late afternoons through to the evenings, you’ll find street food vendors along the busiest streets of all three of Phu Quy’s villages: Long Hai, Ngu Phung and Tam Thanh. However, the two liveliest spots are Vo Van Kiet Street near the intersection with Tran Hung Dao Street, in Tam Thanh, and the area around Long Hai Market. Below are some of the places that I enjoyed eating at, but obviously there’s a lot more to choose from, and I’d expect the street food scene to rapidly expand over the next year or two, as more people from the mainland visit and settle here.

Street food, VietnamFor an island, Phu Quy has a decent range of street food options in its three ‘communes’ or villages


Tam Thanh Commune: As the liveliest of the villages on the island, Tam Thanh has the best choice of street food. Go up and down Vo Van Kiet Street a couple of times and you’ll get a good idea of what’s available, particularly around the intersection with Tran Hung Dao. There are a couple of good bánh xèo (savoury pancakes with pork and shrimp) either side of Hien Duoc Hotel. Quán Thuận Phát has a great selection of classic Vietnamese noodle soups, such as bún bò Huế (Hue-style beef noodles), mì quảng (central-style thick noodles), and hủ tiếu (southern-style vermicelli noodles). A couple of bún đậu mắm tôm (tofu with pork, herbs and pungent dipping sauce) offer decent versions of this Hanoi dish – try Quán Nhím Biển. Mỹ Duyên bakery has fresh baguettes and cakes. Quán Hót Sài Gòn is another decent all-rounder for soups and noodles. Kebab Torki serves up doner-style kebabs. Finally, Quán Hai Hảo does a decent bowl of beef phở.

Street food, Phu Quy Island, VietnamTam Thanh has the greatest concentration & variety of street food anywhere on the island

[Back]


Ngu Phung Commune: The quietest of the three communes, Ngu Phung doesn’t have much in the way of street food. But look around and you’ll find little streetside stalls selling noodle soups, fruits, and chè (sweet dessert drinks, often with coconut milk, fruit, and jelly). One nice spot in the early evenings is on 27 Thang 4 Street, by a little park outside the entrance to Lang Co My Khe temple, where several vendors cluster [MAP].

Street food, Phu Quy Island, VietnamNgu Phung commune’s street food options are limited & often hidden down back streets

[Back]


Long Hai Commune: The area around Chợ Long Hải (Long Hai Market) is a bustling little intersection where street food vendors serve food and drink, especially during the mornings and early evenings. Among the many dishes you’ll find here are: bánh xèo (savoury pancakes filled with shrimp and pork – the ones here are very unusual because the pancake batter is made with carrot, giving the bánh xèo an orange hue), chả cuốn (fresh spring rolls filled with herbs, fish cake and pork, a provincial speciality), mì quảng (a popular noodle soup from the central provinces), cháo (hot, wholesome rice porridge), and bánh flan (the Vietnamese take on creme caramel). There are signs for all these dishes (and more) at the food vendors on the roadside. Everything costs between 10,000vnd-30,000vnd per dish.

Street food, Long Hai commune, Phu Quy Island, VietnamLong Hai has some good street food, particularly around the market in the mornings and evenings

[Back]


Drinks:

Phu Quy has its fair share of local cafes, milk tea and smoothie stalls, and beer joints around the island. But there aren’t really any bars as such. However, the island does have its own local liquor, and it’s still possible to get an espresso in the mornings and a cocktail in the evenings:

Drinks on Phu Quy Island, VietnamOn Phu Quy you can find smoothies, juices & beer, as well as the island’s own local liquor


Alcohol: The usual Vietnamese brands of beer are available everywhere, as well as regional brands, like Tiger. But Phu Quy also has its very own island brew: rượu dứa. This is a very potent, amber-coloured liquor made from the fermented fruit of the pandanus tectorius plant, which grows all over the island. The plant has long, sharp leaves and exposed, claw-like roots; the fruit, which you can see sold on the streets, is like a round, orange, pineapple. You can pick up home-brewed rượu dứa from many of the local stores around the island for as little as 10,000vnd for a 500ml bottle, or from some of the cafes, restaurants and hotels. Another good place for a tipple is Song Cafe, on the backstreets behind the main drag in Tam Thanh commune. As well as good coffee, smoothies, and juices, Song Cafe offers a short, but enticing list of cocktails, including daiquiris and margaritas.

The fruit of the screwpine, Phu Quy Island, VietnamThe fruit of the screwpine is used to make rượu dứa – a strong liquor with a slightly bitter taste


Local alcohol, Phu Quy Island, VietnamVarious local liquors (rượu) displayed in a shop on Phu Quy, including screwpine, ginseng & snake

[Back]


Coffee & Juice: There are plenty of cafes in all three of the island’s villages. While the cafes are often very attractive, shady places to be, the standard of coffee isn’t great. But I expect the cafe scene to change dramatically in the next year or so, as more and more young Vietnamese visit and open coffee shops on the island. For now, the best coffee I found was at Song Cafe, where they offer a choice of robusta or arabica beans. Cherry Cafe is also good with a quiet location, and Passion Cafe is central and fine. Several juice and smoothie vendors can be found in the villages. In particular, there’s a good one on Vo Van Kiet Street, near the intersection with Tran Hung Dao. You’ll find orange, mango, passion fruit, avocado, coconuts and much more. Lucky Cafe serves a range of drinks and is popular with Phu Quy’s young crowd in the evenings. And the trend in trà sữa (sweet milk tea) has made it to the island: there are several trà sữa stalls along the roadsides. If you’re in the mood for some live music and billiards, head over to Thien Su Cafe, in Long Hai, where there are a couple of pool tables and occasional jam sessions – you’ll probably be invited to join in, too.

Song Cafe, Phu Quy Island, VietnamSong Cafe has good coffee, a nice atmosphere & even some cocktails, which makes it unique on the island

[Back to Contents]


Getting There & Around:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use the links & search boxes below to book your transportation to Phu Quy Island, I make a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

*IMPORTANT: Foreign travellers need a permit to visit Phu Quy Island: see below for details.

Phu Quy Island can only be reached by boat from Phan Thiet, a very likable fishing town on the southeast coast. There are three ferry companies operating daily fast boat services between Phan Thiet and Phu Quy Island. To get to Phan Thiet, there are good rail and road connections from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Nha Trang, and Dalat among many other hubs nationwide. On Phu Quy Island, a surprisingly extensive network of quiet, paved lanes follow the island’s coastline and criss-cross its interior: perfect for two-wheeled exploration or, because the terrain is mostly very gentle, hiking:

Getting to Phu Quy Island, Binh Thuan Province, VietnamPhu Quy Island can only be reached by boat from Phan Thiet: but first you must get a permit


GETTING THE PERMIT: 

Foreign travellers must have a permit in order to visit Phu Quy Island. This is partly because Phu Quy has only recently opened to foreign tourists, and partly because the island is technically a sea border: there has been considerable tension in the East Sea over disputed islands in recent years. However, it is now fairly easy to acquire the necessary documents to legally visit the island, although it does take a bit of time and money. But don’t worry: it’s a straightforward process, and it’s worth it.

Permit for foreigners to visit Phu Quy Island, VietnamForeign travellers to Phu Quy must obtain a permit before taking a boat to the island


Obtaining the Permit in Phan Thiet: There are two ways to apply for the permit, click below for details:

Local Government Office: This is the cheaper but slightly more convoluted method. It goes like this: Make sure you have the documents in the checklist below, and make your way to the Immigration Department (Phòng Xuất Nhập Cảnh) of the Provincial Police Station (Công An Tỉnh Bình Thuận), at 139 Mau Than Street, in Phan Thiet. Take the entrance on the left of the building, go inside and up the stairs on the left as you enter. On the first floor, go to window No.3 (Cửa Số3), where a sign in English reads ‘Receiving Documents of Foreigners’. Staff here are dressed in official green uniform and some speak a little bit of English, but it helps if you can speak some Vietnamese. Stand (or sit) in the queue and communicate that you wish to apply for a permit to visit Phu Quy Island. The staff will then ask for, take, and copy your documents, and give you a form (in Vietnamese) to fill out. You’ll also need to give the name and address of your accommodation in Phan Thiet. Then pay the fee of 250,000vnd ($10) and give your phone number or email address so they can contact you when the permit is ready to collect. It will take 2-3 working days. I’ve been to this office twice: the first time, staff were rigid, cold, and unhelpful; the second time they were young, friendly, and efficient. (It pays to dress in long pants and a shirt, rather than shorts and a T-shirt, when visiting any government office.)

The provincial government office in Phan ThietThis is the Provincial Police station in Phan Thiet within which is the Immigration Department


Local Travel Agent: This is the easier, more streamline, but more expensive method. It goes like this: Make sure you have the documents in the checklist below, and make your way to one of several local travel agents in Phan Thiet (there are also travel agents in nearby Mui Ne who can arrange permits). I recommend going to Sao Mai (14 Muoi Chin Thang Tu Street; 062 3824 111) as they are efficient, well-organized, and some English is spoken. However, there are other travel agents, especially on Ton Duc Thang Street, such as Bo Cap Vang (185 Ton Duc Thang Street; 0886 234 555). Explain that you want to get a permit to visit Phu Quy Island. The staff will ask for your documents. You will also need to give the name and address of your accommodation in Phan Thiet, and state when you wish to visit the island (the permit is only valid for one week from the day you intend to arrive). You pay upfront: 600,000vnd ($25) for standard service (2-3 working days), or 840,000vnd ($35) for fast track service (24 hours). However, it’s highly likely that even the fast track service will end up taking at least 48 hours to complete. Leave your phone number or email with the staff and they will contact you when the permit is ready to collect from their office.

Phan Thiet, street sceneSeveral travel agents, like Sao Mai, in Phan Thiet & Mui Ne can arrange the permit for an extra fee

[Back]


Checklist to Apply for Permit:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid Vietnam visa or temporary residency card
  • Immigration stamp of latest entry into Vietnam (in your passport)
  • Copies of main passport page, visa, and immigration stamp (optional but useful)
  • Cash in VND: 250,000-840,000 (depending on the application method)
  • Name & address of your accommodation in Phan Thiet
  • Smiles, patience, and a bit of Vietnamese language (optional but useful)

[Back]


Boarding & Disembarking the Boat: You will need to show your permit and your passport to an official (dressed in green uniform) at the port in Phan Thiet before you board the boat, and again at the port on Phu Quy. When you disembark on the island, a border control official (in green uniform) will meet you off the boat, ask to see your passport and permit, escort you to their office, and register your information. All of this should be quite easy, fast, and painless. The officials I dealt with were courteous and easy-going. However, be sure to check and recheck your permit for mistakes: if there’s any discrepancy (for example, your name is spelled incorrectly, or appears different to your passport, or the validity on your permit has expired) you will not be allowed to board the boat to the island.

Boat ticket inspection in Phan ThietBefore boarding & disembarking the boat to Phu Quy Island you must show your passport & permit

[Back]


Using the Permit on the Island: Once registered at the port, you can move freely around the island. Whenever you check-in at a hotel, the reception will keep your permit and your passport. But you’ll need both in order to book return boat tickets back to Phan Thiet, or to go on any excursions to other islands, such as Hon Tranh. Needless to say: don’t lose your permit.

Embankment, Phu Quy Island, VietnamOnce you are registered on the island, you can move freely but must show your permit at hotels

[Back]


GETTING TO PHAN THIET: 

For the time being, all travellers to Phu Quy Island have to go via Phan Thiet. Luckily, Phan Thiet is well-connected to most cities and transport hubs in Vietnam. Rail and road connections are very good, but there’s no airport yet (it’s currently in the early stages of construction). I assume that most travellers considering a trip to Phu Quy Island will be coming from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), or Nha Trang further up the coast, or Dalat in the Central Highlands. Below is some information about how to get to Phan Thiet from these places by road and rail:

Phan Thiet Port, Binh Thuan Province, VietnamThere are good rail & road connections to Phan Thiet from most major regional hubs


By Bus & Motorbike: There are dozens of direct sleeper buses each day linking Phan Thiet with Saigon, Nha Trang, Dalat, and many more cities besides. The level of comfort is good and tickets are inexpensive. Phan Thiet bus station is located on Tran Quy Cap Street, but many of the buses simply leave from their offices in town, especially along Ton Duc Thang Street. The journeys between Phan Thiet, Saigon, Dalat, and Nha Trang all take between 4-6 hours and cost around 200,000vnd. You can easily check bus schedules, prices, and book tickets on Baolau.com. By motorbike, the Ocean Road is a scenic way to reach Phan Thiet from Saigon. You can ride it in one day, or break the journey over two or more days. The coast road leading north of Phan Thiet to Nha Trang is fantastic. By combining the Sand Dune Highway, the Dragons’ Graveyard, and the Nui Chua Coast Road you have one of the best coastal routes anywhere in Vietnam. From Phan Thiet to Dalat there are two main routes: QL28 or QL28B – both of which meet up with QL20 to Dalat, and both of which are scenic rides.

The Ocean Road, Saigon to Mui Ne, VietnamBuses connect Phan Thiet to major cities, and there are also excellent motorbike routes to get there

[Back]


By Train: Phan Thiet train station is on a spur line (not the mainline). It’s served by an excellent daily train to/from Saigon. This is a convenient, easy, and cheap way to reach Phan Thiet. Tickets are around 160,000vnd ($7) and there’s one train a day in both directions. (Read my guide to this route here.) Alternatively, the nearest mainline station to Phan Thiet is Binh Thuan (also called Muong Man), just 15km from town. All north-south express trains stop here, linking Binh Thuan Station with other hubs, such as Nha Trang, Danang and Hanoi. You can easily search train times, routes, prices, and book tickets on Baolau.com.

Search & Book: Type your departure city & travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for buses & trains to Phan Thiet:


The train from Saigon to Phan ThietPhan Thiet has many train connection: the most convenient is the daily express to/from Saigon

[Back]


GETTING TO PHU QUY ISLAND:

By Boat: The only way to reach Phu Quy Island is by boat. There are technically three fast boat companies operating ferries to Phu Quy Island. All boats depart from Phan Thiet, on the mainland. The three ferry companies are: Superdong, Hung Phat, and Phu Quy Express. However, at the time of writing, the latter (which only recently started operations) had temporarily ceased due to technical complications. I’m informed that it should be operating again by the time you read this guide. Sailing time is 2.5-3.5 hours, depending on the boat and the weather. Note: it is possible to take your motorbike on all three ferry companies:

The Superdong ferry to Phu Quy IslandThere are three fast boat ferry companies operating daily ferries between Phan Thiet & Phu Quy Island


The Boats:

At present (April 2019), Superdong is the most reliable, comfortable, and fastest of the three ferry companies sailing between Phan Thiet and Phu Quy Island. All three of the ferry companies can accommodate a dozen or more motorbikes and bicycles (see Booking Tickets for details). There are no car ferries to Phu Quy, but this is a good thing, because the peace of the island would quickly deteriorate with an influx of larger vehicles. See below for descriptions and photos of the boats:

The Superdong boats are long, low and slender, with comfortable, air-conditioned, coach-style seating on two levels, and plenty of windows. There’s deck-space out back, lots life jackets and rafts, decent, clean toilets, and some refreshments available on board. Journey time is 2.5 hours.

The Phu Quy Express is a large catamaran with two decks of air-conditioned coach seating and bunk beds (the latter are not as good as they might sound). There’s outside deck space at the back, drinks are available, and the boat is quiet, smooth and fast. Journey time is 2.5 hours. However, at the time of writing, the Phu Quy Express service was suspended due to technical difficulties. It was scheduled to recommence by the time you read this guide.

The third vessel, Hung Phat, is perhaps the most elegant: it’s a long-hulled, real ship, with an attractive pair of red and yellow-starred funnels at the back. Unfortunately, it’s the least comfortable and pleasant of the three. There are two levels of cramped wooden seats and tightly packed bunks – half of which are way below deck, near the engine room. There’s air-con and fans and a large top deck, but in general conditions are claustrophobic and the smell of ‘seasickness’ lingers in the cabins. This would be fine if the tickets were significantly cheaper, but as the difference in price is only marginal and journey time is 3.5 to 4 hours, I’d suggest choosing either Superdong or Phu Quy Express over Hung Phat.

The Superdong ferry to Phu Quy IslandSuperdong & Phu Quy Express boats have comfortable, air-con, coach-style seating


Hung Phat ferry to Phu Quy IslandHung Phat is an attractive vessel but takes at least an hour longer than Superdong & Phu Quy Express


Hung Phat ferry to Phu Quy IslandThe seating & bunk beds in the Hung Phat cabins are quite cramped & uncomfortable

[Back]


The Ports: 

Below is a description and photos of both ports:


Phan Thiet Port [MAP] is on the east bank at the mouth of the Ca Ty River. It’s a great position, overlooking the hundreds-strong local fishing fleet as they come and go between the open sea and the safety of the walled harbour. You can enter the port from the north, at the end of Pham Van Dong Street along the riverfront embankment, or from the east, next to the Port Cafe on Vo Thi Sau Street, where the boat company offices are. At the latter, there’s a small outside waiting area, but most passengers simply order a coffee from the Port Cafe and take a seat in their leafy grounds near where the boats dock (the coffee’s pretty good, too). If you’re bringing your motorbike, you can use either entrance. The port itself is a wide, sprawling mass of exposed concrete, with a couple of picturesque old tubs rusting by the pier. Get here early, sip a coffee at the cafe, and watch your boat being loaded with supplies bound for Phu Quy Island, before it’s time for your embarkation.

Phan Thiet Port, VietnamPhan Thiet Port is a large expanse of concrete at the mouth of the Ca Ty River: there’s a good port cafe

[Back]


Phu Quy Port [MAP] is located in Tam Thanh commune, near the southern tip of the island. The large, walled harbour is in a pretty location, between Hon Tranh Islet and Trieu Duong Bay, on the main island. At least a hundred large, covered fishing boats fill the harbour, and a couple of small freighters. The port is a wide, open patch of concrete that leads to a row of casuarina trees, where the boat company offices are, and a few drinks stalls. Behind the trees on the left are a couple of government buildings. One of these is the Biên Phong (border control office), where you’ll need to register with the island authorities (see Getting the Permit for details). There’s only one entrance/exit to the port: to the north, on Ngo Quyen Street.

Phu Quy Island port, VietnamPhu Quy Port is in the south of the island: it gets busy when the boats arrive & it’s hot & exposed

[Back]


Booking Tickets:

Below is all the information for booking tickets (for passengers and motorbikes) on the boats between Phan Thiet and Phu Quy Island:


General Information: Once you have the permit, booking tickets for any of the three boat services between Phan Thiet and Phu Quy Island is fairly easy. It’s wise to book at least one day in advance, and absolutely necessary if you’re travelling between Friday and Sunday or on a public holiday. The same goes for booking motorbikes on the boats. Booking in person is the easiest, best, and most convenient way to get tickets (over the phone and online is difficult or impossible, due to the fact that your permit must be presented). In order to book a ticket on any of the boats you must have your passport with a valid visa or residency card, and your permit to visit the island (see Getting the Permit for details). When boarding the boat in Phan Thiet, you must show your passport and permit to an official dressed in green uniform. Then, on arrival in Phu Quy, another official in green will meet you off the boat and take you to the border control office to register your passport and permit.

The boat to Phu Quy Island, VientamAs long as you have your permit, booking tickets on any of the boats is quite straightforward

[Back]


Motorbikes: To book a space for your motorbike, you need to give the license plate number and, technically at least, have the blue/green ownership card (but I was never asked to show mine). For motorbikes, the ticket payment (150,000vnd) is paid at the ticket office, but then a handling fee is charged at the ports in both Phan Thiet and Phu Quy (80,000/70,000vnd respectively).

Putting a motorbike on the boat to Phu Quy IslandYou can book a space on the boat for your motorbike, but you must arrive at the port about an hour early

[Back]


Phan Thiet Ticket Offices: All three ferry operators have ticket offices in Phan Thiet. In addition to the addresses given below, both Superdong and Phu Quy Express have ticket booths at the port entrance on Vo Thi Sau Street, opposite the Port Cafe [MAP]:

 • Superdong: 535 Tran Hung Dao Street [MAP| tel: 0252 3 817 337 | website: www.superdong.com.vn 

 • Phu Quy Express: 183 Ton Duc Thang Street [MAPtel: 0252 3 962 727 website: www.phuquyexpress.vn

 • Hung Phat: 195 Pham Van Dong Street [MAPtel: 0915 380 919 website: www.facebook.com/hungphat26

Boat ticket office, Phan ThietThere are tickets offices at the port in Phan Thiet & each company has an office in the city

[Back]


Phu Quy Ticket Offices: On Phu Quy Island, all three ferry companies have offices in Tam Thanh commune, near the port in the southwest of the island. But they also all have ticket counters in the terminal at Phu Quy Port [MAP]:

 • Superdong: 11 Ngo Quyen Street [MAP| tel: 0252 3 765 999 | website: www.superdong.com.vn 

 • Phu Quy Express: 64 Vo Van Kiet Street [MAPtel: 0252 650 6789 website: www.phuquyexpress.vn

 • Hung Phat: 207-209 Vo Van Kiet Street [MAPtel: 0933 434 818 website: www.facebook.com/hungphat26

Boat ticket office, Phuy Quy IslandThere are ticket offices for all boat companies at Phu Quy Port & in Tam Thanh commune

[Back]


Schedules, Times & Prices:

Each of the three ferry companies issues a new schedule every month. But sailing times can change depending on the season, time of week, weather, and demand. Therefore, the times given below should be treated only as a general indication: they are not set in stone. Indeed, it’s difficult to draw-up an accurate schedule, because the times change almost every day. But, in general, you can guarantee at least one sailing a day in both directions with at least one of the three ferry companies. For current schedules, check the boat companies’ websites, or call, or drop into their offices in Phan Thiet or Phu Quy to get a print-out (see Booking Tickets for details). Always double-check the time the day before departure:

*Key: SD=Superdong; PQE=Phu Quy Express; HP=Hung Phat


PHAN THIET  PHU QUY

Departures: SD: between 7am-10am daily; extra sailing Fri-Sun | PQE: one morning or afternoon sailing every two days | HP: between 12pm-2pm daily*

Duration: SD & PQE: 2.5 hours | HP: 3.5 hours

Passenger Ticket: SD: 350,000vnd (seat) | PQE: 350,000vnd (seat or bunk-bed) | HP: 250,000/350,000vnđ (seat/bunk-bed). Discounts for seniors, children, disabled

Motorbike Ticket: SD, PQE & HP: 150,000vnd (ticket), plus 80,000vnd (handling in Phan Thiet), plus 70,000vnd (handling in Phu Quy) = Total: 350,000vnd per bike

Websites: SD: www.superdong.com.vn | PQE: www.phuquyexpress.vn | HP: www.facebook.com/hungphat26

*All times are subject to change; check websites, call, or ask at the office for current schedule


PHU QUY → PHAN THIET

Departures: SD: between 7am-10am daily; extra sailing Fri-Sun | PQE: one morning or afternoon sailing every two days | HP: between 7am-8am daily*

Duration: SD & PQE: 2.5 hours | HP: 3.5 hours

Passenger Ticket: SD: 350,000vnd (seat) | PQE: 350,000vnd (seat or bunk-bed) | HP: 250,000/350,000vnđ (seat/bunk-bed). Discounts for seniors, children, disabled

Motorbike Ticket: SD, PQE & HP: 150,000vnd (ticket), plus 80,000vnd (handling in Phan Thiet), plus 70,000vnd (handling in Phu Quy) = Total: 350,000vnd per bike

Websites: SD: www.superdong.com.vn | PQE: www.puquyexpress.vn | HP: www.facebook.com/hungphat26

*All times are subject to change; check websites, call, or ask at the office for current schedule

The boat to Phu Quy IslandSchedules & times are subject to change, but in general you can guarantee at least one sailing each day

[Back]


GETTING AROUND PHU QUY ISLAND:

Getting around Phu Quy Island is relatively easy: the distances are short, the road network pretty good, and the terrain mostly flat:

Transport on Phu Quy Island, VietnamPhu Quy Island is perfect for motorbikes or bicycles, but walking is also very rewarding


By Motorbike, Bicycle & on Foot: With its extensive network of good, quiet, paved lanes, Phu Quy is ideal for exploring by motorbike or bicycle. The coast road circumnavigates the entire island, with some spectacular vistas, and the inland roads are very lush. Motorbikes can be rented from most of the good mini-hotels and guest houses recommended above. The standard rate is 100,000-150,000vnd per day. Unfortunately, there were no bicycles for rent when I visited, but I hope this will change soon, because cycling would be a marvellous way to see the island. You can, of course, bring your own bicycle or motorbike with you on the boat to the island (see Getting to Phu Quy Island for details). There’s little chance of running out of gas, but if you need to fill up, there are several small gas stations on the island, which I’ve marked on my map.

Because the terrain is generally flat or gently undulating, and the distances are short (the island is only around 8km long and 5km wide), walking around the island is a real possibility. The roads are quiet and there are pathways through the brush, as well as good hikes up to several viewing points (see Hiking & Viewpoints for details).

Riding around Phu Quy Island by motorbikeYou can bring your own motorbike to the island or rent one for around 100,000vnd per day

[Back]


By Boat: There is only one significant outlying island: Hon Tranh. Only a few hundred metres from the southern tip of Phu Quy Island, Hon Tranh has a great beach and can be reached by hired boat (250,000vnd per person; inquire at your hotel). Other than that, there’s good coral around some of the rocky outcrops in the surrounding ocean, which can also be visited by hire boat through your hotel. (See Hon Tranh Islet for details).

Fishing boats on Phu Quy Island, VietnamIt’s possible to hire a boat to take you to Hon Tranh Islet & out to snorkel the reefs: inquire at your hotel

[Back to Contents]


Weather:

Despite being an island out in the East Sea – exposed to the winds and waves – Phu Quy has a pretty good climate. The best time to visit is from December through April, when seas are generally calm, skies clear, evenings cool, and days very warm and sunny. When I first visited, in March, conditions were perfect. From May to November, Phu Quy lies in the path of tropical storms from the east, particularly around September and October. However, the wind is great for kite-surfing, which looks set to be a draw-crowd for the island in the coming years. During the bad weather, the sea can get very rough indeed, and the island feels exposed and fragile (boats are often cancelled in these months). But Phu Quy’s coastline has been secured and shored up in recent years, thanks to the construction of huge embankments, breakers, and harbour walls.

Sunset on Phu Quy Island, Binh Thuan Province, VietnamVisiting during the months January-April should mean the island is warm, dry & the sea calm


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this island and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

[Back Top]

RELATED POSTS:


Related Posts

[Back Top]

The post Phu Quy Island: Travel Guide appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/phu-quy-island-travel-guide/feed/ 2
Son Tra Peninsular, Danang: Motorbike Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/son-tra-peninsular-danang-motorbike-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/son-tra-peninsular-danang-motorbike-guide/#comments Fri, 05 Apr 2019 09:06:35 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=28512 A rugged headland at the northern tip of Danang's municipal beach, Son Tra offers mountains & forests, cliffs & coves, wildlife & centuries-old banyan trees, lofty mountain passes with majestic views & sandy beaches untainted by concrete high-rises.... Continue reading

The post Son Tra Peninsular, Danang: Motorbike Guide appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
First published April 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Every great city needs a great escape. In this respect, Danang is spoiled for choice. Not only does Danang have its wide, sandy beach to the east, the Hai Van Pass to the north, and the Troung Son Mountains to the west, it also has the Son Tra Peninsular, a mountainous headland blanketed in forest with beautiful roads rolling around its contours. A mass of rugged, green land at the northern tip of Danang’s municipal beach, Son Tra Peninsular anchors the city to the ocean, but it also shields it from severe weather from the sea. As Danang’s star rises – fast becoming the ‘Rio’ of Vietnam – Son Tra Peninsular checks the city’s urban sprawl and construction boom, as if to say, ‘Stop! Here the development ends: here be nature, here be mountains and forests, the call of macaques, cliffs and coves, centuries-old banyan trees, lofty mountain passes with majestic views, and sandy beaches untainted by concrete high-rises.’ A world in itself, the Son Tra Peninsular offers all of this and more. By far the best way to explore Son Tra is by motorbike. The roads are good, the distances short, but the rewards huge. In fact, this is one of the most scenic stretches of coast road anywhere in Vietnam. A day or two riding the swirling tarmac on Son Tra Peninsular is definitely one of the best things to do in Danang.

Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamMountains, forests, wildlife, beaches, lofty passes, coast roads: Son Tra Peninsular is perfect for a road trip

[Back Top]


GUIDE: SON TRA PENINSULAR, DANANG


Winding around the peninsular like jungle vines around the trunk of an old tropical tree, the road network on Son Tra is surprisingly extensive. Mountains, coast and jungle are all accessible via the peninsular’s steep and meandering paved roads and concrete lanes. I’ve divided Son Tra’s roads into 3 routes (see the Contents below). However, I highly recommend riding all three of the routes on the peninsular, because they’re all fabulous in their own way. Traffic is light but it can get busy on weekends and public holidays. Although the distances are short it will take many hours to complete the routes because the scenery is so good. You can ride all three routes in one, fairly long, and pleasurable day. But it’s much better to spend a couple of days riding around the peninsular to really soak it all up. Make sure you rent a decent bike, because the gradient is very steep in places and some bikes might struggle, especially with a pillion. On my map I have colour-coded each of the three routes so that they’re easy to distinguish. In the guide below I’ve written a separate description for each of the three routes, including information about things to see and do, places to go, stay, and eat. The best time of year is March-September, when the weather is generally good; October-February can be wet, grey and windy.

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Blue line: Coastal Loop (30km) | Red line: Inland Route (18km) | Purple line: Banyan Extension (10km)


View in a LARGER MAP

[Back to Contents]


About Son Tra & the Routes:

Here I’ve written a few brief paragraphs about the subjects listed below:

Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamSon Tra Peninsular has a good network of scenic roads along the coast & through the hills


Routes & Transportation: As you’ll see from my map above, I’ve divided the roads on Son Tra Peninsular into three colour-coded routes, which you can piece together as you like: the Coastal Loop (blue line), the Inland Route (red line), and the Banyan Extension (purple line). All three routes are highly scenic, fairly easy to navigate (signage is good), and pleasant to ride. Although Son Tra Peninsular is ideal for exploring by motorbike, you could feasibly do it on a bicycle too, but it’d be a real challenge with all the steep ascents. Without your own wheels it’s not as fun, because you won’t have the freedom and independence to go where and when you please. However, it’s still possible: You can hire a taxi or motorbike-taxi (Grab, for example), or rent a car and driver, to take you from Danang or Hoi An and around Son Tra for the day. But, of course, this will be relatively expensive.

Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamMotorbike is the best way to see & get around Son Tra, although you could do it by taxi or hire car

[Back]


Danang & Son Tra: Danang is a great city with a great future – the world is starting to realize this now. But, as the city has made a name for itself, inevitably the population has swelled, visitor numbers have soared, construction has boomed, and the roads are increasingly congested. Son Tra Peninsular is the perfect quick fix antidote when Danang’s metropolitan appeal starts to wear off. Barely 5-10 minutes from downtown, and you’re in the forests, mountains, and beaches of Son Tra. There are Buddhist temples and shrines, high-end resorts and budget beach camping, seafood restaurants and cafes, gardens and museums, beaches and coves, jungles and wildlife, stunning ocean vistas and city views, peace and tranquility, sea breezes and fresh air.

Danang, VietnamThese days, Danang is a big, impressive city, but congestion is on the rise: Son Tra is the perfect escape


Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamNot 10 minutes from downtown Danang, Son Tra has beaches, mountains, forests, peace & fresh air

[Back]


Environment & Nature: Trash, thankfully, appears to be under control on Son Tra Peninsular, and construction has been limited to a couple of high-end resorts, several hastily-built mid-range accommodations, a huge temple complex, and some seafood restaurants. However, there at least a couple of abandoned, half-built resort projects, and new developments planned for the future. But technically, Son Tra is a protected area. You will almost certainly see some wildlife, especially squirrels and macaques (at least I think they’re macaques), and maybe even the famous and endangered red-shanked douc langur. Exotic birds, butterflies and dragonflies are everywhere, and the jungles are full of giant, old, tropical trees.

Banyan Tree, Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamSon Tra is a protected area: an impressive jungle canopy includes giant banyans & wildlife, such as primates


Litter on Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamAlthough trash is generally under control on Son Tra, there’s still litter on some beaches & in some forests

[Back]


Safety & Traffic: Although traffic is generally very light (except on weekends and public holidays), the roads can still be dangerous if you’re not careful. On the narrow lanes, particularly in the north and east of the peninsular, there are some potholed sections and gravel in the corners which is treacherous and easy to skid on. The inland road is extremely steep and it doesn’t take much to lose control. Also, when hiking the pathways through the trees and down to the beaches, it’s very easy to slip and twist an ankle or worse. It might feel safe on the roads, but it’s imperative to ride cautiously. I saw dozens of foreign riders on Son Tra without helmets. This is a bad idea on many levels: Firstly, you’re breaking the law of the country in which you are a guest; Secondly, it’s dangerous (although, perhaps if you can’t be bothered to wear a helmet, you get what’s coming to you); Lastly, if you don’t wear a helmet, everyone will look at you and think you’re an idiot. Increasingly, Vietnamese people see foreigners breaking laws or behaving badly and, understandably, resent them for it. Don’t confirm and encourage this image of foreigners in Vietnam: wear your helmet.

Coast road on Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamTraffic is very light on Son Tra, but the roads are often very narrow & windy with some uneven surfaces

Son Tra was formerly referred to as Monkey Mountain, a name that was popular with Americans during the war. Indeed, Son Tra has long been of strategic importance as the entrance to one of Vietnam’s biggest ports and cities. For this reason, parts of the peninsular are still tightly controlled by the military and off-limits to visitors. I’ve marked such places on my map.

Military radar, Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamSome areas on Son Tra are restricted access by the military, look out for signs forbidding entry

[Back to Contents]


The Coastal Loop:

Blue line | 30km [MAP]

As the Coastal Loop is the longest section of the Son Tra Peninsular motorbike guide, I’ve divided it into two: South and North. Click below to read more:

The coast road, Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamThe Son Tra coast road leads around the entire peninsular, creating an excellent loop


Coastal Loop (South): [MAP]

Description & Places of Interest: I’ve written this description of the Coastal Loop going anti-clockwise, starting from the intersection of Le Duc Tho Street and QL14B. This is an excellent coastal route which circumnavigates the entire peninsular (with the exception of the Banyan Extension, see below). The Coastal Loop is easily completed in a day (it’s only 30km) and there are lots of swimming opportunities and things to see. As a general rule, the coast road in the south of the loop is wide, smooth, and in very good condition; but in the north it’s narrow, a bit bumpy here and there, but paved and very manageable. The south coast has some development, but the north coast is almost completely deserted.

Riding the coast road by motorbike, Son Tra, DanangThe Son Tra Coastal Loop can be completed comfortably in a day with many stops for scenery & swims

As Le Duc Tho Street heads east it meets Hoang Sa Street at the northern tip of Danang Beach. Here, the city’s high-rise hotels fade away, leaving only a collection of private villas, mini-hotels, seafood shacks, and old fishing homes. A small but picturesque fishing fleet clusters in the shallows, sheltering in the lee of the peninsular. Dozens of woven coracles and wooden sampans ride the gentle surf, with Danang’s increasingly modern skyline behind.

Fishing coracles in the sea, Danang, VietnamWoven fishing coracles at the beginning of the Coastal Loop, near the northern tip of Danang Beach

Hoang Sa Street is the name of the coastal road stretching all the way around the southern coast of the Son Tra Peninsular. At first, the road turns east, curling around a rocky bluff past a lake and a marina. After just a couple of minutes, the road twists inland, skirting an attractive casuarina-backed beach. It looks enticing, but the beach is currently off-limits: it looks as though it’s awaiting resort development.

Off-limits beach seen from the coast road, Son Tra, DanangSeen from the coast road, this beautiful beach is enticing but off-limits, probably for resort development

On the inland side of the road, a steep lane leads up to the Dong Kinh Museum. With a fascinating and striking gallery of ancient and traditional art and architecture dating back thousands of years, all displayed in an attractive garden setting, it’s worth stopping by this privately-owned museum for a visit if you have the time.

Just beyond the museum, you’ll see the gigantic white head of Phật Bà Quan Âm (the Lady of Compassion) peaking above the trees. A colossal sculpture, the Lady of Compassion is a Buddhist Bodhisattva (like a saint or deity) and her statue is the focal point of the enormous Chùa Linh Ứng temple complex on the hills overlooking Danang Bay. Accessed via a wide and steep concrete road, the views are superb and the temple complex – dotted with fine sculptures, bronze incense burners, pretty antechambers, a tall, terraced tower, and lavishly decorated pagodas with courtyards filled with bonsai trees – is a compelling place to wander around for an hour or so. Note that you must take your shoes off to enter any of the structures, and if you’re wearing shorts or a sleeveless T-shirt, you will need to cover yourself with the robes provided at the temple entrances. It’s a very popular and busy attraction, but it’s still a very worthwhile place to visit. Entrance is free. Some refreshments are sold inside the complex.

Colossal statue of Ba Quan Am, Goddess of Mercy, Son Tra, DanangPhat Ba Quan Am (the Buddhist Lady of Compassion) is a colossal statue presiding over Linh Ung Pagoda


Chua Linh Ung Pagoda, Son Tra, Danang, VietnamA giant incense burner in front of Chua Linh Ung, a huge complex of temples, shrines & sculptures

Continuing east along the coast road after the Chùa Linh Ứng temple, there are a series of good beaches and bays stretching all the way to Bai Da, near the southern tip of the peninsular. The most developed part of Son Tra, the south coast beaches are backed by jungled hills and great for swimming, watersports, seafood lunches, and general exploration. The road is wide and good, the riding easy and fun, and the views excellent. The beaches can get busy on weekends, but there’s usually only a trickle of daytrippers during the week.

Chua Linh Ung Pagoda, Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamSouth of the Chua Linh Ung Pagoda a series of good beaches stretch to the southernmost cape

The first beach after the temple is Bai Cat, a beautiful, long strip of sand with the colossal statue of The Lady of Compassion watching over it. There’s what looks like an abandoned resort here and another one that also looks rather forlorn but is, in fact, active. Accessed by a steep lane from the main coast road, Bien Dong Resort (0236 392 4464) has a prime location at the centre of Bai Cat Beach. But despite having two swimming pools, a beach bar, and thatched beach huts, the complex as a whole is quite rundown. Even so, it’s not bad value for money if you get one of the cheaper garden view rooms for 700,000 (definitely try to bargain on a weekday). Even if you’re not staying here, you can ride down to the beach for a swim and a drink. The other access point for Bai Cat Beach is at the southern end, where Hoang Da Son Tra is a shack by the roadside with a long pathway leading to the sand. The shack sells a few drinks (with excellent sea views) and you can even negotiate camping on the beach for the night. There are tents for hire and it only costs around 100,000vnd per night. However, it might be a bit tricky if you don’t speak any Vietnamese. Ask the staff in the shack and/or call Ms Châu: 0976 113 969.

Bai Cat Beach, Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamBai Cat is a good beach of wide sand where you can swim in the sea & stay overnight


Bai Cat Beach, Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamBai Cat has camping on the beast & accommodation at the rundown but OK value Bien Dong Resort

The next two bays have been developed to varying degrees. The first is Bai Rang Beach, where a series of at least three separate seafood restaurants, cafes, and beach bars line the sand and rocks. Ho Binh (090 510 1318), Bay Ban (090 357 5584), and Bien Dao (093 581 5811) all have access, via very steep pathways and steps, to a good bit of the beach. They’re all good enough for a lunch stop or a quick dip in the ocean and a fresh coconut, but they can all get pretty busy and have trash lying around. (You might also be able to camp here.) The next beach along is entirely taken up by Son Tra Resort & Spa, which is a nice collection of smart bungalows along the sand. Prices start at around $100 a night.

Bai Rang Beach, Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamBai Rang has several seafood restaurants along the sand & rock beach, all with views over Danang

Bai Nam is the last of the sandy beaches before the road rounds the cape and turns due north, and it’s my favourite of the south coast beaches. A brilliant strip of fine sand with a small cluster of picturesque fishing boats and coracles floating at one end, the swimming here is excellent and there’s not much trash around. Bai Nam is generally very quiet, and it’s particularly good for a late afternoon swim, because it faces due west where you can watch the sun set over the ocean and behind Danang’s impressive skyline. At the western end of Bai Nam there’s yet another abandoned resort project. But at the centre of the beach, Vườn Tôi (090 586 8535) offers some food and drink, and fishing and snorkeling excursions. They also allow camping on the beach here, but I was told it’s difficult for them to accept foreign campers. Out in the bay, several floating restaurants serve fresh seafood. At the southern extreme of Bai Nam, Truong Ngoc (097 430 3709) has food and watersports – it’s based on the rocky shores of Bai Da.

Bai Nam Beach, Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamBai Nam is the best of the beaches on the southern coast, with fine sand & good swimming


Bai Nam Beach, Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamFrom Bai Nam Beach you can watch the sunset behind Danang’s rising skyline

After rounding Mui Sung Cape, the coast road glides above the waves, opening up good viewing spots. Take some time to stop by the road and sit under a tree to admire the views over the cliffs and out the sea. The Hoang Sa coast road ends at the Bai Bac intersection. Turn left here, past the tennis courts, and then take a sharp right (due north). This road leads behind the ultra-luxurious Intercontinental Sun Peninsular Resort (which has the lovely Bai Bac Beach all to itself) and begins the northern section of the Coastal Loop (see below).

View from Mui Sung, Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamAfter rounding Mui Sung Cape the road opens up to big views of the eastern peninsular

[Back]


Coastal Loop (North) [MAP]

Description & Places of Interest: Once past the Intercontinental Resort, the northern coast road soars above the sea, slicing through dense jungle. This side of Son Tra Peninsular is remote, undeveloped, and very peaceful. The jungle canopy shimmers with life. There’s a good chance of seeing some wildlife darting out of the foliage and across the road, including primates, birds of prey, and squirrels. Although the beaches here aren’t really accessible – because they’re very rocky and far below the road – it’s a thrilling ride along a deserted, narrow, concrete-slab lane.

Intercontinental Danang, Sun Peninsular Resort, VietnamAfter the Bai Bac intersection, the coastal loop passes the Intercontinental Resort & heads north


Son Tra Peninsular, north coast road, Danang, VietnamThe northern coast is remote, wild, rugged: there’s a good chance of see some wildlife here

As the northern coast road ducks in and out of the jungle, past an intersection connecting it with the Inland Route, the mountains of the Hai Van Pass become visible across Danang Bay to the north. Jutting out to sea and often topped with wispy clouds, the Hai Van Pass is one of the most famous roads in Vietnam, and has long been a geographical, cultural, and climatic boundary. The views are terrific and there’s rarely anybody riding this section of road, except for small groups of wildlife photographers with lenses pointing into the canopy, hoping to catch a glimpse of the endangered red-shanked douc. (Because the road is steep and cut out of the mountainside, landslides are possible on this section, especially if there’s been heavy rain recently.)

Son Tra Peninsular, north coast road, DanangThe northern section of the Coastal Loop is often deserted; the views over Danang Bay are excellent

When the road starts to wind due south, back in the direction of Danang, it runs high above the ocean. Empty and quiet, it’s perfect from 4pm onward, when the sun starts to set on Danang Bay, igniting the city’s high-rises and making silhouettes of the mountains of the Hai Van Pass. A lane leads down to the beaches of Bai Da and Cat Vang, both of which are lovely crescents of sand, dotted with large boulders and backed by jungle. Very scenic and good for swimming, there is, however, quite a bit of picnic trash left behind by visitors.

Bai Da Beach & Cat Vang Beach, Tien Sa Port, Son Tra Peninsular, DanangAt the northwest of Son Tra Peninsular Bai Da & Bai Vang are glorious beaches hidden down lanes

As the road continues south, hugging the mountainside above the sea, it reaches the naval base at Tien Sa. Turn right at a military check-point and steeply down to join Road QL14B (Yet Kieu Street). It’s worth turning right again at the main road and continuing to the western tip of the peninsular, where Tien Sa commercial port is located, as well as Tien Sa Lodge, which offers fairly soulless but comfortable, good-value rooms with sea views and a beach. Also near the beach here is the fascinating Y Pha Nho Cemetery. This colonial graveyard holds the tombs of 30 French and Spanish soldiers who died here in 1858, during France’s first attempt at landing and conquering Vietnamese mainland territory. The French were defeated in Danang, and shifted their focus south, to Saigon, which they took and gradually gained control over most of the rest of Vietnamese territory, including Danang. After a visit to the cemetery, turn back on Road QL14B to the intersection with Le Duc Tho Street, thus completing the Coastal Loop.

Tien Sa Port, Son Tra Peninsular, DanangThe coastal loop ends as the road descends to a naval base & Tien Sa commercial port

[Back to Contents]


The Inland Route:

Red line | 18km [MAP]

Description & Places of Interest: In many ways, the Inland Route is the most spectacular of the roads around Son Tra Peninsular. This is because it leads very steeply up the mountainsides, cresting and following a ridge, and curling all the way to stunning peaks and viewing platforms with immense vistas. At only around 18km in total, it’s a relatively short route, but the scenery is so good that you’ll probably spend an hour or two riding it. I’ve written the following description going from west to east, but you can ride the Inland Route is either direction, and there are several access roads connecting it with the Coastal Loop.

Son Tra Peninsular, Inland Route, Danang, VietnamThe Inland Route is probably the most spectacular of the roads on Son Tra Peninsular, with lofty views

Starting at the northern tip of Danang’s long beach, take Le Van Luong Street due north. It’s not long at all before the road starts to twist and turn. After a short ascent, Vườn Tre Bamboo Garden is on your right. (The entrance is easy to miss: look out for a bamboo gate in the hedgerow.) A peaceful, contemplative place filled with the sounds of trickling water from mountain streams and cicadas in the brush, Vườn Tre is lovely for a short break with a coffee or a book. The garden is dotted with clumps of different kinds of bamboo with signs identifying each one. There’s a pond full of large fish, and lots of benches and chairs to sit in the shade and while away an hour or so,. Pathways lead through the bamboo groves, between fruit trees, and over rocky streams where little Buddhist shrines decorate the scene.

Vuon tre - Bamboo Garden - Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamThe first stop on the Inland Route is Bamboo Garden, a shady, peaceful & contemplative place

From Bamboo Garden the inland road slaloms up the forested mountains of Son Tra. At an intersection linking the Inland Route with the Coastal Loop, fantastic views over Danang city and beach start to open up through the trees. Things just get better and better as the road continues to ascend through tight switchbacks to Nha Vong Canh viewing platform. Located at an intersection just beneath the strange, golf ball-shaped radar installations, the views here are mind-blowing. Looking due north across Danang Bay, you can see the famous Hai Van Pass, whose mountainous spine juts out into the infinite blue of the East Sea. Tankers cross the bay, moving in and out of Tien Sa Port, scoring the ocean with trails of wash. (The road up to the radars is a dead-end and accessed is prohibited.)

View of Danang from Son Tra Peninsular, VietnamAs the Inland Route twists up the mountainside, massive views open up back over Danang city & beach


Son Tra Peninsular has many viewing points, Danang, VietnamSeveral viewing platforms, such as Nha Vong Canh, offer great photo opportunities over the mountains

Moving east along the inland road, a dramatically undulating section passes by an old helicopter landing pad and another link road to the Coastal Loop, before climbing extremely steeply to Ban Co Peak viewing platform. As high as the road goes (not including the restricted access roads), Ban Co Peak is reached via a flight of winding steps up to a rocky summit where the views are staggering. Looking over the jungled spine of Son Tra Peninsular, out to the East Sea where the Cham Islands look tiny in the vast ocean, and down over the entire length of the long beach stretching from Danang’s impressive skyline past the Marble Mountains to Hoi An, it’s difficult to comprehend the scale of the view you’re seeing. The peak is windy, fresh and cool. The only adornments are viewing gazebos and an incongruous, but nonetheless attractive, sculpture of Confucius leaning on his staff pondering his move in a game of chess. Just beyond Ban Co, a dirt lane leads to a clearing overlooking Danang, which, apart from being a good view point, is a parasailing launch site. After this the road surface deteriorates before an intersection, where your only choice is to descend, because the other two lanes are restricted access.

Statue of Confucius, Ban Co Peak, Son Tra, DanangAt Ban Co Peak, an incongruous but attractive statue of Confucius presides over the big views


Ban Co Peak, Son Tra, Danang, VietnamBan Co Peak is the highest point that visitors can reach: there’s a viewing platform with huge vistas

From Ban Co Peak, the road narrows for a 7km descent all the way down the mountains to the Bai Bac intersection, near the Intercontinental Resort. Known as Monkey Pass, this is probably the steepest road on the peninsular. It’s in decent condition and very quiet, but be careful in the tight, blind corners. The ride is spectacular, very green, lofty, and fresh. A slip road halfway down leads to a dead-end but with good views. At the Bai Bac intersection you can link up with the Coastal Loop going north or south, or the Banyan Extension route going east.

The inland mountain road, Son Tra Peninsular, DanangThe Inland Route descends from Ban Co Peak via the steep, narrow, forested & highly scenic ‘Monkey Pass’

[Back to Contents]


The Banyan Extension:

Purple line | 10km [MAP]

Description & Places of Interest: This route covers the densely forested easternmost section of the Son Tra Peninsular. Remote and beautiful, I’ve called this route the Banyan Extension, because both of the lanes in this area ultimately end at grand, old banyan trees that have stood here for many hundreds of years. Spreading east of the Bai Bac intersection, this route is a scenic extension (it’s only 10km) to the Coastal Loop and the Inland Route.

The Grand Old Banyan Tree, Son Tra, DanangThe Banyan Extension covers the densely forested easternmost section of Son Tra Peninsular

By turning due east at the Bai Bac intersection, a narrow, highly scenic, concrete-slab lane glides through lush foliage above a high cliff. Along the road is a very steep and rocky pathway down to Bai Da, a dramatic, boulder-strewn beach that’s scenic but not great for swimming.

The 'Banyan Tree Extension' road, Son Tra Peninsular, Danang, VietnamTurning due east at the Bai Bac intersection the road winds around a high cape with ocean views

Turn right at the ‘Banyan Intersection‘ and continue due east until the road dead ends. This is where The Banyan Tree is located (or ‘Banjan Tree’ as it’s written on most maps). This extraordinary tree is apparently over 800 years old. With dozens of thick, twisted roots, trunks and vines plunging from its canopy to the earth, it looks as though the tree were anchoring itself to the ground so as never to be uprooted or cut down. It’s a beautiful sight. Just think what this banyan tree has seen: the fall of the Hindu-Buddhist kingdom of Champa; the rise of the Vietnamese as they pushed south into what is now central Vietnam; the arrival of Arab, Chinese and Japanese merchants on wooden junks; the first Europeans – the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Spanish, the English – and, of course, the French as they landed in Danang in 1858 to begin what would become their most profitable colony in ‘Indochina’; and then the long wars for independence throughout the 20th century. Through all this, the banyan has stood, and continues to stand, on this green, rugged and breezy peninsular, looking out to sea at the comings and goings of peoples, civilizations, and empires.

The Grand Old Banyan Tree, Son Tra, DanangThe Banyan Tree near the eastern tip of Son Tra is grand, beautiful & very old: over 800 years


The Son Tra Peninsular road, Danang, VietnamThe eastern tip of Son Tra Peninsular is covered in forest: it’s breezy, cool & fresh: few people come here

Back at the ‘Banyan Intersection‘ you can take the lane heading due north. This leads to the most remote part of the peninsular. At a fork in the road, turn left for a mysterious, overgrown lane leading to a dead end (but there are some good views from it). However, if you continue straight at the fork you’ll reach the entrance on your right for Tien Sa Lighthouse. A very steep lane leads down to the picturesque lighthouse. Built during French colonial times, in the early 1900s, the lighthouse is small but perfectly formed. For 20,000vnd you can climb the tight spiral stairs up to the top and open a small, concealed door to crawl out onto the deck. The views are good and there’s an appealing sense of isolation here.

Tien Sa Lighthouse, Son Tra Peninsular, DanangTien Sa Lighthouse dates back 100 years to French colonial times: you can climb to the top for views

A bit further along the road, almost opposite the access lane to the lighthouse, is the entrance to Nhat Lam Thuy Trang eco area. A long lane leads through orchid nurseries, ponds, and a wonderful stand of old-growth forest. Rutted pathways lead to a couple of huge old banyan trees, their roots tangled and curled around boulders, forming arches and valleys in their trunks. The most famous tree here is Cây Đa Con Nai (Deer Banyan), so named because its shape resembles a deer. It’s well worth the 10-minute hike through the jungle to get here. There’s a real atmosphere under the canopy, with the breeze through the leaves, and the fresh, peninsular air. If you like it that much, you can rent one of the wooden gazebos over the pond for a night of camping: 500,000vnd. After Nhat Lam Thuy Trang eco area, the paved road continues for a few minutes, leading around a cape with views across to the Intercontinental Resort, before dead-ending.

Cay Da Nai - the 'Deer' Banyan tree, Son Tra, DanangThe ‘Deer’ banyan tree, with its gnarled, twisted roots, is located under an atmospheric jungle canopy


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this peninsular and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

[Back Top]

RELATED POSTS:


Related Posts

[Back Top]

The post Son Tra Peninsular, Danang: Motorbike Guide appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/son-tra-peninsular-danang-motorbike-guide/feed/ 2
Hon Son Island: Travel Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/hon-son-island-travel-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/hon-son-island-travel-guide/#comments Fri, 22 Mar 2019 14:58:46 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=27600 Hon Son Island is a gem. It’s a rugged yet green & exceptionally beautiful isle. With jungle-covered mountains rising from the ocean, peaceful fishing hamlets in picturesque bays, and palm-fringed beaches, Hon Son has got it all... Continue reading

The post Hon Son Island: Travel Guide appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
First published March 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Hon Son Island is one of those places I knew I was going to love before I’d even set foot on it. Lying in the Gulf of Thailand, just over an hour’s boat ride from Rach Gia in the Mekong Delta, Hon Son means ‘Mountain Island’. Rising from the calm, blue sea, giant boulders dot the palm-studded lower slopes as they ascend steeply to several jungle-covered peaks. It’s a rugged yet green and exceptionally beautiful isle. You only have to look at a map to see that Hon Son is close to the Platonic ideal of a tropical island. It’s a gem. My advice is to go right now, because development is likely to be on the horizon, and when it comes it will change the island very quickly indeed. Even now, I get the feeling I should have visited 2-3 years earlier, in order to have seen Hon Son at its very best. Even so, Hon Son is still an off the beaten track destination – very few foreign travellers visit – and there is no doubting the island’s beauty, charm, allure, and huge tourist potential.

Hon Son Island, travel guide, VietnamThe Platonic ideal of a tropical island, Hon Son is a real gem, but mass tourism hasn’t arrived (yet)

[Back Top]


GUIDE: HON SON ISLAND


Below is my full guide to Hon Son Island. I’ve divided this guide into categories, and then several sub-sections within those categories. The best time of year to visit Hon Son is from November to April, when the weather is generally dry and bright, rainfall is light, and seas are calm. It’s also advisable to visit on a weekday, and avoid weekends and public holidays, during which the island can get crowded. Plan to spend at least two nights on Hon Son, if not more. [Note: there are no ATMs on the island: bring cash]

Click on a category in the contents below for more details:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use the relevant links in the following guide to book your accommodation or transportation, I make a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Hon Son Island, Kien Giang Province


View in a LARGER MAP

[Back to Contents]


Location & Background:

Below I’ve written a description of the location and topography of Hon Son Island, as well as some information about the current state of the environment, which is an increasing concern all across Vietnam

Hon Son Island, Kien Giang Province, VietnamHon Son is a small, shapely, well-proportioned island, just a 90 minute boat ride from Rach Gia


Orientation & Topography:

Hon Son (also known as Lai Son) is a perfectly proportioned island. Shapely, circular, rugged, and green, Hon Son is a drop of land in the calm, blue waters of the Gulf of Thailand. Hon Son is in the middle of a small chain of islands drifting west of Rach Gia, a thriving port city on the mainland, in Vietnam’s western Mekong Delta region. There are no outlying islands surrounding Hon Son, but the Nam Du Archipelago is to the west, and Hon Tre Island to the east. Hon Son can only be reached by boat from Rach Gia (see Getting There for details). There’s essentially just one road on Hon Son, which circles to entire island, providing access to good beaches, excellent swimming, and spectacular coastal scenery. A rented motorbike is the ideal way to explore Hon Son (see Getting Around for details). 

Hon Son Island, Kien Giang Province, VietnamRugged & green, Hon Son is sparsely populated with rocky bays, little fishing hamlets & sandy beaches

The island rises steeply from the ocean into a jungle-covered interior, blanketed in coconut palms and other tropical fruit trees. The canopy is broken occasionally where colossal boulders protrude from the foliage, creating natural viewing platforms. In the middle of the southern and northern coastlines, the rocks give way to two perfect, sheltered bays. The island’s main port and village, Lai Son, occupies the southern bay, whereas the northern bay is home to Bai Bac, a sleepy, picturesque hamlet. The southern and northern bays are connected by a steep, narrow, paved road, which curls up, over, and down between the island’s two highest peaks. The third settlement on Hon Son is the fishing village at the western extreme of the island, occupying a flat bridge of land connecting to a round headland, which is the westernmost tip of the island. This is home to a tightly packed community of fishing families and their wooden boats. Although there’s only really one long, sandy beach (Bai Bang) on the island, the multiple bays, inlets, and rocky outcrops are equally beautiful and good for bathing (see Beaches & Activities for details).

Bai Bang Beach, Hon Son Island, VietnamAlthough there are lots of pretty seascapes, Bai Bang (pictured) is one of the few sand beaches on the Island

Tourism is only just beginning on Hon Son: a few years ago, practically no one visited. But the island has grown in popularity, thanks to social media posts, daily fast boat connections from the mainland, and the development of infrastructure, such as guest houses and restaurants. But, providing you visit during the week (it can get pretty busy on weekends and public holidays), the entire island – its hamlets, beaches, bays, roads, and accommodation – is incredibly quiet and peaceful, and utterly beguiling. In fact, in these conditions, Hon Son is right up there with my favourite coastal areas in Vietnam, along with the likes of Con Dao, Cam Lap, and Phu Yen. Of course, things will change, and I’d suggest visiting as soon as possible.

Cafe Sao Bien, Hon Son Island, VietnamAlthough tourism has arrived on Hon Son, it’s still very quiet during the week (but busy on weekends)

[Back]


Environment & Pollution:

As with other small islands, Hon Son is fragile: it only takes one boatload of tourists and the pier is packed; one big resort development and the roads are clogged with trucks and dust; one year of popularity and the beaches are filled with trash. Most of the island is still relatively pristine. The water is clear and glistening, even in the fishing villages and main port. But there are worrying signs. Trash – especially in the form of household plastic, and food and drink containers – is building up in the villages and in the bays. It’s no surprise that the greatest concentration of trash is on Bai Bang, the island’s most popular, most Instagrammed beach. The island’s landfill, by the coast road on the western side, is growing at an alarming rate, just as we’ve seen happen on Phu Quoc and Con Dao already with the advent of tourism. There are signs warning about the perils of plastic for the environment and for the island’s main industry: fishing. But standard practice for locals (and, sadly, for many visitors) is to discard everything straight into the sea. (For ideas about how to reduce your plastic consumption while travelling in Vietnam read this).

Trash landfill on Hon Son Island, VietnamAs on other islands in Vietnam, trash is a big problem, and increasing tourism is part of that problem

Although there’s no large-scale construction on the island yet, there’s a fair amount of bulldozing and building in the main port and village – mornings are filled with the sound of hammers and drills, and only a few of the old, handsome, little village dwellings remain standing, crumbling into the rumble that lies around them. It’s difficult to know how things will pan out, and what can be done to prevent the degradation of the environment. Hon Son’s environment – its beaches, forests, and ocean – is what attracts tourists to the island; but it may well be tourism which ends up playing a large role in destroying it.

Construction on Hon Son Island, VietnamLarge-scale construction hasn’t arrived on Hon Son, but many of its older buildings has been demolished

[Back to Contents]


Beaches, Bays & Activities:

There are three main things to see and do on Hon Son Island: explore the main village of Lai Son, take a motorbike around the island on the beautiful, empty coast road, and hike the mountain trails through the lush interior of the island up to Buddhist temples and spectacular viewing points. Although Hon Son doesn’t have the outlying islands that nearby Nam Du Archipelago does, its fishing hamlets have more life and are more attractive; the sea and harbours are cleaner; tourism is less concentrated; and the island – don’t ask me how – has more character than Nam Du.

The harbourfront, Lai Son, Hon Son Island, VietnamFrom riding the island’s coast road to hiking the interior, there’s plenty to do on Hon Son Island


Lai Son Village & Port:

The island’s main village, Lai Son sits on a bay in the middle of Hon Son’s south coast. The bay is wide and blue, and the village shimmers in the sun, backed by high, forested hills. Along the seafront promenade, two-storey buildings – guest houses, cafes, restaurants – sprawl by the water’s edge (see Accommodation and Food & Drink for details). But the narrow back-streets and alleyways are filled with low-rise dwellings – local shops, businesses, fishing supplies. The village is beautifully situated and fascinating to explore. Again, there’s something of Con Son about it: quiet, slow, unassuming, with shaded streets where you’ll occasionally glimpse an old, ornate, wooden-shuttered shophouse, slowly crumbling into the rumble of other such buildings that lie around it. In fact, you can clearly see that the town’s facade has only recently been transformed: there are tantalizing glimpses of what is was like before – tiled roofs and giant tropical trees.

Harbourfront, Hon Son Island, VietnamThe main village on Hon Son Island lines the harbourfront: it’s a small but interesting & charming place

But there’s still a tangible sense of the past lingering on in the back-streets of Lai Son village. High quality fish sauce (nước mắm) – one of Vietnam’s most prized commodities – is produced here as a home industry, presumably as it has been for generations. These home-scale fish sauce ‘factories’ are simple, brick buildings crammed with neatly organized wooden barrels, 10-feet high, where the anchovies slowly ferment, oozing out their amber juice. The aroma – beautiful and full of subtleties, once you’ve acquired a nose for it – permeates the salty, sun-stroked streets. Inside these homes, it’s like a cliche of a fish sauce TV commercial: three generations of the same family working together on their product; the wispy-bearded, leather-skinned grandfather holding up the nectar to the light to inspect its quality and colour.

Fish sauce (nước mắm) production, Hon Son Island, VietnamOn Hon Son’s back-streets, fish sauce (nước mắm) is produced in ‘factories’ in people’s homes


Alleyways, Hon Son Island, VietnamHon Son village has an attractive, laid-back air and a tangible sense of the past

There’s something melancholy yet magnetic about the village. On the seafront, an abandoned concrete villa – I’m guessing not very old: maybe 1960s or ’70s – sits proudly but forlornly: its staircase, tiled floors, and rooftop ancestor altar and prayer room all open to the elements; weather-beaten and on the verge of collapse. The deeper back streets have only recently been laid: they’re virtually still forest. Huge tropical trees shoot up, ramrod straight, between thatch-and-corrugated iron homes, where dogs and children play in the dust, and men gather for cockerel fighting contests. The daytime is leisure time for many fishing communities in Vietnam, because much of the work happens at night and in the the early morning, with the fishing and sorting of the catch.

An old house, Hon Son Island, VietnamIn the village there are still some old buildings, but they are rapidly being demolished

I found Lai Son village an enchanting place. But it’s a poor place and a changing place, too. There’s a fair amount of construction – mornings are filled with the sound of hammers and drills. Locals I met were friendly but stoical: they know change is coming, and they’re excited and wary. Surely, it won’t be long before tourism replaces fishing and fish sauce as the island’s main industry.

Lai Son village, Hon Son Island, VietnamThe scenic seafront road at Lai Son village is perfect for promenading in the mornings & evenings

[Back]


The Coast Road & Beaches:

A small, quiet, highly scenic, coast road circles Hon Son Island. Also, the southern bay, where Lai Son village is located, and the northern bay, called Bai Bac, are connected by an extremely steep and spectacularly scenic road through the interior of the island. Riding these roads by rented motorbike (see Getting Around for details) and stopping at the beaches and hamlets along the way is fantastic fun. Alternatively, you could walk: the distances aren’t great (the entire loop is under 15km) and there’s hardly any traffic at all. I’ve written the following guide as if travelling clockwise around the island on the coast road, starting from the main village at Lai Son Port.

Bai Bo Beach, Hon Son Island, VietnamFollow the small, paved road around the island’s coast to discover Hon Son’s beaches & bays


The West Coast: Heading west out of Lai Son village, the coast road rolls along the undulating shoreline, passing boulder-studded beaches with coconut palms poking out of the crevices and leaning over the sky-blue surf. Just out of town are Hoang Anh Motel and Doc 3 Tang restaurant (see Accommodation and Food & Drink for details). Bamboo and wild grasses form an arch over the road as you reach the western tip of the island. Before the road veers off the to right, Lang Ong Nam Hai is a fishermen’s temple, offering protection from the perils of the ocean. From the shrine atop the rocks, there’s a view across to the densely packed fishing village which occupies the western wedge of the island. Often referred to as Bai Gieng, this community sits in a fabulous position: on a narrow, flat bridge of land with bays to the north and south, and, to the west, a rugged, lush headland. If you continue straight on into the fishing village, the narrow lanes become a maze of covered alleyways, lined with cramped homes, stores, markets, and street food vendors. There’s even a couple of guest houses here (see Accommodation for details). The local people are very friendly and curious to see visitors. There are fishing boats in both bays and trash too, of course, but it’s not nearly as bad as other fishing communities in Vietnam. I would imagine that this is prime real estate for the development of an exclusive resort, sometime in the future.

Hon Son Island, west coastThe western tip of Hon Son Island is a pretty headland with a tightly packed fishing community


Fishing boats, Hon Son Island, west coastThe western tip is a double bay, both of which are full of wooden fishing boats

[Back]


The North Coast: The north coast is the wildest, least developed, and most beguiling side of Hon Son Island. After skirting behind the fishing village of Bai Gieng, in the west of the island, the coast road runs parallel to the waves for several kilometres. Before opening up to expansive views of the empty northern coastline – with giant, grey boulders laying in the clear blue ocean, like submerged elephants – the road passes by Hon Son’s newly built landfill. A common sight on all of Vietnam’s inhabited islands, this landfill will get bigger with each year. On either side of Hon Son’s northern tip, there are great swimming spots, in the form of Tam Ca guest house and restaurant, and Bai Da mini-resort (see Accommodation and Food & Drink for details). Stop by at least one of these to enjoy the glistening ocean and mesmerizing peace and silence.

Bai Da, Hon Son Island, VietnamBai Da on the north coast is a lovely little cove of sand dotted with large boulders


Bai Da, Hon Son Island, VietnamThe north coast is the least developed, most rugged & most attractive side of Hon Son Island

A little further on, the road rolls over a rise and down the other side to the picture-perfect bay of Bai Bac. Translated literally as ‘Northern Beach’, Bai Bac is really two separate bays. The first is a tiny port with a long, concrete pier, and handful of wooden fishing boats moored up on it. The little hamlet here fronts a pretty, sandy beach which the coast road glides along. Palm trees line the seafront and steep, jungled hills rise up behind the village, where the inland road snakes its way up the contours of the lush interior. Consisting of only a few buildings, the hamlet is sleepy and feels almost abandoned. But surely it won’t be long before development begins: it’s just too attractive to last.

Bai Bac Beach, Hon Son Island, VietnamBai Bac is a gorgeous, sandy bay in the north of the island with a tiny fishing hamlet


Bai Bac Beach, Hon Son Island, VietnamBookended by jungled bluffs, the seafront road is deserted during the daytime & the swimming is good

The second bay is known as Bai Bo, which is just as heart-breakingly pretty and peaceful as the first. There are a couple of simple cafes and guest houses along the seafront (see Accommodation and Food & Drink for details), but again the place feels deserted: almost as if it’s waiting for something to happen. Personally, perhaps selfishly, I like it just the way it is. But I know it won’t stay the same: expect to see some developments along the seafront here within the next year or two. East of Bai Bac and Bai Bo, the road is covered by a canopy of tropical foliage, hiding the ocean from view. But there are a couple of pathways which you can sneak down to get to the water’s edge for a private swim.

Bai Bo Beach, Hon Son Island, VietnamBai Bo is the second bay in Bai Bac, another calm, serene, sleepy hamlet on a beautiful seafront


Chillies drying, Bai Bo Beach, Hon Son Island, VietnamChillies drying: the little community at Bai Bac & Bai Bo is slowly turning from fishing to tourism

[Back]


The East Coast: In many ways, the east coast of Hon Son is the most popular side of the island. This is largely because of Bai Bang Beach (also known as Bai Ban). In the northeast of the island, Bai Bang is a seam of golden sand skirted by hundreds of coconut palms, some of which lean out over the sea, as if to show off their hourglass trunks for all to see. The sand continues for about a kilometer: it really is a beach made for postcards and travel brochures. From the coast road, there are several access points, all of which involve a short but steep walk down to the beach. At the northern end, there’s ongoing construction of a small resort, which causes a fair amount of detritus. The central and southern sections of the beach have a few decent beach bars, shacks, tyre swings, and hammocks under the palms. There’s even a couple of beach rooms to stay the night (see Accommodation for details). However, as undeniably attractive as Bai Bang is, it has suffered – like some many such places in Vietnam – from its newfound popularity. On weekends, for the last couple of years, groups arrive in their hundreds from the mainland to enjoy Bai Bang. But, sadly, many visitors dispose of their garbage – plastic cups, bottles, beer cans, polystyrene boxes – on the sand or in the surf; so too do the beach bars. This has led to a build up of trash and a rancid smell. It’s by no means ruined, but it’s far from pristine. But perhaps all this won’t matter for long, because big resort construction is on the way. It would seem that the choice for beauty spots in Vietnam, such as Bai Bang, is: open to the public and free for everyone to visit, but badly treated and strewn with trash; or gobbled up by high-end resorts intended only for the wealthy, but kept clean and free of garbage.

Bai Bang Beach, Hon Son Island, VietnamBai Bang, in the east of Hon Son Island, is very attractive but tainted by litter & slapdash development


Bai Bang Beach, Hon Son Island, VietnamBai Bang Beach has several cafes on the sand & swings under the coconut palms

A little further south along the east coast is Rai Ca Homestay. An intriguing little spot under the trees by a boulder-strewn beach, Rai Ca is a very cheap, very local, rather rustic, backpacker hangout. It’s friendly and quiet, and the water supply for the shared bathrooms comes straight from the mountain springs in the island’s interior (see Accommodation for details). Continue south along the coast road and you’ll see a sign for Bai Xep Beach. An attractive, shady bay, bursting with coconut palms, Bai Xep is famous for its ‘lying palm’. Incredibly, a single coconut palm continues to grow (and bear fruit) even though it is completely prostrate, lying horizontal on a boulder in the ocean. Needless to say, this is a popular selfie spot. But the beach is nice, too, and there’s a little guest house here, called Cay Dua Nam (The Lying Coconut Palm) – see Accommodation for details. Also, a bizarre sight from this beach is the dozens of electricity pylons in a line out at sea, stretching all the way to the horizon, bringing power to Hon Son Island from the mainland.

The lying coconut tree, Hon Son Island, VietnamThe ‘lying coconut tree’ at Bai Xep is a palm that continues to grow despite being horizontal to the ground


Electricity pylons in the sea, Hon Son Island, VietnamOff the southeast coast of Hon Son Island, electricity pylons stretch out to sea all the way to the horizon

[Back]


Hiking the Interior:

The interior of Hon Son Island is lush, mountainous, and very beautiful. There are two ways to access the interior: by motorbike via the Xuyen Nui Road connecting the southern and northern bays; or on foot via the hiking trail to Ma Thien Lanh view point, east of Lai Son port. Both are rewarding experiences, offering marvellous views over the entire island. The interior road runs north from Lai Son port, up and over the jungled hills to the northern bay at Bai Bac. The road is narrow but paved and smooth. It climbs very steeply into the hills, where tropical fruit trees grow in abundance. The views are fantastic. Try to go in the morning or late afternoon, when the light is low and the colours are rich.

The mountain road, Hon Son Island, VietnamThe mountain road on Hon Son winds steeply into green hills, connecting the south & north bays

The trailhead for Ma Thien Lanh is in the backstreets east of Lai Son village. Look for the signs saying “Đường lên Đỉnh Ma Thiên Lãnh“. The trail is a mixture of pathways and stone steps; very steep at times. You’ll need at least half a day to hike there and back. Alternatively, it’s possible to spend the night along the trail at one of several nhà nghỉ (guest houses) in the hills. This is highly recommended as it means you can walk at a leisurely pace, enjoy the views, stop for a picnic, and spend the night and morning looking out over fabulous views. In particular, Lamien Lodge & Homestay offers atmospheric accommodation in cabins on bamboo stilts (see Accommodation for details). The pathway is lined with Buddhist shrines, temples, and sacred grottoes, which are interesting and mysterious, and engulfed in clouds of incense. But most thrilling of all are the gigantic boulders that lie embedded in the hillsides, forming tables of rock on which to stand and survey Hon Son Island in its entirety, as if from the perspective of a drone. The views are breathtaking.(Note that the red line marking the trail on my map is just a rough outline; it’s not accurate. But the trail is fairly easy to follow once you are on it.)

View from the mountain, Hon Son Island, VietnamSeveral hiking trails lead into the jungle & up into the mountains where there are stunning views


View from the mountain, Hon Son Island, VietnamHon Son Island’s interior is covered in jungle & giant boulders that make perfect viewing platforms

[Back to Contents]


Accommodation:

As most travellers will need to spend a night in Rach Gia, on the mainland, before catching the ferry to Hon Son Island the next morning, I have included accommodation information for both Rach Gia and Hon Son below:

Bai Da Guest House, Hon Son Island, VietnamHon Son Island has good, cheap guest houses, mini-hotels & a few beachfront options, too


Rach Gia Hotels: Rach Gia has a decent range of hotels and guest houses, including a string of cheap nhà nghỉ (local guest houses) conveniently located near the port, on Nguyen Cong Tru Street. Of these, Kiet Hong Hotel ($10 a night | MAP) is large, clean, and reasonably priced, just across the street from the boat pier. Rach Gia also has a couple of good value mid-range accommodations, including Hoa Binh-Rach Gia Resort ($40 a night | MAP), which is set in lush grounds only a short distance from the port. Rooms are well-equipped and come with balconies and bathtubs, and there’s a swimming pool, too. For more Rach Gia hotel options check Agoda.com.

The port at Rach Gia, VietnamIn Rach Gia, there are decent accommodation options conveniently located near the ferry port (pictured)

[Back]


Hon Son Island Hotels:

Most places to stay on Hon Son Island are in the budget or mid-range category. There are now dozens of guest houses in the main village, along the seafront by the boat pier, and a few fairly basic, but impressively-located, mini-resorts scattered around the island, too. Like most islands in Vietnam, accommodation rates are around 30% more than you’d expect to pay for similar standards on the mainland. Remember that weekends and public holidays can be extremely busy with domestic travellers. If possible, try to avoid travelling to Hon Son Island during these times. But if you can’t avoid it, make sure you book accommodation in advance.

Bai Da Guest House, Hon Son Island, VietnamMost of the accommodation on Hon Son is in the main village, but others are spread across the island


Hon Son Port & Village: Hon Son’s main village is the hub for accommodation on the island. The seafront road is lined with good mini-hotels. And, in the narrow back-streets, are scattered cheap nhà nghỉ (guest houses) and nhà trọ (even cheaper hostel-like digs, often in local homes). There are plenty to choose from: below are just a few of my favourites.

Note: an issue with most hotels in Lai Son village is the public address system, which starts at 5am for morning exercises and the day’s news. It’s very loud and lasts for an hour:

• Thuy Duong Hotel [MAP]; Tel: 094 673 7123 | 350,000-600,000vnd: This new, four-storey townhouse has a super location right on the seafront promenade, to the west of the boat pier. Its spotless rooms are typical of all good Vietnamese mini-hotels. The cheaper rooms are at the back, but the best rooms are at the front, with balconies and superb sea views – it’s well-worth paying more for this.

Thuy Duong Hotel, Hon Son Island, VietnamThuy Duong is an excellent mini-hotel with terrific views over the harbour from the front rooms

• Lam My Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 094 415 5525 | 250,000-400,000vnd: In the back-street right behind Thuy Duong Hotel, this substantial guest house has clean, bright rooms at a reasonable price. And the harbourfront road is just a skip away.

• Yen Linh & Hong Ngoc [MAP]; Tel: 094 658 8052 & 0124 470 6036 | 200,000-400,000vnd: These two guest houses are both located at the quiet, eastern end of the harbourfront. They’re both good, clean, reliable options.

• Sky Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 094 213 0014 | 300,000-450,000vnd: Perched on high ground just behind the main town, a handful of decent little guest houses line this quiet back-street. Sky Guest House is new, clean, stark but comfortable. Some rooms have views over town and towards the ocean. It’s right next to the rather unexpected Sky Beer Club, which is worth dropping into on weekends for a bit of fun (although noise might be an issue if things are really pumping).

• The Manh Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 094 383 9217 | 200,000-350,000vnd: Directly opposite the Sky Beer Club, this attractive guest house has good, simple rooms, a friendly family, and a quiet location (except on weekends, when noise spills out from the beer club).

Lai Son town, Hon Son Island, VietnamLots of good guest houses & mini-hotels line the attractive seafront road & back lanes in Lai Son village

[Back]


Around Hon Son Island: Along the coast road which circles the island, several small resorts cater to the growing number of domestic travellers who visit Hon Son from the mainland. Most of these accommodations are right by the sea, occupying fantastically scenic and deserted patches of land. The places below are reviewed in order as if going clockwise on the road around the island, starting from Hon Son’s main village:

• Hoang Anh Motel [MAP]; Tel: 096 740 7898 | 350,000-500,000vnd: Just west of town, Hoang Anh Motel sits on a rocky outcrop. A two-storey villa with rooms looking out to sea and back towards town, the position is fabulous. Large boulders roll into the clear, blue ocean, and the sunsets from here are gorgeous. Rooms are bare but clean.

Hoang Anh Motel, Hon Son Island, VietnamJust west of town, Hoang Anh Motel is perched on a scenic rocky cape: an ideal position

• Doc 3 Tang Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 090 433 8338 | 300,000-500,000vnd: A bit further along the road, Doc 3 Tang is a simple guest hosue with colourful rooms arranged in a line along the roadside. There’s a good restaurant and access to the sea.

• Lan Quynh Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 090 667 7772 | 200,000-300,000vnd: At the western-most point of the island, there are several local guest houses in the intriguing, cramped fishing village that occupies the land here. Lan Quynh is a good, cheap place to stay if you really want to soak up the atmosphere of this fishing community.

• Tam Ca Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 016 580 54509 | 300,000-500,000vnd: Clinging to the rocks with the entire northwestern coastline all to itself, Tam Ca is quiet, scenic, and excellent value for money. Clean, simple rooms open onto a shaded terrace looking over the ocean. There’s also a great restaurant here.  Swimming off the smooth boulders below the guest house is wonderful.

Tam Ca Guest House, Hon Son Island, VietnamIn the remote, quiet north of the island, Tam Ca has a fabulous position on the rocks & has cheap rooms

• Bai Da Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 093 433 6565 | 300,000-800,000vnd: Close to the northern tip of the island, Bai Da (Rocky Beach) is a trendy mini-resort in a highly scenic bay. Aimed at Vietnamese youth from the mainland, Bai Da has a range of rooms clustered tightly within the confines of a rocky bay studded with big, photogenic boulders. Selfie-taking is a major activity here, especially on weekends. But during the week it can be empty and absolutely lovely. There are cabins on the beach, huts on the rocks, hammocks in the waves, and wooden platforms under the trees. There’s a bar, too.

Bai Da Guest House, Hon Son Island, VietnamOn its own sandy, boulder-strewn cove, Bai Da Guest House is a popular place with a variety of rooms

• Beach Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 093 904 9747 | 200,000-300,000vnd: On beautiful Bai Bo Beach, in the northeast of the island, Beach Guest House is right on the seafront road, just a hop from the waves. Rooms are simple, clean, good value for a couple of very quiet nights on this dreamy coastal stretch. Note: at the time of writing (February 2019), a new collection of brick bungalows were being constructed next to Beach Guest House, and looked as if they would open very soon.

• Bai Bang Beach guest rooms [MAP]; 300,000-500,000vnd: The picture-perfect beach of Bai Bang, on the east coast of the island, is a bit of a mess at the moment, due to ramshackle, temporary structures, and the construction of newer, larger resorts for the future. There are a handful of beach huts, restaurants, and bars along the sand. One or two of which have a couple of OK rooms for rent right on the beach. There are bound to be developments on this beach in the very near future.

View from Beach House Guest House, Hon Son Island, VietnamAt the eastern end of Bai Bo Bay, Beach Guest House has direct access to the gorgeous coast in this image

• Rai Ca Homestay: [MAP]; Tel: 094 111 1131 | 50,000-150,000vnd: Just a couple of minutes south of Bai Bang on the coast road, Rai Ca is an interesting little place. Accessed via stone stairs through the trees, over boulders, and into a clearing by the sea, Rai Ca is a small collection of bamboo and corrugated iron cabins under towering coconut palms. Dorm-style rooms are very simply with wooden bunk beds. Shared bathrooms and showers take their water straight from the mountain stream. It’s very cheap and a good budget experience. You can also camp here for next to no money at all.

• Cay Dua Nam Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 0128 784 1893 | 250,000-400,000vnd: Known as Bai Xep, this beach, in the southeast of the island, is famous for its leaning coconut palm, which has bent so far that it’s now flush with the ocean, supported by a large, flat boulder. Yet the palm tree is still alive. Cay Dua Nam (which means ‘Lying Palm Tree’) is a little arrangement of colourful rooms set just back from the surf. The rooms are fine and there’s a little restaurant, too. The coconuts on this beach have to be regularly harvested so that they don’t fall on the guests’ heads. Out at sea is the surreal sight of dozens of marine electricity pylons, leading all the way to the horizon, bringing power from the mainland.

Rai Ca Homestay, Hon Son Island, VietnamA rustic, cheap, friendly homestay by the sea in the west of the island, Rai Ca is good for a tight budget

• Lamien Lodge & Homestay [MAP]; Tel: 090 555 64560 $20-$30: In the jungle-covered hills to the east of Hon Son’s main town, a few guest houses dot the boulder-strewn slopes along the pathway leading to the Buddhist temples and Ma Thien Lanh viewing point. Lamien Lodge occupies a stunning position, halfway along the path, with views over the island and out to sea. Sunrise and sunset here are spectacular. The cabins and rooms are built on bamboo stilts over the boulders (which looks a bit precarious). Rooms are cosy but fairly pricey for what you get – but you’re paying for the position, really: and it’s worth it.

Ma Thien Lanh peak, Hon Son Island, VietnamOn the scenic hike up to Ma Thien Lanh viewpoint, Lamien Lodge offers panoramic views of the island

[Back to Contents]


Food & Drink:

Most of the dining options on Hon Son Island are in the main town of Lai Son, where the port is. But there are a few other places to eat scattered elsewhere around the island. The presence of informal seafood restaurants, street food vendors, and cafes mean that you won’t go hungry or thirsty on the island, but it’s not exactly a thriving food scene, especially when compared to the mainland. Prices are a bit inflated, but this is normal for islands in Vietnam. There was also a bit of gratuitous overcharging by locals looking to cash in on the early stages of tourism on the island, which is understandable.

Fresh seafood, Hon Son Island, VietnamHon Son’s food & drink scene consists of street food vendors, local seafood restaurants & cafes


Lai Son Port & Village: Along the harbourfront road, in Lai Son village, there are several cafes, seafood eateries, street food vendors, and noodle shops. There’s not a lot to eat, but it’s enough to satisfy  you for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In the evenings, it’s very pleasant to stroll along the waterfront, picking up food here and there: a freshly grilled fish – eaten with green herbs and self-wrapped in rice paper; a marinated chicken wing grilled over coals; a plate of shellfish grilled with a squeeze of lime; a fresh coconut – from one of the island’s thousands of palm trees; and maybe even a few shots of coconut liquor (rượu dừa), available at Rai Ca Cafe & Restaurant. In fact, Rai Ca also serves a great local breakfast of bún nghệ – fish noodle soup with a colourful, turmeric broth – and, for dinner, barbecued seafood. It’s popular with locals and visitors alike.

Bún nghệ - turmeric noodle soup - Hon Son Island, VietnamBún nghệ – turmeric noodle soup – is an island speciality, served at Rai Ca Cafe on the harbourfront road

In the evenings, food vendors cluster on a dedicated patch of quayside near the centre of the seafront road, in front of a crumbling concrete villa. Around the ‘town square’, there’s a good noodle joint, called Như Ý, where you can try bún quậy, a fish noodle soup that’s a regional speciality. In the narrow back-streets of Lai Son village, the aroma of fermented anchovies pervades the cool, shaded alleyways. This is the result of Hon Son’s thriving local fish sauce industry. Small-scale but high quality, fish sauce is still essentially a home industry in Lai Son village: the barreling, fermentation, and bottling still take place inside the front rooms of people’s homes. The doors are open to the street, and it’s fascinating to peer in at the big, wooden barrels, and take big gulps of the fishy air.

Wooden barrels of nước mắm (fish sauce), Hon Son Island, VietnamAged barrels of fermenting anchovies; the components of Vietnam’s famous nước mắm – fish sauce

A couple of coffee shops and juice stalls line the seafront road, including Duby Coffee. But Sao Bien Coffee is a better choice, occupying a prime position on the rise at the eastern end of the harbourfront road, with views back over town. Oh, and there’s a rather unexpected beer club in the back streets on the hill behind town, which is worth checking out: Sky Beer Club.

Sao Bien Cafe, Hon Son Island, VietnamSao Bien Cafe, at the eastern end of the harbourfront, has a prime location & a good selection of drinks

[Back]


Around Hon Son Island:

Around the island, most of the mini-resorts and guest houses have restaurants attached to them. Of these, the most notable are Doc 3 Tang (with good seafood and seaviews, as well as a locally famous goat hotpot – lẩu dê) and Tam Ca (a superb place to eat with a long list of local specialities, including free-range island chicken steamed with garlic – gà hấp tỏi). There are several food and drink shacks on Bai Bang Beach that serve snacks and refreshments, but none that I visited were outstanding. In the tightly packed fishing community in the west of the island, there are a handful of food vendors along the alleyways, serving cheap and tasty snacks, especially in the mornings and late afternoons – great fun if you’re a foodie.

Street food, Hon Son Island, VietnamAround the island there are a few restaurants & good street food in the fishing community to the west

The beach bar at Bai Da mini-resort is a good place for a refreshing drink, or stop in for an iced coffee at Song Tuyen Cafe on Bai Bac Beach. Bai Bang has a few sprawling beach bars which, along scenically located, aren’t anything special. Lastly, try a Hon Son coconut. The island is covered in tall, spindly palm trees. Coconuts for drinking are sold all across the island – ask for a trái dừa lửa uống liên – a fresh, small, reddish coconut with sweet water, drunk straight from the nut. A good place to try one is at Cay Dua Nam, where the coconuts are regularly harvested from the trees to prevent them from falling and injuring customers.

Bai Bang Beach, Hon Son Island, VietnamBai Bang Beach has several scenically positioned cafe-bars on the sand: try a Hon Son coconut

[Back to Contents]


Getting There & Around:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use the links & search boxes below to book your transportation to Hon Son Island, I make a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

Hon Son Island is reached by boat from Rach Gia, a large, coastal city in the southwestern Mekong Delta region. There are several transportation options to get to Rach Gia, either from Ho Chi Minh City or from other hubs within the Delta region. And there are several ferry companies that operate boat services between Rach Gia and Hon Son Island. Once on the island, you can hire motorbikes to circumnavigate Hon Son:

Fast boat between Rach Gia & Nam Du Islands, VietnamThe only way to reach Hon Son is by boat from the mainland city of Rach Gia, in the Mekong Delta


GETTING TO RACH GIA: 

By Bus: From Ho Chi Minh City, there are buses throughout the day (and night) to Rach Gia. Journey time is roughly 6 hours, and the general level of comfort on sleeper coaches is pretty good, unless you’re particularly tall. Prices are around 150,000-250,000vnd ($7-$10) one-way. Futa is one of the more popular buslines, but there are many others serving this route, including the Thien Thanh Limousine, which offers lots of space and comfort. Note that buses to/from Ho Chi Minh City usually stop at Rach Soi Bus Station, just south of central Rach Gia. Rach Gia is also connected to most other urban hubs within the Mekong Delta and beyond. There are regular bus services, for example, to Can Tho and Ben Tre (leaving from Rach Soi Bus Station), and Ha Tien (leaving from Rach Gia Bus Station, near the centre of town). You can check bus services, schedules, prices, and book tickets on Baolau.com or use the search box below.

[Some travel agents in Ho Chi Minh City, Rach Gia & Hon Son can arrange bus-boat packages: the ticket includes transfers from the bus station to the boat pier and on to Hon Son Island]

Thien Thanh Limousine Bus, Saigon to Rach GiaMany buses run between Saigon & Rach Gia, but Thien Thanh Limousine is the most comfortable

By Air: It’s also possible to fly between Ho Chi Minh City and Rach Gia Airport on a daily propeller flight operated by VASCO, a part of Vietnam Airlines. There’s one flight a day in both directions departing in the early morning. Flight time is less than 45 minutes. One-way airfares are around $1,200,000vnd ($50). You can check flight schedules, prices and book tickets on Baolau.com or the Vietnam Airlines website.

Search & Book: Type your travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for buses & planes between Ho Chi Minh City & Rach Gia:


Propeller flight between Saigon & Rach Gia Rach Gia can be reached by bus (from Saigon & Mekong Delta hubs) or by air (from Saigon only)

[Back]


GETTING TO HON SON ISLAND:

By Boat: The only way to get from the mainland to Hon Son Island (Lại Sơn) is by boat. All boats leave from Rach Gia Port. There are currently at least three different ferry companies operating fast boat passenger services to Hon Son Island. These are: Phu Quoc Express (don’t be fooled by the name), Superdong, and Ngoc Thanh.

The duration of the voyage varies slightly depending on the boat and weather conditions, but in general it takes 1.5 hours between Rach Gia and Hon Son. The boats are comfortable, with coach-style seating, outside deck-space, life jackets and rafts. At present, there are no car ferries to Hon Son, but this is a good thing, because the island is far too small and fragile to accommodate large vehicles. However, at the time of writing, it is possible to take your motorbike or bicycle on the Phu Quoc Express fast boat, but not on any of the other services.

Fast boat between Rach Gia & Nam Du IslandThere are at least three different ferry companies operating fast boat services to Hon Son Island

Sailing schedules change depending on the season, time of week, weather, and demand. Therefore, the times (and prices) given below should be treated only as an indication: they are not set in stone. But, in general, you can guarantee at least one sailing a day (usually in the morning) in both directions from each of the three main boat operators. There are almost always extra sailings on weekends and during high season (December-April).

Fast boat between Rach Gia & Nam Du IslandAll the fast boats have comfortable, air-conditioned, coach-style cabins and outside deck space

Buying tickets is fairly straightforward. There are ticket offices for all boat operators at the port in Rach Gia and along 3 Tháng 2 Street near the intersection with Trần Thủ Độ Street, which is very near Rach Gia Port. On Hon Son Island, the ticket offices are around the square directly opposite the boat pier. It’s also possible to book boat tickets through most accommodations in Rach Gia and Hon Son. Booking in advance is advisable in high season, especially if you want to take your motorbike. More details (although, again, not necessarily accurate) can be found on the boat operators’ websites (see below) and bookings can also be made through Baolau.com. (Note that in the Baolau search box the destination is Nam Du, not Hon Son. This is because almost all boats to Hon Son continue to Nam Du afterwards).

*Key: PQE=Phu Quoc Express; SD=Superdong; NT=Ngoc Thanh


RACH GIA  HON SON

Departures: 6.30am (PQE), 6.35am, 7.30am (SD), 7.30am (NT) daily*

Duration: 1.5 hours

Passenger Ticket: 150,000-250,000vnđ, discounts for seniors, children, disabled

Motorbike Ticket: around 150,000-200,000vnd (Phu Quoc Express only)

Websites: PQE: www.pqe.com.vn | SD: www.superdong.com.vn | NT: www.ngocthanhexpress.com or BOOK HERE with Baolau.com

*At least one sailing daily by each ferry operator (usually in the morning); extra sailings in high season (November-April) & weekends


HON SON → RACH GIA

Departures: 11.10am (PQE), 12.00pm (SD), 12.20pm (NT) daily*

Duration: 1.5 hours

Passenger Ticket: 150,000-250,000vnđ, discounts for seniors, children, disabled

Motorbike Ticket: around 150,000-200,000vnđ (Phu Quoc Express only)

Websites: PQE: www.pqe.com.vn | SD: www.superdong.com.vn | NT: www.ngocthanhexpress.com or BOOK HERE with Baolau.com

*At least one sailing daily by each ferry operator (usually in the morning); extra sailings in high season (November-April) & weekends


Search & Book: Type your travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for fast boats between Rach Gia & Hon Son:

Fast boat between Rach Gia & Nam Du IslandGenerally, there’s at least one sailing a day in each direction on each of the ferry operators

[Back]


GETTING AROUND HON SON ISLAND:

By Motorbike & on Foot: Although it’s possible to charter a boat from the main pier on Hon Son (or ask at your hotel), there aren’t any outlying islands, so all the boat trip does is circle the island. This is nice enough, but not really worth the trip, especially if you have limited time. The best way to see Hon Son Island is by motorbike (or bicycle, but I didn’t find any for rent). If you didn’t bring your own motorbike with you on the boat, they are available for rent (150,000-200,000vnd per day) from most guest houses. There’s only really one road on the island: a figure of ‘8’ which circumnavigates the entire island and cuts straight through the middle of its mountainous interior. The distances are short, the road is good, the views are wonderful, and the traffic is non-existent. (Note that the road through the interior of the island is very steep indeed.) Because the road is so quiet, you could potentially hike around the island. This would be a fairly long, hot walk, but also very rewarding for people who enjoy a good hike. But the main attraction for walkers is the trek up to Ma Thien Lanh, a high boulder-strewn escarpment in the east of the island that’s dotted with Buddhist temples and shrines, where the views are stupendous. The trailhead is on the edge of town near a football pitch. Look for the sign: ‘Đường lên Đỉnh Ma Thiên Lãnh‘. Note that the red line marking the trail on my map is just a rough outline; it’s not accurate. But the trail is fairly easy to follow once you are on it (see Beaches & Activities for details).

Riding a motorbike on Hon Son Island, VietnamIt’s easy to rent a motorbike on Hon Son Island: the roads are small, paved, empty & beautiful

[Back to Contents]


Weather:

Like Phu Quoc, Hon Son Island is best visited in the southern dry season: November to April. During these months, the skies are generally clear, the sea calm, and the colours luminous. However, I personally prefer going during the shoulder months: October/November and April/May. At these times, the weather is still good (but with more of a chance of some rain) and the visitor numbers low, meaning you can enjoy the islands in peace: as long as you visit on a weekday, not a weekend. July to September is the wet season, when prevailing winds from the west bring monsoon rains from the Indian Ocean. The sea can be rough and winds high, meaning that boats to the islands are often cancelled. But this doesn’t mean you can’t visit during these months, and it certainly doesn’t rain all the time. You just need to have time and patience in order to allow for possible cancellations and rainy days.

Hon Son Island, Kien Giang Province, VietnamThe southern dry season, between November & April, is the best time of year to visit Hon Son Island


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this island and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

[Back Top]

RELATED POSTS:


Related Posts

[Back Top]

The post Hon Son Island: Travel Guide appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/hon-son-island-travel-guide/feed/ 12
Sketches of Saigon: 5 Scenes http://vietnamcoracle.com/sketches-of-saigon-5-scenes/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/sketches-of-saigon-5-scenes/#comments Fri, 08 Mar 2019 12:12:13 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=28281 Over the course of a week, I sat & wrote for half an hour on five separate occasions at five random locations in Saigon, and described the scenes as they appeared to me, in the hope of capturing something of the spirit of the city.... Continue reading

The post Sketches of Saigon: 5 Scenes appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
First published March 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | SKETCHES | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Over the course of a week, I sat for half an hour at five random locations in Saigon, and described the scenes in short, impressionistic sketches, in the hope of capturing something of the spirit of the city. All five of the places and times in these sketches are mundane and day-to-day. Yet, in a very Saigon way, they’re all special; and they all hold, somewhere within them, the reasons why I’ve chosen to live in this city for more than a decade. Because, for me, Saigon isn’t defined by the typical ‘sights’ and ‘attractions’: it’s about the minutiae and the moments, the ambiance and the mood, the life and the food, the pulse and the personality, the unseen and the underrated. There’s no checklist for Saigon: better to dive in, soak it up, sense it, live it. Saigon is a city that leaves it all hanging out: uninhibited, gregarious, and irrepressible. Nothing hides – not the beauty nor the horror – it’s all laid bare in the tropical heat, light, sun, and rain. Everything that’s repulsive and magnetic about this city is there for you to experience. These five, sensory collages are written in a similar vein: on the spot, in the moment, in the open, and largely unedited.

Sketches of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

[Back Top]


5 SKETCHES OF SAIGON:


In the following sketches, I make no attempt at being objective. I inevitably imbue the scenes with my own feelings, experiences, history, and opinions of the city. But there’s no conscious attempt at themes, although some come through all the same. I picked the five locations completely at random, whenever I had 30 minutes to spare during the day. I’ve titled each sketch and included the address, date, and time of day at which they were written, and plotted them on my map. However, the locations aren’t important: they’re all simply corners of Saigon. These are not heavily edited pieces. Rather I have kept them loose and free, in the hope that they may retain some of the freshness and fluidity with which they were written. A writing exercise of sorts, but nevertheless a satisfying form of self-expression, and one which I hope captures something of the essence of its subject: Saigon.

Context: It’s the middle of the dry season, not more than a week after the Tet Lunar New Year holidays, during which my parents visited from the U.K and I went on a memorable camping trip with my friend in the Vietnamese countryside. These sketches were written on the week of my return to the city, after over a month of travelling. Back in Saigon, I was expecting to face the inevitable comedown of urban living. Instead, what occurred was a realization of the burgeoning life and vitality of the city: not always positive, but irresistible nonetheless. 

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Location of 5 Sketches of Saigon, February 2019


View in a LARGER MAP

[Back to Contents]


Sketch 1: The Siesta

• Time: Monday, 18 February | 12:32pm 

• Location: Alleyway 36, D2 Street, Ward 25, Binh Thanh District [MAP]

A light breeze takes the edge off this hot, dry, sun-filled noon. On a concrete bench, next to a security guard kiosk, at the entrance to a municipal parking lot, I sit with a double espresso (Vietnamese beans, of course), purchased for a dollar across the street, at one of the many startup coffee shops in this area, staffed by Vietnamese students.

It’s bright and blue and the leaves are out on the trees around the parking lot and the narrow road it fronts: a flame tree, a tamarind, a tropical almond, a copperpod, and an Indian Milkwood. The breeze lifts their canopies lightly. It’s hot, but not sultry or suffocating. Rather it’s a dry, clean heat with a sharp light that brings out the vibrancy of the tropical colours. The dappled sunlight falls in pools on the asphalt, broken by asymmetrical shadows cast by the leaves, like the fur on a tabby cat, transitioning from amber to brown to black.

The guard in the security hut, a man of about 60 with a kind-looking face, is fast asleep in his hammock; the TV still playing the South Korean soap opera that sent him into a slumber. Before his nap, he slapped me on the back and made polite conversation: Where are you from? What do you do for a living? Why are you sitting here? I reply and ask if he minds my being here: Not at all, he says and slips into his hammock.

Sketches of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Things are quietening down after the lunchtime rush. The students at the cafes, noodle joints, and rice eateries on the shady backstreets are peeling away: it’s their siesta time. This is a student area, between several universities and high schools. There are thousands of black-haired young people – the girls and women dressed in long, flowing, white ao dais; the boys and men in blue shorts, pants, and white shirts. They huddle and chat in the shade of the trees, gossiping around plastic tables dotted with iced sugarcane juice; sucking the sweet water and carving the milky flesh from coconuts; digging into polystyrene boxes of steaming rice. Workmen, too – labourers, garbage collectors, electricians, plumbers, and a few suits from the local offices – perch at the roadside eateries, satisfying their midday hunger before their rest.

The security guard has awoken and informed me that’s he’s popping out for some food. Off he scoots on his old Honda Dream motorbike, leaving the TV on and the door wide open: I guess I’m in charge until he comes back.

Now everything has stopped. The students, the workers, the motorbikes, even the breeze has stopped. This is the middle of Saigon – a metropolis pushing 10 million people – and yet, at this hour, I can hear the rustle of the tropical almond leaves as they skate across the asphalt beneath my bench. The ‘siesta’ is the quietest of the daylight hours in this city. Slow, lazy, and lovely: 12.30pm-2.30pm.

My coffee’s finished: it’s time for my siesta too.

Sketches of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Sketch 2: The Park

• Time: Tuesday, 19 February | 11:27am 

• Location: Thanh Nhien Park, Thai Thuan Street, An Phu Ward, District 2 [MAP]

A cockerel crows somewhere behind me – as it always does in Saigon. No matter where you live in this urban sprawl, you’re never more than a matter of metres from a real, live rooster or hen. Clouds, like pork floss, drift overheard, blowing westward toward the phallic spike of Landmark 81, the newly-built skyscraper, currently the tallest building in Southeast Asia. I’m sitting on another concrete bench, this time in a small, run-down park, in an otherwise affluent neighbourhood of District 2. The sad pond and fountain in front of me – a bonsai arrangement of Halong Bay-style limestone karsts with moss growing over the rocks – looks as though its ornamental days are over. On the other benches, and on the grass, are delivery boys on their lunch break, motorbike taxi drivers engaged with their phones, and high school girls licking at ice creams before they drip onto the tarmac pathways.

The heat and humidity is mild for Saigon: perhaps 30°C and 60% humidity. The trees (copperpods, eucalyptus, longans) and flowers (birds of paradise, orchids, spider lilies) look healthy, green and full of colour, not yet wilting in the relentless dry season weather. In a corner of the park, a children’s fairground is packed up under a blue tarpaulin. Disney-esque characters and animals adorn plastic-coated rides and slides and bouncy castles. It won’t get going until after sundown, when the temperature cools down.

Sketches of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Several high-rise apartment blocks – built ten years ago, before the boom in luxury condos – encircle the park to the west and north. But the other sides are lined with private villas with walled gardens, pitched roofs, and little classical European flourishes: columns, capitals, balustrades, wrought iron gates, cherubs. They’re attractive and peaceful, but somehow lonely. These are million-dollar plots of land.

A gentle hum of engines – cars and motorbikes – plays in the background, but you could hardly call it noise pollution, at least not by Saigon standards. There’s a sweet floral perfume from the copperpods, whose yellow flowers are falling to the grass with each breath of wind. Birds, too, are part of this urban soundscape – I can identify at least half a dozen different calls. Take away the traffic noise, and I could be in the forest.

My espresso finished, it’s time for me to utilize the open-jawed, penguin-shaped trash cans and ride off to my midday tennis session on two nearby courts, in yet another lush, neat, new middle-class neighbourhood.

Sketches of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Sketch 3: The Channel

• Time: Wednesday, 20 February | 3:16pm 

• Location: Thi Nghe Channel Promenade, Hoang Sa Street, Da Kao Ward, District 1 [MAP]

Mid-afternoon – between the lunch hour nap and the rush hour chaos – Saigon is winding up again. With sleep in its eyes, the city, having charged its batteries through the hottest part of the day, comes alive again as the sun starts its slow descent. My bench – obviously a popular one, judging by the huge dent in the middle – is on the banks of the Thi Nghe Channel, whose tea-coloured waters flow backwards; away from the Saigon River into which it should flow. The tide is high – hence, I suppose, the channel’s counterflow – and the murky waters carry a musty scent that’s familiar to me. It reminds me of the muddy banks of the Thames – the river that flows through my home city – where Dad and I went of Sunday mornings to forage in the mud for treasure (what we found were cow bones and an old barge lantern).

Dead leaves and sprigs of water hyacinth float on the channel’s rippled surface. It’s pretty and serene, especially with the trees lining the waterfront promenade. From where I sit – on that promenade – it’s hard to believe that, only a few years ago, this waterway was tar-black, with an oily viscosity. It was, effectively, an open sewer. Even now, when the tide’s out, the blackness reappears and the foul smell assaults the nostrils of all who pass by. But, in the sunshine, on an afternoon in the dry season, the Thi Nghe Channel is refined, genteel, Parisian even: a scene reminiscent of Seurat’s ‘La Grande Jatte’. When the sun sets and the temperatures cool, gondolas will punt guests along the water for romantic, candle-lit dinners, with live musical accompaniment.

Sketches of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

A light breeze comes off the channel – why is there always a breeze by water? – cooling my perspiring arms. Men of a certain age ramble up and down the paved promenade in trainers, shorts, and singlets: power walking, slow jogging, swinging their arms above their heads, and cooling themselves in the fountains of water from faucets hidden in the grassy verge to water the trees.

In a sweep of my eyes, from west to east, I can see a mosque-like temple with a bulbous tower; a line of classic Saigon ‘matchbox’ townhouses, all in different styles and colours – one of them painted pink with a rooftop statue of a hooded Jesus; a utilitarian apartment block in front of the sumptuous curves of the luxurious City Garden condos; the bored-grey and monotonous architecture of Vinpearl complex; and, of course, the needy finger of Landmark 81 tower. All this against a flat blue sky with a couple of confused-looking clouds.

The wheels are beginning to roll on Hoang Sa Street behind me; the volume cranking up, the engines purring, horns beeping, and the tension of the city tightening as it approaches the dreaded hour of 4:00pm. Rush hour is fast approaching, and I have no intention of being part of it. I shall leave this place and make a beeline for home before the hour of congestion commences.

Sketches of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Sketch 4: The Alleyway

• Time: Thursday, 21 February | 9:10am 

• Location: alleyway 124, Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street, Ward 21, Binh Thanh District [MAP]

I’ve followed a line of coloured lanterns to a T-junction in a nest of tangled alleyways. Strung along the centre of the narrow paved alleys, the lanterns promise to lead me to a pagoda. But I’m content to sit on a plastic chair, lying unclaimed in front of a diminutive home enmeshed in a cage of metal rails and chicken wire fencing. A smiling local (an ‘auntie’) peers out from her own caged dwelling across the alley. Is there a pagoda around here, auntie? I ask. Her frown turns to a smile, and her skin ripples around the mouth and eyes as she describes the Linh Son Pagoda at the end of the trail of lanterns, on the banks of a canal. For 70 years she’s lived in her turquoise-painted abode, complete with corrugated iron roofing and a small balcony with an ancestor altar and a couple of green plants.

Down the corridor of alleyways, the sceptre of Landmark 81 skewers the white-hot sky, bearing down on the fragile alley-homes, which will surely not last the next 10 years of urban development in this area. Like the hutongs of Beijing, they will be demolished for more of the condos that are already encroaching on this network of narrow lanes.

Sketches of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

“Hot, fresh bread!’ comes the call from a travelling vendor pedalling his load of baked goods through the alleys. A shop nearby sells dried ginger; next door, there’s an old-man’s café where they sip tea, play majhong and smoke the hours (and years) away; dogs guard each home, scolded by their owners for barking too much, too loud; cats are present only in the scent of their pee. But the alleyways are clean and cool and shady. Peaceful and characterful. The soundscape is chattering voices and the whirring of spokes – not engines; the crowing of fighting cockerels, groomed and in their coops; the fluttering of laundry in the breeze; babies crying. I don’t want this to disappear. But look around, and the average age is beyond retirement: everyone here was born long before 1975. They are not representative of a population of nearly 100 million, whose average age is just 30. This neighbourhood, this lifestyle, this generation is coming to an end.

Vietnamese flags adorn each house, the red background and yellow star standing out against the blue wooden shutters and white-washed walls. The alleyways here are less than two metres wide, their paved surface cracked and uneven; bumpy like the gnarled trunk of an old tree.

A pneumatic drill starts whining. Down the alley, a construction team sets to work. The peace is broken; I shall wander off now. As I move to leave, old auntie  wheels her mountain bike out of her home. Off she pedals. Where are you going, auntie? To the market, she replies.

Sketches of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Sketch 5: The Intersection

• Time: Saturday, 23 February | 6:42pm 

• Location: Tran Quang Khai & Tran Khac Chan streets, Tan Dinh Ward, District 1 [MAP]

I’m sat at a cafe at the corner of a 5-way intersection in District 1. The traffic – about 70% motorbikes – is relentless, but neither chaotic nor unpleasant. In Saigon, traffic is a phenomenon. I’ve always felt that traffic is the city’s number-0ne attraction. It’s unique: you don’t find the same volume and intensity in other big cities. Foreign visitors, and even Saigon residents, like to sit and watch – admire even – the traffic: how it weaves and flows, clogs, coalesces and dissipates, rises and falls with the tides of the day. I’ve been to other busy cities, other ‘great’ cities, but it’s never the same. Saigon, at rush hour, is so obviously the centre of the universe. In its own way, Saigon traffic is one of the wonders of the modern world. And where I’m sitting now is a pretty good vantage point.

The hum of engines is constant. Having written all the previous sketches in quieter corners, I’m finding it difficult to concentrate in this noisy scene. But it’s somehow comforting to watch. That’s another thing that Saigon does so well: the life-affirming presence of strangers together in the same space. Essential to this feeling is the fact that the people in the traffic are visible: they’re on motorbikes, not in cars; outside, not inside. As such, there’s an intimacy to the traffic: you can see the expressions on peoples faces, smell the perfumes – even the shampoos – of drivers and passengers alike: it’s open, al fresco traffic. Put everyone in cars – which is increasingly happening in Saigon – and the ‘community’ of the traffic disappears behind glass.

Sketches of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The intersection is treeless. In place of tree trunks there are concrete pylons, dripping with wires and cables, growing up and hanging down like epiphytes and vines in a jungle. Look around and I get a good cross-section of a typical Saigon high street: a South Korean fast-food joint with a children’s party taking place behind its glass windows; an English language centre, savagely lit with white lights in the bare classrooms; a butcher’s shop specializing in Chinese-Macao-style marinated roast duck and pork, the windows hung with dripping sides of meat; a bleak-looking skincare centre covered in grey pollution; a popular wrap-and-roll-style Vietnamese restaurant, where the tables are bedecked with a dozen varieties of fresh herbs, and families gather on metallic tables for informal meals; several fashion boutiques, phone accessories shops, a sunglasses store, a massage parlour, and the Vietnamese coffee chain where I’m sat. That’s another of Saigon’s wonders: the density of life and commerce – it’s crammed with stimuli. And music, of course, is a constant feature of any Saigonscape. In the background now, Whitney Houston is hitting the long, high notes of ‘I Will Always Love You’.

In need of a bathroom break, I ask the woman sitting at the table next to me, if she minds looking after my stuff – laptop, phone – while I nip to the toilet. She agrees. It’s about a thousand dollars’ worth of equipment. Would I have done the same in London? I hope so, but I’m not sure.

Although this is my last intended sketch, I’m finding it hard to concentrate. This, I fear, is a common symptom of living in Saigon: the distractions – good and bad – are so ubiquitous it’s difficult to focus. I’ll go now and find some dinner – it’s been a long day teaching English to children and I’m tired. The kids at the party in the fast-food franchise across the street (I might have taught some of them earlier today) are jumping around, wielding inflatable balloons shaped as swords. Even the burger joints have life and merriment in Saigon. You can’t deny the burgeoning life of this city: it’s charged with energy.

Sketches of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


[Back Top]

RELATED POSTS:


Related Posts

[Back Top]

The post Sketches of Saigon: 5 Scenes appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/sketches-of-saigon-5-scenes/feed/ 8
Sustainable Travel: Single-Use Plastic in Vietnam http://vietnamcoracle.com/sustainable-travel-single-use-plastic-in-vietnam/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/sustainable-travel-single-use-plastic-in-vietnam/#comments Mon, 18 Feb 2019 02:06:19 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=27831 By making some simple changes to way I travel & live in Vietnam, I'm trying to reduce the amount of single-use plastic I consume. Here's my experience.... Continue reading

The post Sustainable Travel: Single-Use Plastic in Vietnam appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
First published February 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

PREAMBLE | GUIDE | COMMENTS | RELATED POSTS

If you’ve travelled or lived in Vietnam, you’ll have noticed how much plastic there is: both in daily use, and scattered across the cities, towns, villages, countryside, beaches, forests and waterways. Almost everything, it seems, comes in a plastic container, cup, box, or bag – sometimes all of these in one, like a Russian doll: a plastic cup, in a plastic carry bag, with a plastic straw, for example. Much of this plastic is single-use: it’s used once, then thrown away. What’s more, when it’s thrown away, it’s often simply discarded on the streets, on the sidewalks, on the beaches, in the seas and rivers, and in the forests. Even when plastic is thrown into a bin, its destination is, more often than not, a landfill, where it sits smoldering under the tropical sun, while slow flames attempt to burn it away, releasing toxic fumes. Some plastic is recycled. This is a global problem, but the visible build-up of plastic in Vietnam’s cities, countryside, and waterways over the years I’ve been living here is shocking and very apparent. Individuals, corporations, governments – we’re all to blame for the mess we’re in and responsible for redressing it. Recently, like millions of people around the world, I’ve made minor attempts at reducing the amount of single-use plastic I consume during my travels and my daily life. This is only a beginning, but I think it’s worth sharing my experience so far. The idea is to make my life and travels in Vietnam just a bit more sustainable and environmentally friendly with some simple, easy, cheap, and, in my opinion, aesthetically pleasing, adjustments.

Sustainable Travel: Single-Use Plastic in Vietnam

[Back Top]


GUIDE: TRAVEL & SINGLEUSE PLASTIC


In this article, I’ve written about some of the changes I’ve made, or am making, to the way I travel and live in Vietnam. As mentioned in the introduction, these changes are very simple, very minor, and still very new to me. But, it’s been an interesting experiment so far, and I’d like to share my experiences. I’ve organized the following article into several sections. Click a section from the contents below to read more about it.

Please note: I encourage discussion in the comments section at the bottom of this page. But, if you want to point out that the resources & approaches laid out in this article are counterproductive, a waste of time, or cause more problems than they solve, please do so in a way that’s not patronizing, condescending, rude or inflammatory. Keep it focused, polite and to the point: that way, you may enlighten me (and other readers & travellers) so that I may learn something new or change the way I do things. Any comments that don’t come up to these standards will not be published.

CONTENTS:

A waste dump, mostly plastic, on a Vietnamese islandAn informal landfill by the ocean on a Vietnamese island: most of the trash is single-use plastic

[Back Top]


Travel & Sustainability:

Travel isn’t a particularly sustainable hobby or profession. A flight alone is a huge carbon footprint, and then there’s all the other petrol-fueled transportation along the way. Single-use is a staple of the traveller’s lifestyle – the drinks in plastic cups by the roadside, the polystyrene boxes and plastic cutlery for take-out food, all the plastic, single-use items in hotel bathrooms: toothbrushes, combs, sachets of shampoo and shower gel, vanity kits. But I genuinely think travel can be a force for good. For me, personally, it really has broadened my world view: my social and intellectual context has grown as a direct result of travel. What and who I care about has transformed, and continues to change, as a direct result of travel. I wouldn’t have thought about certain things – issues, peoples, problems – without travel. Among these is the environment. Without travel, I don’t think I would have seen, felt, or understood the impact and affect of, for example, logging, deforestation, industrial pollution, fishing, agriculture, and single-use plastic, to name just a few. In my life so far, I’ve not been an eco-warrior, but travel has increasingly turned me into an eco-worrier. I don’t consider travel to be passive, destructive, or just about taking. I think travel can be constructive, instructive, and enlightening. By cutting down on my personal consumption of single-use plastic, I’m just acting, finally, on something that has constantly confronted me over the years I’ve been travelling in Vietnam: personal trash and how it’s discarded.

Travel broadens the mind & doesn't need to be high impactTravel broadened my world view & increased my awareness of many issues, including the environment 

[Back to Contents]


Products I Use:

Below is a list of some of the reusable and sustainable items I’ve started using on a daily basis in Vietnam: both in my home city, Saigon, and during my travels across the country. As mentioned before, these are just small, simple changes, but they have had a significant impact on reducing the amount of single-use plastic I consume each day. What’s more, it’s been relatively easy to integrate these products into my daily routine, and I’ve enjoyed using them and have even found them superior in many ways to the less sustainable options I previously used (see Advantages and Disadvantages).

Disclosure: I have no affiliation with the products or companies mentioned in this article. My content is always independent: I do not receive payment of any kind in exchange for writing about any company, services, or products.

Click an item from the list below to read more about it:

Sustainable & reusable products for travel, VietnamReusable & sustainable products for daily use are cheap, easy to use & readily available


Reusable Metal Straws:

There are several kinds of reusable straws, all of which are very inexpensive. I choose to use the metal ones, because they are the most robust, long-lasting, practical, easy-to-wash and, in my opinion, stylish of the types available. I much prefer the metal straws over the bamboo ones and other alternatives – they even make drinks, especially cold ones, taste better. I use my metal straw for iced coffee, fruit juices, vegetable smoothies, and gin cocktails. As long as I have my metal straw with me, I don’t use any single-use plastic ones. I also have a little brush for cleaning my straws. (More about reusable straws in Advantages and Disadvantages, and Where to Buy them).

Reusable metal straw, straw-cleaning brush, and cloth pouchI use a purple metal straw: I wash it with a straw-cleaning brush, and keep it in a cloth pouch

[Back to List]


Reusable Plastic Food Box:

My plastic food box is durable, compact, light-weight, and well-sealed. Just like any Tupperware box, it’s great for storing food. I use my plastic food container for take-out meals, especially lunches in Saigon, when I take it to my local vegetarian restaurant, fill it to the brim with veggies, then take it home, empty the contents on a plate, and put two poached eggs on top. With this reusable food container, I no longer have to use the polystyrene boxes that all take-out food in Vietnam comes in (not to mention the plastic bag which holds the polystyrene box). (More about reusable plastic food containers in Advantages and Disadvantages, and Where to Buy them).

Reusable plastic food containerI use a small, durable, easy-to-seal plastic food container that I keep take-out food in

[Back to List]


Hot/Cold Insulating Thermos:

My insulating thermos is well-made, tough, and portable. I chose it carefully so that it’s just the right size for a cup of hot or iced coffee or chilled juice, and it has a hole in the top for my metal straw – very convenient when you’re on the go. It keeps my drinks piping hot or ice-cold for hours. By using my thermos, I’ve cut out all of the single-use plastic cups that take-out coffee, juices and smoothies are served in across Vietnam. (More about my thermos in Advantages and Disadvantages, and Where to Buy them).

Reusable thermos flaskMy thermos flask is sturdy, compact & well-made; I use it for take-out coffees & juices

[Back to List]


Reusable Cloth Bags:

I have two cloth bags: one which I use to carry my thermos and my straws, the other I use for carrying my food box. The bags are soft, light, and fold down very small. When I go out, I put the smaller cloth bag, with my thermos and straws, into the larger cloth bag, with my food box: thus, I have a kind of ‘reusable kit bag’. I also use these bags are alternatives to plastic shopping bags whenever I go to the market or supermarket. Both my cloth bags are easily washed. (More about my cloth bags in Advantages and Disadvantages, and Where to Buy them).

Reusable cloth bags


Reusable cloth bagsI have several cloth bags & handkerchiefs for carrying & wiping my reusable items

[Back to Contents]


Advantages:

Apart from the obvious environmental advantages of using these products (which are huge, even on an individual scale), there are other positive aspects that I’ve noticed, which I’ve explained below. I’ve also included some notes about how to avoid being served single-use items in day-to-day situations, such as at a local cafe or rice eatery. (For details about where to purchase these items, see Where to Buy them).  

Click an item from the list below to read more about it:

Flotsam & jetsam, much of it plastic, on a beach in VietnamFlotsam & jetsam washed up on a Vietnamese beach: much of it is single-use plastic


Reusable Straws:

I like my metal straw. I think it’s an attractive item: it’s hardy but pretty, functional but stylish. I enjoy it as I would a portable gadget or piece of jewelry: I like ‘wearing’ it, using it, sporting it. I feel attached to it, as I might feel about a watch or a ring or any item that one wears on a daily basis. What’s more, it works perfectly. Being a straw might seem a simple function, but somehow my metal straw performs that function better than any other straw I’ve used. The cold metal is satisfying on my lips: it actually makes cold drinks – iced coffees, fruit juices, vegetable smoothies, cocktails – taste better: more chilled. I love its compactness, portability, utility, durability; I like the colour and the way it shines; I like the fact that it’s my straw: it’s personal, and the more I use it, the more history I have with it, the more personal it becomes. And, of course, I like the way it stops me from using all those plastic straws of the past. How many thousands of single-use plastic straws – all of which are now probably breaking down into particles in the ocean – had I consumed before my metal straw: in bars, coffee shops, juice vendors? It wouldn’t be that difficult to calculate. Take an average day in my home city of Saigon, or a day on the road travelling by motorbike: I probably consume three coffees and three juices daily. That’s at least six plastic straws a day. Multiply that by 365 for the year and again by 13 (for the number of years I’ve been in Vietnam) and we’re talking about tens of thousands of plastic straws: used once, then thrown away. (For details about where to purchase reusable straws, see Where to Buy them).

*Note: In order to make sure you don’t get a plastic straw with your drink, say ‘Tôi không cần ống hút‘ (I don’t need a straw). Most staff or street vendors will understand. However, you need to say it when ordering, because it’s too late once your drink arrives with a plastic straw: if you say ‘no’ then, the straw will likely be thrown away anyway, without any use at all.

Using my reusable metal store in Saigon, VietnamMy reusable metal straw is easy & practical to use at roadside juice vendors, like this one in Saigon

[Back to List]


Reusable Plastic Food Box:

As I’m often on the road, most of my meals are either take-out or eaten at street-side food vendors. Even when I’m in Saigon, I tend to eat out most of the time, because food is inexpensive and very good. I use my plastic food container as an alternative to the polystyrene boxes and plastic bags that take-out food from street vendors or local eateries usually comes in. To do this, when I make my order, I ask the vendor to put the food into my food box: ‘Vui lòng bỏ vào hộp này‘ (Please put it in this box). My food box is a good, compact size, but has plenty of space for my food, and the lid seals perfectly so I don’t have to worry about heat or sauce escaping. Because it’s a Lock & Lock product, the box is extremely well-made and durable.

Using a food container is such a simple thing to do, and yet the benefits, in terms of reducing single-use, are huge. In Saigon, and especially when I’m on road trips, I’ll eat at least three take-out meals and/or snacks each day. For every meal or snack there’s at least one polystyrene box and/or plastic bag. So, in one day on the road, I’d consume around three single-use boxes and bags. Just like the straws, in one year I’d use thousands of these boxes and bags, most which will find their way into a landfill, into the waterways and oceans, or strewn around the country, blown by gusts of wind to some final resting place in the forests and fields, where they will slowly break down into their plastic particles to be consumed, in one form or another, by some living creature, and thus become part of the food chain. (For details about where to purchase reusable plastic food containers, see Where to Buy them).

My reusable plastic food container filled with veggiesI take my reusable food container to my local vegetarian eatery & fill it with veggies & tofu

[Back to List]


Hot/Cold Insulating Thermos:

My thermos is a beautiful thing. Just like my metal straw, my thermos has become quite dear to me. Partly this is because it’s a very good, well-made product that performs its function perfectly: of all Lock & Lock’s products, their thermoses are probably their best-known, and best-loved items. But it’s also partly because my thermos is something that’s always with me. Whether I’m on the road, working in a cafe, relaxing at home, at a bar, teaching English in a classroom, or camping in the forests, my thermos is never more than an arm’s length away. When you think about it, there aren’t many items that you can say that of. It’s also partly because of the nature of its function: keeping liquid hot or cold, keeping me hydrated, and, in some cases, keeping me healthy. I use my thermos for iced and hot coffees, fruit and vegetable juices and, occasionally, for gin cocktails. What’s more, I like the way it looks: sturdy but slender, strong but light-weight, unassuming yet highly efficient, practical, portable, and well-proportioned. It has the feel and look of a well-made object: like it will last forever. I also enjoy drinking from it: for me, it makes drinks taste better; certainly better than from a plastic cup.

To use my thermos, I either fill it before I leave the house, or ask the cafe staff or juice vendors to use my thermos instead of a plastic receptacle: ‘Vui lòng bỏ vào bình này‘ (Please put it in this flask). I’ve never had a problem with this, even at big-brand chains in shopping malls. Like the straws, the impact it’s had on reducing my single-use consumption is massive: before my thermos, I’d used tens of thousands of plastic cups over the years I’ve been living in Vietnam. Now, I just use one: my thermos. (For details about where to purchase a thermos, see Where to Buy them).

Drinking from my reusable thermos flask at a juice vendor, VietnamMy reusable flask is never far from me & gets used every day: like here at a juice vendor in Phan Rang

[Back to List]


Reusable Cloth Bags:

I have three cloths bags and pouches: one for my straws and straw-cleaning brush, one for my thermos and food container, and another large one which fits the other two inside, so I can carry it all together. I also have a couple of cloth handkerchiefs for wiping dry my reusable items after they’ve been washed. My cloth bags are all light-coloured with a slightly textured but soft surface. If they get dirty, they’re easily washed. By using my cloth bags, I can keep all my reusable items together in one place, but separated from one another. This is very helpful: All I need to do is remember my big bag whenever I go out, and then I know I’ve got all my reusable kit with me. Like a wallet or a purse, I know the order of my reusable kit within my cloth bags, and this makes the process of using them much smoother. For example, when I stop by the roadside in Saigon on my motorbike to buy a fresh orange juice from a street vendor, all I need to do is get my bag out, hand over my flask and take out my straw. If you can organize your reusable items efficiently, you’re much more likely to make use of them everyday. (For details about where to purchase reusable cloth bags, see Where to Buy them).

My reusable kit & cloth bags to carry themMy cloth bags have made it easier for me to carry & organize my reusable kit

[Back to Contents]


Disadvantages:

In general, it’s been surprisingly easy to integrate my reusable items into my daily routine, both in Saigon and on the road. Most of the disadvantages below are insignificant and trivial, but nonetheless worth mentioning. Like most new things, after the first two weeks, using these items became second nature: just another part of my day-to-day lifestyle. (For details about where to purchase these items, see Where to Buy them).

Click an item from the list below to read more about it:

Single-use plastic discard in the forest, VietnamPicnic trash left on the forest floor by the sea on a popular Vietnamese beach: all of it is single-use plastic


Reusable Straws:

So far, I haven’t found any real disadvantages to using my metal straw. Washing it (with the specially designed straw brush) is mildly inconvenient: it requires water and 30 seconds of my time. Other than that, it’s just a matter of remembering to bring my straw and brush (in my cloth pouch) wherever I go. But once this became part of my daily routine – just like brushing my teeth or remembering my keys – it was no longer an issue. At first, it was very easy to forget or accidentally throw away my straw: I was so used to single-use straws that my default action was to discard it after use. For this reason, it’s a good idea to buy two metal straws: one as a spare.

I do, however, think that other reusable straws are far less convenient or sustainable compared to the metal straws. Bamboo straws, for example, are nowhere near as durable as the metal ones: they tend to rot, especially on the inside and around the rim, and add an unwanted flavour to drinks. Bamboo straws are elegant and good-looking, but they just aren’t practical. Lemongrass straws, too, aren’t particularly practical: they are essentially single-use (you can’t really use them more than once), and they rarely satisfy the function of a straw: little holes invariably leak most of the liquid bound for your lips before it reaches them. Lemongrass straws are pretty and trendy but, unless I’m missing something, those sprigs of aromatic lemongrass would be put to better use in one of the many broths, stews and marinades that Vietnamese cuisine boasts. (For details about where to purchase reusable straws, see Where to Buy them).

My reusable metal strawI love my reusable metal straw: however, I can’t say the same of other reusable straws, such as bamboo

[Back to List]


Reusable Plastic Food Box:

I can’t think of any significant problems or disadvantages with using my plastic food container. I have to remember to take it with me when I go out, of course, but it doesn’t take that much effort. Just like the reusable straws, it’s a matter of getting into the habit of taking the container with me and making the ‘effort’ to use it. And, just like the straws, it’s necessary to wash the box after use, which is easily done. My box is light and compact, so there’s no problem in carrying it around. It feels a bit weird at first: handing over a food container at local rice eateries, cafes, and even restaurants. But I soon got used to it. And, I’m already finding that more and more people – locals, expats and travellers alike – are doing the same thing: it’s not unusual anymore. (For details about where to purchase reusable plastic food containers, see Where to Buy them).

My reusable kitMy reusable plastic food container has been great so far: I just need to remember to bring it with me

[Back to List]


Hot/Cold Insulating Thermos:

Rather absurdly, the only disadvantage with my thermos is that it works too well. The insulation is so good that hot drinks take too long to cool down enough for me to drink them (I suppose my mouth has a low threshold for heat) and cold drinks stay so cold that they practically freeze. I’m exaggerating, of course. But the real issue, for me at least, is with Vietnamese-style iced coffee. Traditional iced coffee in Vietnam is made with the robusta bean, which has a higher caffeine content and is more bitter than the arabica bean. To cut the bitterness, sugar (or condensed milk for white coffee) is added. Nevertheless, the drink is still very strong – too strong for many Western palates. However, I’ve developed a taste for the subtleties of Vietnamese-style robusta coffee, especially iced, black, with a little sugar. But my enjoyment of this coffee relies on letting the ice melt a bit, thus diluting the bitterness, sweetness, and strength of the drink, whilst also making it a longer drink. When I use my Lock & Lock thermos for this style of coffee, the ice cubes don’t melt at all, leaving me with a short, strong, bitter-sweet coffee. Oh, the agony. (For details about where to purchase a thermos, see Where to Buy them).

Filling my reusable thermos at a juice vendor in SaigonMy local juice vendor, Ms Dieu, making me a carrot juice & pouring it into my reusable thermos

[Back to List]


Reusable Cloth Bags:

My cloths bags do exactly what they’re supposed to do. But I think it would be a good idea for some of the stores specializing in reusable and sustainable products to offer a kit-bag (soft ones and hard ones) designed specifically for carrying an array or set of reusable items. Perhaps they’re already on sale somewhere; I just haven’t found them yet. (For details about where to purchase reusable cloth bags, see Where to Buy them).

My reusable cloth bags and kitIt would be great if there were a range of bags specifically designed for carrying a reusable kit

[Back to Contents]


Where to Buy them:

Shopping for sustainable or reusable products is getting much easier in Vietnam. In the big cities, there are now dozens of stores dedicated to products which reduce single-use plastic and our reliance on daily items that lead to environmental degradation. Such shops are growing in number every year. But you don’t necessarily have to buy reusable products at a specialist shop: Vietnam’s traditional wet markets, and increasing number of department stores, are also good places to look for inexpensive items that can be used over and again (even if that was not their intended purpose).

Disclosure: I have no affiliation with the products or companies mentioned in this article. My content is always independent: I do not receive payment of any kind in exchange for writing about any company, services, or products.

Click an item from the list below to read more about it:

Single-use plastic trash on a Vietnamese beachSingle-use plastic trash washed up with the tide on a beach in Vietnam: a common sight


Reusable Metal Straws:

There’s an increasingly large selection of shops and outlets in Vietnam’s cities that sell reusable straws. Whether metal ones, like my own, or bamboo and other materials, reusable straws are cheap and plentiful in big cities, such as Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Hanoi and Danang. However, outside the larger cities, it may be difficult to find them, in which case you can just keep a regular plastic straw and reuse it as much as possible before it gets damaged. Also, many hotels, guest houses, and restaurants now use (and sell) reusable straws, especially in popular tourist areas, such as Phu Quoc, Mui Ne, Nha Trang etc. As mentioned above, I much prefer the metal straws. These come in a few different colours and generally cost a fraction more than the bamboo ones. Whichever straw you choose, it’s a very small investment, especially for a product that’ll be used countless times and save hundreds of plastic straws in the process. All kinds of reusable straws only cost between 20,000-50,000vnd ($1-$2) each. (You can also buy a straw-cleaning brush, which is very useful, indeed.) Places to buy or order reusable straws include:


My reusable metal straw & thermos flaskThere are now quite a lot of places to buy reusable straws in the big cities, but not in the countryside

[Back to List]


Reusable Plastic Food Box:

Although Tupperware-style reusable plastic food boxes are available in many stores and markets all over Vietnam, I bought mine from Lock & Lock, a high-quality South Korean brand which has outlets in many large shopping malls. Plastic food containers are often sold in sets, but it’s also possible to buy them individually. For my personal use, I only need one, small-sized food container. The Lock & Lock boxes come in all sizes and are extremely well-made, durable and tightly-sealed using easy, quick-release clips. Prices at Lock & Lock represent good value for money, especially considering the quality and durability of the product: expect to pay between 150,000-300,000vnd ($7-$14) for an individual container, depending on the size. Food containers from local markets are a lot cheaper, but the quality is not as good, which means they won’t last as long. Considering the whole point of using food containers is to cut down on the consumption of polystyrene and plastic boxes, it makes a lot of sense to invest in a quality container so that you can use it multiple times before needing to buy a new one.

My reusable plastic food containerLock & Lock make excellent reusable plastic food containers, but they’re also available in the markets

[Back to List]


Hot/Cold Insulating Thermos:

Thermoses are available in many stores in Vietnam’s cities. But, ask a local, and they’ll invariably recommend Lock & Lock, a South Korean brand which manufactures many of its products in Vietnam. Indeed, Lock & Lock items do have the look and feel of genuine quality, and my experience with their products so far has been excellent. In most of Vietnam’s large cities, you’ll find Lock & Lock stores in malls and department stores. In particular, Lock & Lock always have a presence in Vincom shopping malls across the nation. I personally dislike the environment at Vincom centres, but it’s worth facing the crowds at these consumer cathedrals to get your hands on a high-quality Lock & Lock thermos. There are many types to choose from. I like a small, portable-sized thermos with a hinge lid so that I can put my metal straw it in while on the go. (I find that flasks which only have a screw-top lid are impractical for drinking while walking or riding.) The cost of Lock & Lock thermoses is quite reasonable, considering the quality of the product. Expect to pay between 300,000-600,000vnd ($14-$28). This is particularly good value because Lock & Lock thermoses are quality products which will last a long time and be able to be used over and again, which is, of course, the whole point: a one-time purchase for hundreds (if not thousands) of plastic cups- and glasses-worth of hot and cold drinks. That’s what this is all about.

My reusable thermos flaskLock & Lock have a great range of well-made reusable thermoses, available at department stores in cities

[Back to List]


Reusable Cloth Bags:

Cloth bags, or other reusable bags, such as woven bamboo, can be bought in most Vietnamese towns and cities. Local markets often have them for sale and so do many outlets in large department stores. But several shops, especially in Saigon, Hanoi and Danang, that specialize in reusable or sustainable products, have a range of particularly attractive cloth bags for sale. These bags are often designed specifically for carrying their reusable products, such as a cloth pouch for straws, cloth sacks for thermoses and food containers, or larger bags for shopping items. They are well-made, easy to wash, light-weight, and generally inexpensive, ranging from 100,000-300,000vnd ($4-$14). Here are some stores to buy them:

My reusable kitReusable cloth bags can be bought at specialist shops or at markets & department stores


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I think this issue is important and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

[Back Top]

RELATED POSTS:


Related Posts

[Back Top]

The post Sustainable Travel: Single-Use Plastic in Vietnam appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/sustainable-travel-single-use-plastic-in-vietnam/feed/ 19
Nam Du Islands: Travel Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/nam-du-islands-travel-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/nam-du-islands-travel-guide/#comments Fri, 18 Jan 2019 12:08:59 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=27554 A glistening archipelago of small tropical islands off the southwestern coast of Vietnam, Nam Du is beautiful & undeveloped. With mesmerizing beaches & bays, a jungle-clad interior, and over 20 outlying islands, Nam Du is a treat... Continue reading

The post Nam Du Islands: Travel Guide appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
First published January 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Nam Du is a glistening archipelago of small tropical islands off the southwestern coast of Vietnam. Lying in the calm waters of the Gulf of Thailand, travel to Nam Du Islands is still in its infancy. Pioneered by young, Vietnamese ‘Instagram-backpackers’ just a few years ago, Nam Du Islands have been gaining a reputation as an off-grid beach retreat. A good percentage of my younger Vietnamese friends in Saigon have already been there and done it, as have a handful of expats, and some adventurous foreign travellers. But, for at least two of the last four years, since Nam Du opened to visitors, foreign travellers weren’t allowed on the islands. However, that’s all changed now, and Nam Du Archipelago is easily reached by regular ferries from the mainland, making independent travel to these beautiful and undeveloped islands absolutely possible for all nationalities. Nam Du is gorgeous, but already the impact of tourism and development is changing the islands, in many cases for the worse. It’s probably best to visit sooner rather than later.

Nam Du Islands, Kien Giang Province, VietnamNam Du is a glistening archipelago of small tropical islands off the southwestern coast of Vietnam

[Back Top]


GUIDE: NAM DU ISLANDS


Below is my full guide to visiting the Nam Du Islands. I’ve divided this guide into categories, and then several sub-sections within those categories. Note that although all the places mentioned in this guide are marked on my map, the locations may not be exact, because Google Maps doesn’t work properly on Nam Du Islands, as it’s considered a border area, and therefore sensitive. The best time of year to visit Nam Du is from November to April, when the weather is generally dry and bright, and rainfall is light. It’s also advisable to visit on a weekday, and avoid weekends and public holidays, during which the islands can get very crowded. Plan to spend at least two nights on Nam Du, if not more. [Note: there are no ATMs on the islands: bring cash]

Click on a category below to read more about it:

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Nam Du Archipelago, Kien Giang Province


View in a LARGER MAP

[Back to Contents]


Location & Background:

Below I’ve written a description of the location and topography of the Nam Du Archipelago, as well as some information about the current state of the environment, which is an increasing concern all across Vietnam:

Nam Du Islands, VietnamThe Nam Du Archipelago consists of over 20 islands, islets & rocky outcrops


Orientation & Topography:

The Nam Du Archipelago is at the western end of a small chain of islands drifting west of Rach Gia, a thriving port city on the mainland, in Vietnam’s western Mekong Delta region. The Nam Du Archipelago sits in the Gulf of Thailand, consisting of over 20 islands, islets, and rocky outcrops. The biggest of these is known as Hòn Lớn (Big Island), but is also referred to simply as ‘Nam Du’. This island is the centre for most of the tourism and infrastructure in the archipelago. Of the outlying islands, several are inhabited, including Hon Ngang, Hon Mau, and Hon Trung. All of these islands can be visited by tour boat, including some of the uninhabited islands, too (see Getting Around for details). Nam Du Island (Hon Lon) itself can only be reached by ferry from the mainland (see Getting There for details). Tourism is still in its infancy. Indeed, until very recently, foreign travellers weren’t allowed to visit, unless they had a special permit. These days, however, anyone can step on a ferry from Rach Gia and enjoy the Nam Du Archipelago.

Nam Du Islands, VietnamHon Lon is the largest of the archipelago’s islands, and also referred to simply as ‘Nam Du’

The islands are green and forested, yet rugged and rocky; the sea is calm and the colour of blue topaz. I like to think of the archipelago as Vietnam’s Aegean Islands. As such, Nam Du has gained a reputation for outstanding and untouched coastal scenery in recent years. Social media posts have spread the word, particularly among young domestic travellers, and nowadays, weekends and public holidays are crammed with Vietnamese visitors. But Nam Du, during the week at least, is still an off-the-beaten-track destination – you won’t find many foreign travellers here; or many travellers at all for that matter, providing you visit Monday to Friday. Google Maps doesn’t really work on the Nam Du Islands and tourist infrastructure is limited to several dozen local guest houses and a handful of mini-resorts. But, of course, things are set to change. If you really want to see the islands before the onset of major development (just like Phu Quoc Island 10-15 years ago), then you mustn’t delay your trip to Nam Du for long. Even today, one gets the feeling that, just a couple of years ago, the ocean would have been cleaner and the jungles greener than they are now, thanks to the inevitable impact of rising visitor numbers.

Nam Du Islands, VietnamVisitor numbers (especially during the week) are still low & development is small scale

On the main island of Nam Du (Hon Lon), there’s only one road. This narrow, paved lane circumnavigates the entire island, passing almost all of the island’s beaches, attractions, places to stay and eat. It’s only about 15km in total, making it easily ridable by scooter (see Getting Around for details). In general, the western coast of Nam Du Island is more rugged, beguiling, enchanting, and pristine than the eastern. The interior of the island is mountainous and green. On the outlying islands, the main attraction is the white sand beach on Hon Mau, called Bai Chuong, and some fun (if not particularly impressive) snorkeling off the coast of a couple of the rocky, uninhabited islets (see Beaches & Activities for details). As is the case with all islands in Vietnam, prices are generally a bit higher than on the mainland. Food (with the exception of seafood), drink, and accommodation are all around 30% more than you’d expect to pay on the mainland.

Bai Chuong Beach, Hon Mau Island, Nam Du, VietnamOf the outlying islands, which can be visited by boat, the most popular is Hon Mau with Bai Chuong Beach

[Back]


Environment & Pollution:

It should be noted that, as beautiful, undeveloped, and serene as Nam Du currently is, it’s a very small and fragile place. Just like the Con Dao Islands, Nam Du is an extremely delicate environment: you can already see and feel the changes and the impact that tourism and development have had here. Even though the main island has only really seen significant visitor numbers in the last few years, and even though electricity is still limited to generators (which billow black smoke and leak black oil), and daily fast boats connecting the mainland have only been operating since fairly recently, the sea water and the beaches are already beginning to show signs of awful pollution from plastic and oil, and the interior forests are disappearing. But what can you do when everyone on the island suddenly has access to plastic containers and building materials, and hundreds of tourists (on weekends during the high season) come, see, eat, drink, and leave their trash behind?

Power generator, Nam Du Island, VietnamNam Du is small, and its environment is fragile: the advent of tourism is already making an impact

The infrastructure for garbage collection is slowly being implemented – there are trash bins, information signs, a daily trash car. But where does it all go: into a landfill on the island that just gets bigger, smellier, and more toxic with each year, just like those on Con Dao and Phu Quoc islands. The impact of plastic, building materials, and tourism in small, self contained places, like Nam Du, is so apparent and so fast that it’s shocking to see. I don’t have any answers, and, as a continual traveller, I’m obviously part of the problem, but the very least you can do it dispose of your trash responsibly, and, if possible, bring your own reusable containers for food and drink. At the time of writing, a landfill is being carved out of the forest on the western coast: I expect to see its ‘progress’ every time I revisit the island.

Trash on the beach, Nam Du Islands, VietnamTrash, which is a problem all over Vietnam, is building up on Nam Du’s beaches, much of it plastic

[Back to Contents]


Beaches, Bays, Islands & Activities:

There are two main things to do on the Nam Du Archipelago: explore the main island of Hon Lon (also referred to simply as Nam Du), and take a boat trip to some of the outlying islands. If you’re really pushed for time, 24 hours (taking the early morning boat from Rach Gia, and the mid morning boat back the next day) would be sufficient to make a circuit of the main island of Hon Lon. But, ideally, I’d recommend at least 2 days and nights on Nam Du: one to explore the main island; the other to take a boat trip to the outlying islands. With 3 nights, you have plenty of time to see and experience everything this archipelago has to offer. If possible, try not to visit on a weekend or public holiday, when the islands get very crowded. It really is a different (and more peaceful) experience if you visit on a weekday. Note: Although Google Maps doesn’t show Nam Du Island’s roads and landmarks, it’s still possible to use my map as a reference to get your bearings and an idea of the lay of the land. Just bear in mind that the pins and markers are obviously only approximate.

Travelling around the Nam Du Islands, VietnamExploring the main island by motorbike & taking a boat to the outlying islands are the main things to do


Nam Du Island (Hon Lon):

Nam Du’s main island is Hon Lon (‘Big Island’ in Vietnamese). Hon Lon occupies the western flank of the archipelago, with the port village of Bai Tret (also known as Cu Tron) sitting in a bay on the northeastern coast. I’ve written the following beaches and attractions on Hon Lon as if travelling clockwise around the island on the coast road, starting from Bai Tret. The best way to explore the island is by hired scooter (see Getting Around for details). There’s only really one road on Hon Lon, and this circles the entire island. It’s only about 15km in total, so riding a circuit of the island, without any stops, just takes around 20 minutes. But, of course, the whole point is that you do stop: for swims, picnics, exploration, and just to stand and admire the views and peace of the island. 

Hon Lon Island, Nam Du Archipelago, VietnamThe archipelago’s main island, Hon Lon (Nam Du) is rugged, green, and very attractive


Bai Tret Hamlet (Cu Tron): The island’s main port and the centre for food, drink, and accommodation, Bai Tret is built on a very narrow strip of land at the foot of forested hills rising sharply from the ocean. The boat pier is scruffy and busy; a jumble of ticket kiosks, seafood shacks, fishing boats, and cafes. The village itself is a warren of tight alleyways, crammed with concrete homes, eateries, local convenience stores, mini-wet markets, and cheap guest houses. Stock up on food and water here if you’re planning on exploring the island for the day. (See Food & Drink and Accommodation for details).

Bai Tet Village, Nam Du Island, VietnamThe main village of Bai Tret (also known as Cu Tron) is a small cluster of guest houses & shops

The settlement of Bai Tret (Cu Tron) is small but sprawls along the narrow strip of land to the south of the port. A tight, paved lane leads through the covered alleyways as they pass by fishermen’s dwellings, with the occasional humongous banyan tree towering above the corrugated iron rooftops. It looks like a slow, salty, labour-intensive existence: men working the boats and the nets, women keeping the house, the children free to roam the sandy lanes and yards, happily jumping from chicken coup to beach. The locals I met were extremely warm and friendly. It’s only in the last few years that foreign travellers have started to arrive. Mieu Ba Chua Xu is a small, ornate temple beneath a banyan tree, which is worth a quick visit. Trash is a problem, as it is everywhere in Vietnam, but especially in small coastal communities like this one. Common practice is to throw everything in the sea, partly because there is little awareness of the problems of garbage, but partly because local trash collection has only recently been implemented. As connections to the mainland have become better, visitor numbers have risen, the population has swelled, and plastic has become more common. Now, much of the coastline around Bai Tret is clogged with plastic. But, in general, away from the island’s hamlets, Nam Du’s coastline and interior is still clean and pristine.

Drying fish, Bai Tret, Nam Du Island, VietnamFish drying along the harbourfront in Bai Tret: unfortunately, the port is increasingly polluted

[Back]


Southeast Beaches: The coast road begins behind Bai Tret port with a steep ascent before bearing left (due south) along the shoreline. Winding south of Bai Tret, mostly along a precipice several metres above the wash, the road occasionally skirts the ocean, opening up views to rocky bays studded with coconut palms and tropical almond trees. These bays, in the southeast of the island, have a handful of fairly basic tourist developments on them (see Accommodation details). Unfortunately, although the pebbly beaches and bays between Bai Tret hamlet and the southern tip of the island are very beautiful, when you get close, they are rather tainted by trash. These small bays are perhaps best referred to by the names of the accommodations on them: for example, Phong Vu is a very pretty little beach, Bai Soi next door is also attractive, and lastly, Humiso is a wonderful ledge of land near the tip of the island. Stopping by for a drink and to admire the views is great, but you can’t ignore the trash. Some of it washes up and gets stuck on the rocks, but some of it is the result of visitors and locals discarding their waste on the beach. However, at some spots the litter is light enough to ignore, and the water is still very clear, and teeming with fish. Phong Vu is probably the best to swim at, Bai Soi is best for lunch, and Humiso is best for a drink in one of the hammocks overlooking the sea.

Bai Soi Beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamThe southeast coast has several nice, pebbly beaches (this is Bai Soi), but there’s a bit of trash


Humiso beach resort, Nam Du Islands, VietnamHumiso is the nicest mini-resort to date: the position is great, huts are good, but trash is a problem


Humiso beach resort, Nam Du Islands, VietnamHumiso occupies an excellent position near the tip of Nam Du Island looking over outlying islands

[Back]


West Coast Beaches & Interior: The west coast of Hon Lon is the more rugged, attractive, beguiling, enchanting, and pristine side of the island. When the coast road rounds the southern tip of Hon Lon, the beaches, bays, air, sea, and light all appear to get clearer and, well, better. The road soars high above the sea, overlooking several small, lush islands to the south. The first beach on the southwest coast is Bai Cay Nho, a little, pebbly bay with clear blue water. But, just beyond this is Bai Cay Men, easily one of the most picturesque beaches in the country. This glorious white sand beach is fringed by leaning coconut palms, that appear to be kowtowing to the ludicrously turquoise waters. The surf is gentle, there’s a light sea breeze through the rustling palms, and trash (despite Cay Men being the most popular beach on the island) appears to be under control. A couple of low-impact wood-and-thatch huts serve fresh, utterly delicious, local coconuts – ask for a dừa lửa: it’s the sweetest and tastiest I’ve every had – as well as some seafood, light snacks, soft drinks, and beer. Best of all, you can camp here for virtually no money at all: surely, one of the best camping spots anywhere in Vietnam (see Accommodation for details). As you might have guessed, swimming at Bai Cay Men beach is wonderful.

The west coast of Nam Du Island, VietnamThe west coast of Nam Du Island is more rugged, attractive, pristine & beguiling, than the east coast


Bai Cay Men Beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamBai Cay Men is that perfect, brochure beach: blue sea, white sand, coconut palms & excellent swimming


Bai Cay Men Beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamIn the middle of the day Bai Cay Men can be deserted: you might have it all to yourself

As the road continues along the western coast, a couple of concealed pathways lead off to several nice bays of volcanic rocks, that are quiet, secluded and good for a swim or picnic. However, the nearby landfill might put you off. All along the coast, large tropical trees extend above the jungle canopy, looming over the road.

Large tropical tree, Nam Du Island, VietnamGiant tropical trees loom over the coast road along the western side of Nam Du Island


Volcanic rock beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamA couple of hidden pathways lead down to attractive volcanic rock beaches, good for swimming

Further still, towards the northwest of Hon Lon, the roadside temple Dinh Nam Hai Ngu Than is the island’s centre for whale worship. A long tradition going back centuries, whales are worshiped by fishing communities as deities of the ocean, and they are believed to bring good luck to sailors. One of dozens of similar temples along Vietnam’s coastline, Dinh Nam Hai Ngu Than plays host to an assemblage of whale bones, including a near complete skeleton of a whale about 7 metres long, and several baby whale skulls. The temple looks out over Bai Ong Ngu fishing village, which is a beautiful, sheltered bay with a crust of brick, concrete and corrugated-iron dwellings around it. This is the main fishing hamlet on the island. It’s a hive of narrow alleys and friendly locals that’s worth exploring.


Whale skeleton at the whale temple, Nam Du IslandDinh Nam Hai Ngu Than is a whale temple: there’s a large whale skeleton on display


Bai Ong Ngu hamlet, Nam Du Island, VietnamBai Ong Ngu is a tightly packed fishing hamlet whose narrow alleyways are good for exploring

After Ong Ngu village, the road veers east and up a steep slope, which then descends the other side back to Bai Tret port, thus completing the circuit of the island. But, just before reaching the top of the incline, a left turn (due north) rolls steeply downhill to Dat Do Beach. A crescent of sand backed by a lush, hilly headland encompassing a sky-blue bay, the setting is gorgeous. There’s construction of a high-end hotel at the northern end of this bay, but the southern end is accessible. There’s also a rustic guest house, called Kim Xoan (see Accommodation for details).

Bai Dat Do Beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamBai Dat Do is reached via an extremely steep lane: it’s a pretty bay with clear water & green hills

Before the road descends back down to Bai Tret, a small turning on the right (due south) leads up into the jungle-covered interior of the island, all the way to the mountaintop lighthouse, military post, and communications mast. You may not be allowed to continue all the way to the top, but it’s still worth the detour to go as far as you can, because the views down over the entire island – indeed, the entire archipelago – are staggering. Note that the road is incredibly steep, and some bikes might struggle, especially with a pillion. You could walk, too, but it’s a reasonably hot, long, and steep trek. You should be able to get all the way to the entrance of the lighthouse, where you’ll be greeted by a troupe of very nice (and very young) army personnel. You could perhaps try asking to buy a ‘ticket’ to the lighthouse and see if that works, but if not it’s still well-worth the trip just for the views.

Nam Du Island viewing point, VietnamRide up to the viewing point along the road to the lighthouse for majestic views over the island

Back in Bai Tret, the evenings are cool and perfect for walking along the seafront and exploring the hamlet. There’s a refreshing breeze, which blows up a bit of chop on the sea, causing the wooden hulls of fishing boats to bob out of time with each other. Meanwhile, the bright beam from the mountaintop lighthouse keeps circling the archipelago, like the eye of Mordor watching over the islands.

Bai Cay Men Beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamThe west coast is a special place: even beaches as beautiful as Bai Cay Men remain undeveloped

[Back]


Outlying Islands & Boat Trips:

There are around 20 islands, islets and outcrops within the Nam Du Archipelago, encircling the main island of Hon Lon. A few are permanently inhabited, but most are completely isolated. It’s very easy, cheap, and really good fun to take a full- or half-day boat tour from Bai Tret out to the other islands in the archipelago (see Getting Around for details). These boat tours have set itineraries, which generally include the most interesting islands and best beaches. However, you can also hire a private boat for the day, but it will cost you a lot more (upwards of $100).

Boat trips to the outlying islands, Nam Du, VietnamFull- & half-day boat trips to the outlying islands are good fun & very reasonably priced


Hon Mau Island: The most impressive and worthwhile stop on the boat tour itineraries – apart from the simple pleasure of being out on the waves and getting a different perspective on the archipelago – is Hon Mau. In the southeastern corner of the archipelago, Hon Mau is most notable for Bai Chuong Beach, a seam of white sand laid out under coconut palms and umbrella trees, with surf the colour of aftershave. The colours here are intense and blindingly bright. There’s an active fishing community of Hon Mau, but tourism is gradually taking over, with wood-and-thatch shacks and clapboard seafood restaurants setting up along the sand. The rest of the coast is pebble beach with a crust of trash. Indeed, if it weren’t for Bai Choung Beach – whose sands are kept relatively clean – there wouldn’t be much reason to visit to Hon Mau. But the colour of the water is special and the swimming excellent. Boats stop here for at least an hour, so there’s time to bathe in the ocean, drink a coconut, eat a snack, and explore the island on foot. If possible, get here early or in the middle of the day, because late afternoons often get very busy with large groups of domestic tourists, which involve a lot of beer and rice liquor and loud music. It’s all great fun, and you’ll probably get to join in, but it sure does make a mess of the beach. At the southern end of Chuong Beach is the fishing community. Simple wood, brick, and iron-sheet homes line a paved lane. Everything revolves around fishing, and it’s very labour intensive: cleaning and mending the nets, maintaining the boats, salting the fish. Men and women work together in groups, and there are animals everywhere – chickens, ducks, dogs, cats. It’s a friendly, fascinating community to stroll through – a glimpse into a life that, for me at least, is difficult to imagine.

Bai Chuong Beach, Hon Mau Island, Nam Du, Vietnam


Bai Chuong Beach, Hon Mau Island, Nam Du, VietnamBai Chuong, on Hon Mau Island, is a strikingly beautiful white sand beach with turquoise water & palms

[Back]


Snorkeling & Other Islands: Although the coral around Nam Du isn’t spectacular, the sea is very clear and calm, making snorkeling a rewarding activity. However, the coral is severely damaged and mistreated by the local fishing and tourism industry, and none of it will last much longer. Most boat tours stop off the shores of Hon Bo Dap, a small, rugged, uninhabited island, for an hour of snorkeling beneath a sheer rocky cliff, where the coral is good enough to make it interesting. Other islands that are regularly visited on the boat tours include Hon Dau (also called Hon Trung) and Hon Ngang. I’m sure many more islands will open to tourism in the near future.

Boat trips to the outlying islands, Nam Du, VietnamThere are over 20 islands in the Nam Du Archipelago that can be visited by boat: some have decent coral

[Back to Contents]


Accommodation:

As most travellers will need to spend a night in Rach Gia, on the mainland, before catching the ferry to Nam Du Island the next morning, I have included accommodation information for both Rach Gia and the Nam Du Islands below:

Accommodation on Nam Du Island, Vietnam (Humiso Resort)Nam Du Island has dozens of cheap guest houses & a handful of mini-resorts to choose from


Rach Gia Hotels: Rach Gia has a decent range of hotels and guest houses, including a string of cheap nhà nghỉ (local guest houses) conveniently located near the port, on Nguyen Cong Tru Street. Of these, Kiet Hong Hotel ($10 a night | MAP) is large, clean, and reasonably priced, just across the street from the boat pier. Rach Gia also has a couple of good value mid-range accommodations, including Hoa Binh-Rach Gia Resort ($40 a night | MAP), which is set in lush grounds only a short distance from the port. Rooms are well-equipped and come with balconies and bathtubs, and there’s a swimming pool, too. For more Rach Gia hotel options check Agoda.com.

Rach Gia Port, Mekong Delta, VietamIn Rach Gia, there are decent accommodation options conveniently located near the ferry port (pictured)

[Back]


Nam Du Hotels:

Most places to stay on the Nam Du Islands are in the budget or mid-range category. There are dozens of guest houses in Bai Tret (also known as Cu Tron), the port village on the main island (Hon Lon), and a few basic resorts scattered around the island, too. A couple of the outlying islands also have rustic accommodation options. Like most islands in Vietnam, accommodation rates are around 30% more than you’d expect to pay for similar standards on the mainland. Bear in mind that weekends and public holidays can get extremely crowded with domestic travellers. If possible, it’s best to avoid travelling to Nam Du during these times. But if you do, booking accommodation in advance is essential. Note: as Google Maps does not ‘work’ on the island, the pins and markers on my map are only approximate:

A hammock at Humiso resort, Nam Du Islands, VietanmMost of the guest houses on Nam Du are in Bai Tret hamlet; the mini-resorts are spread along the coast


Bai Tret Port & Village: The main port, where the ferries from the mainland dock, is also the main accommodation hub for the Nam Du Islands. Bai Tret Port (also referred to as Cu Tron) is a small village clustered around the boat pier, and most of the buildings here are now local guest houses. Spread around the pier and alleyways, there are dozens of little guest houses (nhà nghỉ), and hostel rooms (nhà trọ). The latter are cheaper than former, but are generally smaller, pokier, and not as clean. So, unless you’re really on a tight budget, go for the nhà nghỉ. There are dozens to choose from, but I particularly liked the following:

• Nhung Nam 2 Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 02973 830 800 | 300,000-500,000vnd: In a prime position right on the harbourfront, this is a new building with very clean, comfortable but simple rooms. Seaview rooms come with balconies overlooking the port (500,000vnd). The cheaper rooms are at the back (300,000vnd). Great value for double occupancy, and you can’t beat the location.

Nhung Nam 2 Guest House, Nam Du Islands, VietnamNam Nhung 2 guest house has clean, simple rooms right on Bai Tret’s harbourfront

• Huynh Hoa 2 Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 0919 11 55 43 | 250,000-500,000vnd: On the left as you come from the harbourfront road and turn onto Bai Tret’s ‘high street’ (it’s just an alleyway, really), this fairly large guest house has clean, bright, simple rooms, some with balconies looking over town. There are rooms with four beds, which would be good for a group of travellers sharing.

• Thuy Kiep Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 02973 830 853 | 250,000-450,000vnd: A litlle further up the ‘high street’, this is another simple, clean, quiet local guest house. It’s breezy, shady, and calm.

A room in a local guesthouse (nhà nghỉ), VietnamA typical guest house (nhà nghỉ) room in Bai Tret hamlet on Nam Du’s main island, Hon Lon

[Back]


Around Nam Du Island (Hon Lon): Along the coast road which circles the main island, several small resorts cater to the growing number of domestic travellers who visit Nam Du from the mainland. These accommodations are all by the sea, and generally nicer than the guest houses in Bai Tret. The places below are reviewed in order as if going clockwise from Bai Tret around the island:

• Khanh Vy Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 093 290 5920 | 300,000vnd: Just a few minutes out of Bai Tret village, this otherwise rather ordinary guest house is raised above the sea, giving it great views out over the ocean.

• Thao Thuong Camp [MAP]; Tel: 098 538 8885 | 600,000vnd+: Don’t be fooled by the name: ‘camp’ and ‘homestay’ get thrown around hither and thither in the Vietnamese tourism industry. All it really means is ‘small scale’. Thao Thuong Camp is a little collection of tightly packed, colourful bungalows right on an attractive stony bit of coast. It’s comfortable and cosy, but the property is fairly cramped and the whole set-up is designed for selfie-snapping Vietnamese youth. The bungalows are made of corrugated iron and glass which get very hot: most guests had the curtains closed and the air-con on full blast all day. It’s absolutely fine for a night with friends, but I wouldn’t say it’s particularly good value for money.

Thao Thuong Camp, Nam Du Island, Vietnam


Thao Thuong Camp, Nam Du Island, VietnamThao Thuong Camp is nice enough but a bit cramped and hot. Prices are OK if sharing

• Phong Vu Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 0919 138 3690 | 300,000vnd: With a good position on a pebbly beach, Phong Vu is lush and very attractive. Set in the shade of coconut palms with the sea lapping at a picturesque boat pier, the accommodation here is basic but acceptable, considering the location. Concrete or wooden rooms are arranged in a line along the seafront. Sadly, the litter on the beach and in the ocean is such that it may put off some foreign guests (Vietnamese customers appear to have a higher tolerance for trash-strewn beaches). If it’s kept clean, Phong Vu is a lovely spot.

Phong Vu Guest House, Nam Du Island, VietnamPhong Vu Guest House has OK rooms in a good position on a pebbly bay, but there’s some trash around

• Bai Soi Beach [MAP]; Tel: 02973 830 853 | 350,000-500,000vnd: On the next little bay down from Phong Vu, Bai Soi Beach is a similar property on a similar pebbly beach. However, the rooms and the restaurant at Bai Soi are better than Phong Vu, but the trash is worse. Some of it appears to by flotsam and jetsam washed up on the tide, but some of it appears to be household and picnic trash. Either way, with the beach in its current condition, Bai Soi is a bit sad, even though it’s a beautiful little bay with leaning palm trees. Rooms are in wooden huts by the sea.

Bai Soi Guest House, Nam Du Island, VietnamBai Soi has decent rooms on a nice, pebbly beach but garbage is rapidly building up

• Humiso Nam Du [MAP]; Tel: 093 566 9968 | 400,000-800,000vnd: Close to the southern tip of the island, Humiso is the most resort-like accommodation to date on Nam Du. Set on a beautiful patch of coastline and climbing up the lush hillside behind, with views over the outlying islands, Humiso has a range of attractive-looking, wooden-and-thatch accommodation. A-frame bungalows, sleeping 2-4 people (600,000-800,000vnd), are a bit of a tight squeeze inside, but generally fine. But the ‘star-gazing’ wooden cabins, which have transparent sloping roofs so you can look out at the sky, might be great on a clear night (despite the lack of privacy from outside eyes looking in) but are certainly not very practical when it’s 35°C during the middle of the day. The cheapest rooms (400,000vnd for double occupancy) are hexagonal cabins, stacked together like a three-dimensional puzzle. Sadly, trash from the resort and its customers is starting to ruin this property, and there’s something rather seedy about it, too: much of the litter strewn outside the rooms included condoms and empty blister packs of medical supplies. It sure is a pretty spot, but it’s becoming a victim of its own success: the selfie-hoards – who line up to take photos on the swaying hammocks overlooking the ocean – are taking their memories away with them, but leaving their litter. And the resort is struggling to maintain itself: an oil-powered generator – leaking all over the road – is constantly whirring away and chugging black smoke into the blue sky.

Humiso Resort, Nam Du Island, Vietnam


Humiso Resort, Nam Du Island, VietnamHumiso has a great location & a range of different rooms at reasonable prices, but there’s trash around

• Camping on Bai Cay Men Beach [MAP]; 50,000vnd: By far and away the most romantic night you could possibly spend on Nam Du Island is to camp on the white sand, under the swaying palms, right next to the amethyst wash, on Bai Cay Men Beach. On the southwest coast of the island, tents can be rented (50,000vnd) from the thatched huts lining the beach. Or, if you have your own tent, it’s basically free (just ask permission first). Pitch your tent right on the sand or back from the beach on a wooden platform under a thatched roof. Do it now, while you still can: this is the kind of beach that developers will pay millions for, as they have done on Phu Quoc Island and elsewhere in Vietnam already. It’s just too good to last, so don’t wait. There’s a bit of refuse around the edges of the bay, but not enough to distract from the general beauty of this beach.

Camping on Bai Cay Men Beach, Nam Du Island, Vietnam


Camping on Bai Cay Men Beach, Nam Du Island, VietnamCamping on Bai Cay Men beach is wonderful: either rent a tent or bring your own

• Kim Xoan Guest House [MAP]; Tel: 0915 777 738 | 300,000vnd: There are a couple of fairly basic nhà nghỉ (guest houses) in the fishing village of Bai Ong Ngu, but it’s not really worth staying here. However, down a steep lane between Bai Ong Ngu and Bai Tret, follow the signs to Kim Xoan Guest House on Bai Dat Do beach. Although the little cabins on the seafront are weathered and a pretty run-down, the position is fantastic. Bai Dat Do beach is very scenic and boasts turquoise water. There’s some trash around, of course, and at the time of writing there was ongoing construction at the far end of the beach, which will apparently be the first high-end resort on Nam Du.

Kim Xoan Guest House, Nam Du Island, VietnamKim Xoan Guest House has a good location on Dat Do Beach even if it’s a bit run down

[Back]


• Other Islands: [MAP]: A couple of the outlying islands have little guest houses on them, and camping is also a possibility – you just need to have your own equipment and hop on one of the daily tour boats to get to and from the main island. The most practical island to stay on is Hon Mau, where beautiful Bai Chuong Beach has hammocks for the night, or there’s a small guest house in the fishing hamlet: Nhà Nghỉ 5 Vạn (0773 831 555; 250,000vnd).

5 Van Guest House, Bai Chuong Beach, Hon Mau Island, Nam Du


Bai Chuong Beach, Hon Mau Island, Nam Du, VietnamThere’s a guest house on Hon Mau Island near Bai Chuong Beach or you could camp

[Back to Contents]


Food & Drink:

All dining options on Nam Du are informal, casual joints: there are no Western-style restaurants or Western food. Obviously, being an archipelago, main meals (and even snacks) are all about seafood. But there are also bánh mì (filled baguettes) and xôi (sticky rice) stalls, and noodle soup and rice eateries here and there, offering the usual hearty, fresh, inexpensive Vietnamese ‘common fare’. Island specialties include dried fish and oysters, local candied tamarind (either sour or sweet), and coconuts, all of which are available along the seafront near the boat pier. The majority of food and drink options are in the small village of Bai Tret. But there are a handful of other food outlets spread around the island.

Food and drink on Nam Du Islands, VietnamNam Du is famous for its fresh, inexpensive seafood, but there are a few other dining options, too


Bai Tret Port & Village: Along the seafront, near the boat pier, and lining Bai Tret’s main ‘street’ (it’s an alleyway, really) is where you’ll find most of the island’s food and drink offerings.

Seafood: As the sun sets, tables and chairs are laid out on the quay by the ferry pier. Diners arrive, the beer flows, and fresh, live seafood of all varieties is sold by the kilo from buckets of salt water at incredibly reasonable prices (especially when compared with the inferior seafood at inflated prices that you find on Phu Quoc Island, just to the north of Nam Du). There’s a string of about a half dozen informal seafood restaurants here. The seafood is fresh, inexpensive, and simply cooked and presented. Choose from live sea urchins, grouper, tuna, shrimp, slipper lobster, oysters, sea snails, clams, cockles and much more. As an example, a couple of large grilled sea urchins and a plate of grilled scallops costs under $5 (100,000vnd). There are several restaurants to choose from: personally, I enjoyed Minh Sang.

Fresh seafood, Nam Du Islands, VietnamSeafood at the waterfront restaurants in Bai Tret hamlet is fresh, cheap & delicious

[Back]


Other Food: During the mornings, bánh mì (filled baguettes) and xôi (sticky rice) vendors ply the harbourfront and main alleyways. A couple of the quayside cafes also offer cơm tấm (broken rice and grilled pork) and noodle soups. However, my favourite place to eat on Nam Du Island is an excellent little quán cơm phở (rice and noodle joint) on Bai Tret’s main alley, called Yen Nhi. Try the bún bò Huế for breakfast, it’s extremely good – meaty, colourful, tasty, rich, and spicy. For lunch, they serve decent rice, meat, and vegetables. There’s a small local market where the seafront lane meets the main alleyway in Bai Tret. Also, a couple of grocery stores sell biscuits, water, and other snacks that are good to take with you on a trip around the island.

A rice lunch, Nam Du Islands, VietnamA very good rice & soup eatery, called Yen Nhi, in Bai Tret hamlet is great for breakfast & lunch

[Back]


Coffee & Coconuts: There are several cafes in Bai Tret, some of which are on the quayside, that are very nice in the afternoon, when the fishing boats are leaving for the night, the harbour is calm, and the sun is setting. The coconuts on Nam Du Island are among the best I’ve ever had: make sure you try one. Ask for a trái dừa lửa uống liên – a small, reddish coconut with sweet water, that you can drink almost in one go. 

Fresh coconuts on Nam Du Island, VietnamFresh coconuts from the island’s thousands of palm trees are sweet, delicious & refreshing

[Back]


Around Nam Du Island:

There’s very little in the way of food and drink around the island. But most of the accommodations outside of Bai Tret have restaurants serving snacks or meals. In particular, Bai Soi and Humiso, in the southeast of the island, have decent food and excellent locations. There are a few shops and snack vendors in Bai Ong hamlet, in the northwest of the island, too. Some of the outlying islands have informal seafood restaurants, especially the ones that are frequented by tour boats. On Bai Chuong Beach on Hon Mau Island, for example, there are lots of seafood and drinks shacks. Finally, the thatched huts under the palm trees on Bai Cay Men Beach have excellent coconuts fresh from the trees.

Seafood on Nam Du Islands, VietnamSeveral on the mini-resorts around Nam Du Island have restaurants & a couple of the islands, too

[Back to Contents]


Getting There & Around:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use the links & search boxes below to book your transportation to Nam Du Islands, I make a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.

Nam Du Island is reached by boat from Rach Gia, a large, coastal city in the southwestern Mekong Delta region. There are several transportation options to get to Rach Gia, either from Ho Chi Minh City or from other hubs within the Delta region. And there are several ferry companies that operate boat services between Rach Gia and Nam Du Island. Once on the island, you can hire motorbikes to circumnavigate the main island, or small boats to explore the other islands in the archipelago:

Fast boat between Rach Gia & Nam Du Islands, VietnamThe only way to reach Nam Du is by boat from the mainland city of Rach Gia, in the Mekong Delta


GETTING TO RACH GIA: 

By Bus: From Ho Chi Minh City, there are buses throughout the day (and night) to Rach Gia. Journey time is roughly 6 hours, and the general level of comfort on sleeper coaches is pretty good, unless you’re particularly tall. Prices are around 150,000-250,000vnd ($7-$10) one-way. Futa is one of the more popular buslines, but there are many others serving this route, including the Thien Thanh Limousine, which offers lots of space and comfort. Note that buses to/from Ho Chi Minh City usually stop at Rach Soi Bus Station, just south of central Rach Gia. Rach Gia is also connected to most other urban hubs within the Mekong Delta and beyond. There are regular bus services, for example, to Can Tho and Ben Tre (leaving from Rach Soi Bus Station), and Ha Tien (leaving from Rach Gia Bus Station, near the centre of town). You can check bus services, schedules, prices, and book tickets on Baolau.com or use the search box below.

[Some travel agents in Ho Chi Minh City, Rach Gia & Nam Du can arrange bus-boat packages: the ticket includes transfers from the bus station to the boat pier and on to Nam Du Island]

By Air: It’s also possible to fly between Ho Chi Minh City and Rach Gia Airport on a daily propeller flight operated by VASCO, a part of Vietnam Airlines. There’s one flight a day in both directions departing in the early morning. Flight time is less than 45 minutes. One-way airfares are around $1,200,000vnd ($50). You can check flight schedules, prices and book tickets on Baolau.com or the Vietnam Airlines website.

Search & Book: Type your travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for buses & planes between Ho Chi Minh City & Rach Gia:


Propeller flight between Saigon & Rach Gia Rach Gia can be reached by bus (from Saigon & Mekong Delta hubs) or by air (from Saigon only)

[Back]


GETTING TO NAM DU ISLANDS:

By Boat: The only way to get from the mainland to Nam Du Island (Hòn Lớn) is by boat. All boats leave from Rach Gia Port. There are currently at least three different ferry companies operating fast boat passenger services to Nam Du Island. These are: Phu Quoc Express (don’t be fooled by the name), Superdong, and Ngoc Thanh.

The duration of the voyage varies slightly depending on the boat and weather conditions, but in general it takes 2.5 hours between Rach Gia and Nam Du. Most boats to Nam Du also stop at Hon Son Island (also known as Lại Sơn) on the way, and sometimes Hòn Trê Island, too. The boats are comfortable, with coach-style seating, outside deck-space, life jackets and rafts. At present, there are no car ferries to Nam Du, but this is a good thing, because the island is far too small and fragile to accommodate large vehicles. However, at the time of writing, it is possible to take your motorbike or bicycle on the Phu Quoc Express fast boat, but not on any of the other services.

Fast boat between Rach Gia & Nam Du IslandThere are at least three different ferry companies operating fast boat services to Nam Du Island

Sailing schedules change depending on the season, time of week, weather, and demand. Therefore, the times given below should be treated only as an indication: they are not set in stone. But, in general, you can guarantee at least one sailing a day (usually in the morning) in both directions from each of the three main boat operators. There are almost always extra sailings on weekends and during high season (December-April).

Fast boat between Rach Gia & Nam Du IslandAll the fast boats have comfortable, air-conditioned, coach-style cabins and outside deck space

Buying tickets is fairly straightforward. There are ticket offices for all boat operators at the port in Rach Gia and along 3 Tháng 2 Street near the intersection with Trần Thủ Độ Street, which is very near Rach Gia Port. On Nam Du Island, the ticket offices are clustered around the boat pier. It’s also possible to book boat tickets through most accommodations in Rach Gia and Nam Du. Booking in advance is advisable in high season, especially if you want to take your motorbike. More details (although, again, not necessarily accurate) can be found on the boat operators’ websites (see below) and bookings can also be made through Baolau.com.

*Key: PQE=Phu Quoc Express; SD=Superdong; NT=Ngoc Thanh


RACH GIA  NAM DU

Departures: 6.30am (PQE), 7.30am (SD), 7.30am (NT) daily*

Duration: 2.5 hours

Passenger Ticket: 200,000-250,000vnđ, discounts for seniors, children, disabled

Motorbike Ticket: around 200,000-250,000vnd (Phu Quoc Express only)

Websites: PQE: www.pqe.com.vn | SD: www.superdong.com.vn | NT: www.ngocthanhexpress.com or BOOK HERE with Baolau.com

*At least one sailing daily by each ferry operator (usually in the morning); extra sailings in high season (November-April) & weekends


NAM DU → RACH GIA

Departures: 10.00am (PQE), 11.00am (SD), 11.30am (NT) daily*

Duration: 2.5 hours

Passenger Ticket: 200,000-250,000vnđ, discounts for seniors, children, disabled

Motorbike Ticket: around 200,000-250,000vnđ (Phu Quoc Express only)

Websites: PQE: www.pqe.com.vn | SD: www.superdong.com.vn | NT: www.ngocthanhexpress.com or BOOK HERE with Baolau.com

*At least one sailing daily by each ferry operator (usually in the morning); extra sailings in high season (November-April) & weekends


Search & Book: Type your travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for fast boats between Rach Gia & Nam Du Island:


Fast boat between Rach Gia & Nam Du IslandGenerally, there’s at least one sailing a day in each direction on each of the ferry operators

[Back]


GETTING AROUND NAM DU ISLANDS:

By Motorbike & Mini-bus: The main island of Nam Du (Hòn Lớn) is ideal for exploring by motorbike (or bicycle, but I couldn’t find any for rent). If you didn’t bring your own motorbike with you on the boat from the mainland, they can be rented from most guest houses and hotels from around 150,000-200,000vnd per day. There’s only really one road on Nam Du, which circumnavigates the entire island and is only about 15km in total. Thus, riding a circuit of the island only takes about 20 minutes on a motorbike, without any stops. But, of course, the whole point is that you stop for swims, picnics, and just to stand and admire the views and peace of the island (see Beaches & Activities for details). Although Google Maps doesn’t show Nam Du Island’s roads, it’s still possible to use my map as a reference to get your bearings and an idea of the lay of the land and the roads. Just bear in mind that the map pins and markers are only approximate, not exact. Although the road is paved and in pretty decent condition, it’s quite narrow, extremely steep in places, and the corners can be gravelly, which makes it easy to skid: be careful. Traffic is almost non-existent, but local drivers are the most trigger-happy with their horns than anywhere else I can remember in Vietnam. There aren’t any gas stations on the island, but rental bikes come with a full tank, and the distances are so short you won’t need to refill. If, for some reason, you do need to top up, gas is sold in bottles in Bai Tret. In high-season and on weekends, there’s a daily tourist shuttle-bus that circumnavigates the island (50,000vnd).

Riding a motorbike on Nam Du Island, VietnamRiding a circuit of Nam Du by motorbike is a hugely rewarding way to see the main island

[Back]


By Boat: A boat trip to the outlying islands is a must-do activity when visiting Nam Du. The Nam Du Archipelago consists of over 20 islands, islets, and rocky outcrops. Although Nam Du (Hòn Lớn) is the largest island with the biggest population, several other islands are also inhabited, including Hon Ngang, Hon Dau, and Hon Mau [view map]. All of the above mentioned islands can be visited by boat on cheap and easy half- or full-day tours. Even some of the uninhabited islands, which are small, rugged, green and forested, are included on these boat tour itineraries (see Beaches & Activities for details).

Taking a boat tour in the Nam Du Islands, VietnamBoat trips to the outlying islands are a must-do activity when visiting the Nam Du Archipelago

Boat trips to the outlying islands are easily arranged through your accommodation, and leave from Bai Tret village. Full-day tours (250,000vnd per person) leave at around 7.30am and return around 5pm; half-day tours (150,000vnd per person) leave at around 7.30am and return around 12noon, or leave around 1pm and return around 5pm. The cost, which is very reasonable, includes the boat, snorkeling equipment, any entrance fees, and even an on-board meal: usually rice porridge with seafood. Tour itineraries change from time to time, but as a general outline: half-day tours take in Hon Mau (including the wonderful Bai Chuong beach), and Hon Bo Dap island for snorkeling beneath the large cliffs; full-day tours follow the same itinerary, but also include stops at Hon Dau, Hon Ngang, where’s there’s a large fishing community, and Hon Lo, a tiny islet (see Beaches & Activities for details).

Taking a boat tour in the Nam Du Islands, VietnamMost of the tour boats are attractive, wooden, two-deck vessels offering reasonably prices daily tours

The boats are attractive wooden double-deck vessels, which can accommodate dozens of passengers on benches on the covered lower-deck and open-air upper deck. Safety is not bad: there are plenty of life jackets, but the gas cooker arrangement at the stern looked very dodgy to me, and the crew threw all their trash in the sea, as did some of the passengers. There can be a surprising amount of chop out on the ocean and the boat tilts and turns a fair bit: bring travel sickness pills if you’re prone to seasickness. The majority of passengers are Vietnamese groups, couples, or families, all of whom thoroughly enjoy the experience. The boat engines are quite loud: a good tip is to sit on the upper deck, where it’s significantly quieter, the views are great, and it catches more of a breeze.

Taking a boat tour in the Nam Du Islands, VietnamThe boat trips are a lot of fun: highlights include Hon Mau Island & standing on the top deck at dusk

[Back to Contents]


Weather:

Like Phu Quoc, Nam Du is best visited in the southern dry season: November to April. During these months, the skies are generally clear, the sea calm, and the colours luminous. However, I personally prefer going during the shoulder months: October/November and April/May. At these times, the weather is still good (but with more of a chance of some rain) and the visitor numbers low, meaning you can enjoy the islands in peace: as long as you visit on a weekday, not a weekend. July to September is the wet season, when prevailing winds from the west bring monsoon rains from the Indian Ocean. The sea can be rough and winds high, meaning that boats to the islands are often cancelled. But this doesn’t mean you can’t visit during these months, and it certainly doesn’t rain all the time. You just need to have time and patience in order to allow for possible cancellations and rainy days.

Another sunny day on the Nam Du Islands, VietnamIt’s possible to visit Nam Du Island any time of year, but the best weather is November-April


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like these islands and I want my readers to know about them. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

[Back Top]

RELATED POSTS:


Related Posts

[Back Top]

The post Nam Du Islands: Travel Guide appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/nam-du-islands-travel-guide/feed/ 15
The Southern Dry Season: Travel Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-southern-dry-season-travel-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-southern-dry-season-travel-guide/#respond Tue, 25 Dec 2018 09:51:46 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=27862 The southern dry season is a period of glorious, warm, sunny weather in the lower regions of Vietnam. Lasting from November to May, the southern dry season covers all regions south of Nha Trang. Here are some of the best places to visit during this time of year.... Continue reading

The post The Southern Dry Season: Travel Guide appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
First published December 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

The southern dry season is a period of glorious, warm, sunny weather in the lower regions of Vietnam. Lasting roughly from November to May, the southern dry season covers all regions south of Nha Trang. However, the very best weather is from December to February, when the sun shines almost all day, the skies are blue, the colours are brilliant, the air is clear, the heat is dry, humidity is low, and temperatures in the mornings and evenings drop to pleasantly mild (even chilly) levels. These months are the ideal time to travel in the south of the country. There are dozens of excellent road trips, destinations, and accommodations to choose from that fall within the region of the southern dry season. These include islands, river deltas, resorts, mountains, homestays, forests, beaches, camping, plateaus, and cities. On this page, I’ve pulled together all of my guides which are best explored during the southern dry season.

The Southern Dry Season, VietnamThe southern dry season lasts from November to May: it’s the best time to see the south of Vietnam

[Back Top]


GUIDE: THE SOUTHERN DRY SEASON


Below, I’ve listed all my guides that fall within the southern dry season in three categories: Destinations, Motorbike Routes, and Accommodation. Each guide is illustrated with an image, and I’ve included a brief description, the date of latest revision, and a direct link to every one of them. All the guides are also plotted on my map. The purpose of this post is to give travellers a better understanding of where to go during the southern dry season months, which I consider one of the best and most rewarding times to travel in Vietnam. While northern and central provinces endure their grey, cold winters – especially from November to February – the south is basking in glorious sunshine.

Click on a guide from a category below for more details:

DESTINATIONS:

MOTORBIKE ROUTES:

ACCOMMODATION:

MAP:

Southern Dry Season Guides: Destinations, Routes & Hotels


View in a LARGER MAP

[Back to Contents]


GUIDES: DESTINATIONS


Ha Tien: Jewel of the Mekong [read here]

Region & province: southwestern corner; Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-March

First published: September 2017

Description: In the southwestern corner of the country, Ha Tien is the most attractive place to be in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region. Its irresistible combination of bustling markets and languid backstreets, crumbling shophouses and forested hills, delicious street food and local temples, promenading pedestrians and river traffic, twittering swiftlets and chiming pagoda gongs, makes Ha Tien the ‘Jewel of the Delta’……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Ha Tien, Mekong Delta, travel guide, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Exploring Saigons Railway Tracks: [read here]

Region & province: Saigon; Ho Chi Minh City Municipality [MAP]

Best time to go: January-March

First published: June 2018

Description: Lined with cramped housing, intriguing architecture, temples, shrines, pagodas, fruit trees, flowers, cafes, casual dining, trash, beer joints and other such urban miscellanea, Saigon’s railway tracks are a fascinating area to explore, whether on foot or on two wheels……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Exploring Saigon's Rail Tracks, A Guide

[Back to Contents]


La Nga River & Thac Ba Waterfall: [read here]

Region & province: southern Central Highlands; Dong Nai & Binh Thuan provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-February

First published: June 2017

Description: Offering freshwater bathing, lush jungle, mountain scenery, and opportunities for camping, all within a few hours’ drive of Saigon, La Nga River & Thac Ba Waterfall is a great escape for city-dwellers: best visited with your own wheels……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


La Nga River & Thac Ba Waterfall, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Cam Ranh Bay: Cam Lap Promontory [read here]

Region & province: south-central coast; Ninh Thuan & Khanh Hoa Provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-May

Last updated: January 2017

Description: Filled by the calm, glistening waters of the East Sea, Cam Ranh Bay is a splendid natural harbour surrounded by hills. From its southern shores, a finger of land points northwards into the bay: this is Cam Lap Promontory……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Cam Lap Promontory, Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Ho Tram & Ho Coc Beaches: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-May

Last updated: August 2016

Description: Two long & wide stretches of sand, Ho Tram & Ho Coc are by far the best beaches within easy reach of Saigon. If you’re a Saigon expat with a mini-break of a couple of days, or a traveller looking for a short trip out of the city, this is where you should be heading……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Ho Tram & Ho Coc beaches, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Saigons Street Food Ghettos‘: [read here]

Region & province: Saigon; Ho Chi Minh City Municipality [MAP]

Best time to go: December-February

Last updated: May 2016

Description: Throughout Saigon, there are clusters of crumbling old apartment complexes, all of which are on the verge of either collapse or demolition. As is so often the case in Saigon, street life enlivens these relatively poor areas, making them some of the most exciting street food destinations in the city……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Saigon's Street Food 'Ghettos'

[Back to Contents]


Phu Quoc Islands Beaches: [read here]

Region & province: southwestern corner; Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-April

Last updated: November 2018

Description: Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island, and fast becoming the country’s premier beach destination. There are dozens of excellent beaches on Phu Quoc Island, and this guide covers them all, including my tips for accommodation on each one……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Phu Quoc Island's Beaches, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Phu Quoc Island by Boat: [read here]

Region & province: southwest coast; Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-April

Last updated: October 2018

Description: Taking the boat to Phu Quoc Island is fun, reasonably priced, relatively easy, and a really convenient way to combine a trip to the island with travels in the Mekong Delta or the Cambodian coast……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Phu Quoc Island by Boat, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Public Swimming Pools in Saigon: [read here]

Region & province: Saigon; Ho Chi Minh City Municipality [MAP]

Best time to go: November-May

Last updated: December 2016

Description: If you’re not lucky enough to be staying at one of the smarter hotels with a pool, or if you’re an expat looking to escape the heat and clamour of the city, Saigon has plenty of decent & inexpensive public swimming pools to choose from……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Public swimming pools in Saigon, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


The Con Dao Islands: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province [MAP]

Best time to go: February-May

Last updated: August 2018

Description: With its wild & beautiful beaches, rugged, jungle-covered interior & fascinating but tragic history, the Con Dao Islands is a remarkable place. Once a brutal penal colony, established by the French colonial administration, today the Con Dao Islands is one of Vietnam’s most beguiling destinations……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


The Con Dao Islands, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Saigon to Phan Thiet by Train: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Binh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: July 2018

Description: The daily, non-stop express train between Saigon & Phan Thiet (Mui Ne) is a cheap, easy, fun, fast & efficient way to get from the city to the beach. Put your motorbike on the train with you & let the rails carry your wheels……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


The train between Saigon & Phan Thiet

[Back to Contents]


Saigons Parks & Open Spaces: [read here]

Region & province: Saigon; Ho Chi Minh City Municipality [MAP]

Best time to go: December-February

Last updated: March 2015

Description: During the dry season months, find respite from the heat in one of Saigon’s parks & open spaces. Some date from French colonial times; some are a product of the recent economic boom……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Saigon's parks & open spaces

[Back to Contents]


GUIDES: MOTORBIKE ROUTES


Saigon to Dalat: the Back Ways [read here]

Region & province: southern Central Highlands; Dong Nai & Lam Dong provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-March

Last updated: February 2017

Description: There are many ways to ride from Saigon to Dalat, but if you want a relatively direct route that avoids highways, there are several great options. These ‘back ways’ to Dalat utilize new, quiet & scenic roads to make the journey as fun as possible……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Saigon to Dalat, the back ways, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


The Ocean Road: Saigon to Mui Ne [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau & Binh Thuan provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: November-May

Last updated: August 2017

Description: Skirting the deserted coastline for much of its length, occasionally ducking inland through cashew trees & dragon fruit plantations, over white salt flats & green rice fields, past hot springs & hilltop pagodas, the Ocean Road is the scenic route between Saigon & Mui Ne……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


The Ocean Road: Saigon to Mui Ne, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Mountains in the Mekong: [read here]

Region & province: southwestern Delta; An Giang Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-March

Last updated: August 2016

Description: Most of the Mekong Delta is as flat as a sheet of rice paper. But my favourite corner of the region, the western edge along the Cambodian border, is blessed with some high ground, in the form of a mini mountain range, which rises from the plains of An Giang Province. These mountains are connected by beautiful back-roads, perfect for a road trip……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Mountains in the Mekong, motorbike loop, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Midnight Motorbike Loop: Saigon [read here]

Region & province: Saigon; Ho Chi Minh City Municipality [MAP]

Best time to go: December-February

Last updated: January 2018

Description: At night, Saigon is at its best: temperatures are cool, humidity is low, and traffic is light – it’s the perfect time to see the city. The Midnight Loop is an urban motorbike route designed specifically for riding after dark: a night out on two wheels……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Midnight Motorbike Loop, Saigon

[Back to Contents]


Binh Thuan BackRoads: [read here]

Region & province: southern Central Highlands; Binh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-March

Last updated: March 2016

Description: Binh Thuan Province is known for its beaches, but inland there’s a rich and varied landscape waiting to be explored. A network of rarely used, rural back-roads takes you on an inland loop – over arid plains, through forests, and across rivers……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Binh Thuan Back-Roads, motorbike loop

[Back to Contents]


River Road: The Cai Valley [read here]

Region & province: lower Central Highlands; Khanh Hoa & Ninh Thuan provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-May

Last updated: March 2016

Description: A silver seam of glistening water, the Cai River meanders through a beautiful valley between Dalat & Phan Rang. A new road follows the course of the river, from its source in the high, forested hills to its mouth on the eastern seaboard.…..read more

[Click image to go to guide]


River Road, the Cai Valley, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


The Pine Tree Road, Dalat: [read here]

Region & province: Central Highlands; Lam Dong Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-March

Last updated: February 2016

Description: An enticing road leads north from Dalat and into the remote forests and mountains of deepest Lam Dong Province. Coniferous forests stretch to the horizon, making this route great for camping or picnicking……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


The Pine Tree Road, Dalat, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Tet Classic: Lunar New Year Loop [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast & Central Highlands; Dong Nai, Lam Dong, Khanh Hoa, Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan & Ba Ria-Vung Tau provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: January-February

Last updated: January 2017

Description: Tết (Lunar New Year) is the biggest festival of them all in Vietnam, but travel can be very difficult at this time of year. That’s why, every year, I take a meandering road trip that bypasses popular tourist spots & makes the most of the dry season weather……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Camping during a Tết road trip, Lunar New Year, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Saigon to Phu Quoc: Motorbike Loop [read here]

Region & province: Mekong Delta & southwest coast; Tien Giang, An Giang, Kien Giang, Can Tho provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: January-February

Last updated: January 2017

Description: Flying to Phu Quoc is easy, but if you want a real adventure, riding there by motorbike is much more fun. This road trip takes you from Vietnam’s biggest city to some its best beaches, via the waterways & back-roads of the Mekong Delta……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


The Sand Dune Highway: [read here]

Region & province: south-central coast; Binh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-May

Last updated: October 2016

Description: Get off the beaten track from Mui Ne with this short, scenic, easily navigable and rewarding road trip. Excellent coast roads lead between Mui Ne, Phan Ri Cua, Lien Huong and Ca Na, passing some great coastal scenery……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


The Sand Dune Highway, Mui Ne to Ca Na, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Nui Chua Coast Road: [read here]

Region & province: south-central coast; Ninh Thuan & Khanh Hoa provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: March 2017

Description: Nui Chua is a beautiful promontory jutting into the ocean between Phan Rang City & Cam Ranh Bay, on Vietnam’s south-central coast. A spectacular coast road has opened up access to its superb beaches, forests, rivers & fishing villages……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


The Nui Chua Coast Road, Ninh Thuan, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Dragon’s Graveyard Coast Road: [read here]

Region & province: south-central coast; Ninh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: March 2017

Description: A new coast road has opened access to an arid, wild, windswept, boulder-strewn & cactus-studded section of coastline. People say this is where dragons’ came to die, and the earth scorched itself in grief……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Dragon's Graveyard Coast Road, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Deep South: Riding the Dragon’s Tail: [read here]

Region & province: the far south; Tra Vinh, Soc Trang, Bac Lieu & Ca Mau provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: November-March

Last updated: August 2015

Description: Vietnam’s ‘deep south’ consists of vast, flat, agricultural provinces, criss-crossed by rivers and canals. I like to call it the Dragon’s Tail. Travellers rarely make it this far south, but this motorbike loop is a lot of fun, taking in bustling Mekong towns & rustic backwaters……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


The Deep South, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


The Burnt Road: Vietnam’s Desert: [read here]

Region & province: inland south-central; Ninh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-May

Last updated: April 2015

Description: A short, easy ride through a big, hot landscape of barren hills and abandoned farmhouses, Highway 27B is the Burnt Road. This road trip takes you inland, through the vast open spaces of Vietnam’s driest province……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


The Burnt Road, Vietnam's Desert

[Back to Contents]


The Southeast Loop: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast & highlands; Binh Thuan & Lam Dong provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-March

Last updated: March 2015

Description: This road trip is a classic ‘Saigon escape loop’, taking in Mui Ne and Dalat via good coastal and mountain roads, but avoiding most of the big, busy highways. This guide hasn’t been updated for a long time, but the route is still just as rewarding as when I first wrote it……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


The Southeast Loop, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


GUIDES: ACCOMMODATION


Cat Tien National Park: Where to Stay [read here]

Region & province: southern Central Highlands; Dong Nai Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-April

Last updated: November 2016

Description: Traditional longhouses, luxury safari tents, bamboo huts, camping under tall trees: accommodation in & around Cat Tien National Park is atmospheric, good value and, more often than not, environmentally & socially responsible……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Where to stay in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Beach Camping: Saigon to Nha Trang [read here]

Region & province: southeast & south-central coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan & Khanh Hoa provinces [MAP]

Best time to go: December-May

Last updated: October 2016

Description: Pitch your tent under a coconut palm just metres from the surf & enjoy Vietnam’s south coast sleeping in the open air. This is my guide to camping on the beaches along the Ocean Road from Saigon to Nha Trang……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Beach camping: Saigon to Nha Trang

[Back to Contents]


Ana Mandara Villas, Dalat: [read here]

Region & province: Central Highlands; Lam Dong Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-February

Last updated: November 2016

Description: With 17 beautifully restored French colonial villas on a pine-studded hillside, Ana Mandara Resort & Spa keeps the romance of Dalat alive. Luxury accommodation in the Central Highlands doesn’t get more atmospheric than this……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Ana Mandara Villas Resort & Spa, Dalat, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Camping in Dalat: [read here]

Region & province: Central Highlands; Lam Dong Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-February

Last updated: June 2017

Description: Watch the sun set over purple mountains cloaked in pine forests stretching into the misty distance, with the smell of wood smoke & coffee blossom scenting the cool highland air, as you camp in the hills north of Dalat……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Camping in the pine forests, Dalat, Central Highlands, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Ho Tram Beach Boutique: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: April 2017

Description: Just a couple of hours southeast of Saigon, Ho Tram Beach Resort is one of Vietnam’s most tasteful & charming coastal retreats. It’s romantic, elegant, refined yet understated, and blends in with the natural surrounds……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Ho Tram Beach Boutique Resort & Spa, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Mango Bay, Phu Quoc: [read here]

Region & province: southwest coast; Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-April

Last updated: July 2016

Description: Mango Bay Resort has been around for over a decade & withstood the massive changes the island has gone through. And, despite increasing competition, Mango Bay is still the best place to go if you want to live the tropical island fantasy for a few days……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Mango Bay, Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Thanh Kieu, Phu Quoc: [read here]

Region & province: southwest coast; Kien Giang Province [MAP]

Best time to go: November-April

Last updated: March 2017

Description: The unsung hero of seafront, mid-range accommodation on Long Beach, Thanh Kieu Resort is an exceptionally lush, peaceful, and unassuming place to stay on Phu Quoc Island. It’s been my go-to resort for years……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Thanh Kieu Resort, Phu Quoc Island

[Back to Contents]


Victoria Beach Resort, Mui Ne: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Binh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-May

Last updated: April 2016

Description: One of the first luxury resorts to grace the sands of Mui Ne, Victoria is still one of the best places to stay on this popular beach on Vietnam’s southeast coast. With lush tropical gardens & a long stretch of beach, Victoria is far more spacious than its competitors……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Victoria Beach Resort, Mui Ne, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Binh Chau Hot Springs: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: November 2017

Description: Just a couple hours’ drive from Saigon, Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & Spa has improved its facilities and aesthetics in recent years: it’s now a lush, relaxing and satisfying retreat from the city……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Binh Chau Hot Springs Resort & Spa, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Leman Cap Resort, Vung Tau: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: April 2017

Description: Sitting on the rocks above Vung Tau’s attractive seafront promenade, Leman Cap Resort is an excellent option for expats or mid-range travellers looking to escape Saigon for a couple of nights by the sea……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Leman Cap Resort, Vung Tau, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Vinh Hy Bay Resort: [read here]

Region & province: south-central coast; Ninh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: September 2016

Description: Vinh Hy is a gorgeous natural harbour between Phan Rang & Nha Trang. At the centre of the pretty bay & fishing village, there’s an excellent-value place to stay: Vinh Hy Resort is perfect if you’re on a road trip along the coast……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Vinh Hy Bay Resort, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Ocean Dunes, Phan Thiet: [read here]

Region & province: southeast coast; Binh Thuan Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-April

Last updated: August 2016

Description: On the beach in Phan Thiet City, the Ocean Dunes Resort is excellent value for money. Offering high-end amenities at mid-range prices, the Ocean Dunes is a great option for budget travellers looking for a slice of luxury and, because of its wide greens spaces, for families……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


The Ocean Dunes Resort, Phan Thiet, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Juliets Villa Resort: [read here]

Region & province: southern Central Highlands; Lam Dong Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-March

Last updated: March 2017

Description: Surrounded by coffee farms, tea plantations, rice paddies & fruit trees, Juliet’s Villa Resort is a family-run, quiet, secluded & peaceful place to stay near Di Linh, a part of the Central Highlands most travellers overlook……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Juliet's Villa Resort, Di Linh, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


Lotus Lake Homestays, Mekong Delta: [read here]

Region & province: southern Central Highlands; Lam Dong Province [MAP]

Best time to go: December-March

Last updated: January 2018

Description: In the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, a collection of bamboo & palm-thatch huts on wooden stilts above a sea of lotus flowers, offer a night in a hammock or on a futon under a mosquito net, just a few feet above the frogs, the fish & the flowers……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Floating Lotus Lake Homestays, Mekong Delta, Vietnam


[Back Top]

RELATED POSTS:


Related Posts

[Back Top]

The post The Southern Dry Season: Travel Guide appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/the-southern-dry-season-travel-guide/feed/ 0
Top 10 Most-Popular Vietnam Coracle Guides http://vietnamcoracle.com/top-10-most-popular-vietnam-coracle-guides/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/top-10-most-popular-vietnam-coracle-guides/#comments Wed, 12 Dec 2018 07:05:10 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=27757 Having reached 1,000 subscribers to this website, I’ve decided to celebrate by compiling a list of the top 10 most-popular (i.e most-read) guides on Vietnam Coracle.... Continue reading

The post Top 10 Most-Popular Vietnam Coracle Guides appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
First published December 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Having recently reached 1,000 subscribers to this website, I’ve decided to celebrate by compiling a list of the top 10 most-popular (i.e most-read) guides on Vietnam Coracle. I’ve used Google Analytics to find out which of my guides, articles, and reviews have received the most hits over the years I’ve been running Vietnam Coracle. Thank you for reading, using, and interacting with my content, and thank you for sharing, spreading the word, and talking about Vietnam Coracle. Tom

1,000 subscribers to Vietnam CoracleTo celebrate reaching 1,000 subscribers I’ve compiled a list of the 10 most-read Vietnam Coracle guides

[Back Top]


TOP 10: MOSTREAD VIETNAM CORACLE GUIDES


I’ve listed the following top 10 most-read Vietnam Coracle guides in order of their popularity: starting with the most popular. For each guide, I’ve included the title, the number of times it’s been read and shared on social media, the date of publication and latest revision, a brief synopsis, a title image, and a direct link to the guide. I’ve also plotted each of the 10 guides on my map. If you want to know more about Vietnam Coracle, take a look at my About Page; if you’d like to help this website, please see my Support Page; and, for an interactive archive of all my guides, check out the Vietnam Coracle Map.

Click on a guide below for more details:

MAP:

The 10 Most-Popular Vietnam Coracle Guides


View in a LARGER MAP

[Back to Contents]


1: Saigon to Hanoi: 5 Routes [read here]

Pageviews: 237,025 | Map views: 2,344,100 

Social media shares: 1,500

First published: April 2016 | Last updated: March 2017

Synopsis: Riding the length of Vietnam by motorbike is definitely one of the best ways to see the country, and, in my opinion, one of the most rewarding travel experiences currently available anywhere in Asia. These 5 great routes between Saigon and Hanoi are specifically designed to suit the needs of different travellers, based on scenery, time frame, and ease of navigation, among other things……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Saigon to Hanoi by Motorbike: 5 Suggested Routes

[Back to Contents]


2: Ha Giang Extreme North Loop[read here]

Pageviews: 160,201 | Map views: 663,350

Social media shares: 1,010

First published: October 2014 | Last updated: December 2017

Synopsis: Home to a mythical landscape of conical limestone peaks & craterous valleys, Ha Giang is Vietnam’s northern-most province. Over the years, Ha Giang has gained an almost legendary status among travellers, mainly because of an incredible motorbike loop around the ‘north pole’, which is perhaps the most thrilling road trip in the entire country……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Ha Giang Extreme North Motorbike Loop

[Back to Contents]


3: 7 Streets for Street Food in Saigon: [read here]

Pageviews: 101,453 | Map views: 569,230

Social media shares: 648

First published: July 2014 | Last updated: November 2016

Synopsis: Arguably the best place to explore Vietnam’s extraordinary street food scene, Saigon is a city that boasts so many street food outlets that it feels like a gigantic open-air restaurant. This is my guide to 7 of the best streets for street food in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


7 Great Street Food Streets in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)


[Back to Contents]


4: Ho Chi Minh Road: Motorbike Guide [read here]

Pageviews: 90,368 | Map views: 367,634

Social media shares: 1,225

First published: October 2013 | Last updated: May 2016

Synopsis: Stretching almost 2,000km along the mountainous spine of Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Road is fast becoming famous as one of the finest motorbike rides in Asia. Now fully paved from Saigon all the way to Hanoi, this is my full guide to the entire length of what is surely one of the most evocative road names in the world……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


The Ho Chi Minh Road by Motorbike, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


5: Phu Quocs Beaches: A Guide [read here]

Pageviews: 90,086 | Map views: 317,602

Social media shares: 453

First published: July 2014 | Last updated: November 2018

Synopsis: Vietnam’s largest island, Phu Quoc is fast becoming one of Southeast Asia’s premier beach destinations. There are dozens of excellent beaches on Phu Quoc Island, and this guide covers them all: 19 beaches, bays, and coves, including my tips for accommodation on each one……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Phu Quoc's Beaches, a guide, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


6: Hai Van Pass: Motorbike Guide [read here]

Pageviews: 83,532 | Map views: 685,7587

Social media shares: 351

First published: April 2012 | Last updated: February 2018

Synopsis: One of the most famous roads in Vietnam, the Hai Van Pass weaves around a mountainous stretch of coastline in Central Vietnam. Combined with several other scenic coast roads, the Hai Van Pass forms a fun, easy & picturesque ride between Hoi An, Danang & Hue……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


The Hai Van Pass Motorbike Guide, Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


7: The Cafe Apartment in Saigon: [read here]

Pageviews: 64,398 | Map views: 101,002

Social media shares: 2,390

First published: June 2016 | Last updated: February 2017

Synopsis: Boasting over 30 independent coffee shops & fashion boutiques, the old apartment block at No.42 Nguyen Hue is the coolest address on Saigon’s Walking Street. I call it the Cafe Apartment, and this is my complete floor-by-floor guide……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


The Cafe Apartment at 42 Nguyen Hue Street, Saigon

[Back to Contents]


8: Expenses for a Motorbike Road Trip: [read here]

Pageviews: 43,883

Social media shares: 270

First published: April 2015 | Last updated: March 2018

Synopsis: A list of expenses and an estimated daily budget in three separate price categories to help riders prepare for a Vietnam road trip. These costs are based on hundreds of road trips that I’ve taken – both solo and in a group – over many years of motorbiking in Vietnam……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Guide to expenses for a motorbike road trip in Vietnam

[Back to Contents]


9: 13 Public Pools in Saigon: [read here]

Pageviews: 41,072 | Map views: 241,331

Social media shares: 215

First published: September 2013 | Last updated: December 2016

Synopsis: If you’re not lucky enough to be staying at one of the smarter hotels with a pool, or if you’re an expat looking to escape the heat & clamour of the city, Saigon has plenty of good & inexpensive public swimming pools to choose from……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


Public Swimming Pools in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

[Back to Contents]


10: Con Dao Islands: A Guide [read here]

Pageviews: 30,287 | Map views: 166,708

Social media shares: 541

First published: June 2012 | Last updated: August 2018

Synopsis: With its wild and beautiful beaches, rugged, jungle-covered interior, and fascinating but tragic history, the Con Dao Islands is a remarkable place. Once a brutal penal colony, established by the French colonial administration, today the Con Dao Islands is one of Vietnam’s most beguiling destinations……read more

[Click image to go to guide]


A Travel Guide to the Con Dao Islands


[Back Top]

RELATED POSTS:


Related Posts

[Back Top]

The post Top 10 Most-Popular Vietnam Coracle Guides appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/top-10-most-popular-vietnam-coracle-guides/feed/ 2
Vu Linh Homestays, Thac Ba Lake http://vietnamcoracle.com/vu-linh-homestays-thac-ba-lake/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/vu-linh-homestays-thac-ba-lake/#comments Tue, 20 Nov 2018 14:54:45 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=23639 Vu Linh is a rural commune on the eastern shores of Thac Ba Lake, where several excellent homestays offer atmospheric lodgings & access to the lake & local community.... Continue reading

The post Vu Linh Homestays, Thac Ba Lake appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
First published November 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

About 150km northwest of Hanoi, Vu Linh is a rural commune on the eastern shores of Thac Ba Lake, one of the largest artificially created lakes in Vietnam. Formed by the flooding of the Chảy River for hydroelectricity projects, Thac Ba Lake is roughly 80km long and 10km wide. Its clear, placid waters spread out in tentacles, peppered with hundreds of hilly, forested islets. The tiny, lakeside commune of Vu Linh has several excellent homestays, most of which consist of picturesque, palm-thatched wooden houses on stilts above the water and crop fields. The Vu Linh homestays are inexpensive, extremely atmospheric and friendly, offering lots of lake-related activities, such as boat trips and helping out with local agriculture. Staying at one of the Vu Linh homestays for a night or two is a very rewarding getaway from Hanoi, or as a way to break the journey between Hanoi and Ha Giang or Sapa. And, best of all, you can swim in Thac Ba Lake.

Vu Linh Homestays, Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThe Vu Linh homestays are about 150km northwest of Hanoi, on the shores of Thac Ba Lake

[Back Top]


GUIDE: THAC BA LAKE HOME STAYS


*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.


MAP:

Homestays in Thac Ba Lake

View in a LARGER MAP


Getting to Vu Linh, on the southeastern shores of Thac Ba Lake, isn’t particularly straightforward. Public transportation gets you near Vu Linh, but not actually to it. Trains on the Hanoi-Lao Cai line stop at Yen Bai, as do buses between Hanoi and Sapa, or between Hanoi and Ha Giang they stop at Tuyen Quang. Either way, you then need to get a taxi or motorbike-taxi to take you the rest of the way to Vu Linh. But it’s worth the effort, especially for those who prefer to leave the beaten path behind. However, by far the best and most convenient way to get to Vu Linh is with your own wheels, whether by motorbike or hired car and driver.

Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThac Ba Lake is huge, but Vu Linh, on the eastern shore, is quite difficult to get to on public transport

The lakeside road meanders along the shore, until small, makeshift signs start to appear for various homestays. Currently, there’s at least half a dozen good homestays in the Vu Linh area, which are spread over a patch of land between the lake road (Road 170) and the lake shore. I stayed at La Vie Vu Linh Homestay & Eco-lodge, but I also checked out Vu Linh Farmstay, Vu Linh Family-Homestay, and Vu Linh Homestay, all of which looked great. What’s more, several readers have written to me with positive experiences of them all.

View from Vu Linh homestays, Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThere are several good homestays in Vu Linh on Thac Ba Lake: I stayed in La Vie


View from Vu Linh homestays, Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamAlthough the weather was terrible during my visit, the lake views from my room were still impressive

Depending on the time of year, some of the homestays are set just back from the lake shore, while others are right on the water. During the rainy season (May-October), the water-level rises dramatically, flooding much of the area, so that even the inland homestays have direct access to the lake. Indeed, if the rains have been heavy, you may only be able to reach your homestay by boat or, as was the case when I visited La Vie Vu Linh, by a self-operated bamboo raft-ferry. This only serves to make the arrival at your homestay that much more dramatic, and gives the impression of straying way off the beaten path.

Taking the boat to Vu Linh homestays on Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamDepending on the season, sometimes homestays can only be reached by boat or by bamboo raft

And, in general, the Vu Linh homestays are off the beaten path. The lake road is chewed up in places, public transportation is slow and indirect, and there’s only a trickle of independent travellers who visit. However, the lake and homestays are well-known to expatriates in Hanoi and domestic travellers from the capital, and some of the homestays occasionally host large tour groups and school outings. When I visited, there were no other travellers at all, and everything felt very quiet, remote, and peaceful. But, I would imagine that the atmosphere might be quite different if there happened to be a school outing or tour group staying at the same time as your visit.

Boarding the boat on Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Ye Bai Province, VietnamMy family boarding the boat at La Vi Vu Linh Homestay


A rowing boat on Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Ye Bai Province, VietnamVu Linh is generally quite off the beaten path, but tour groups & school outings occasionally visit

All of the homestays have inexpensive dormitory accommodation. Usually on the first floor of a communal wooden longhouse, these dorms consist of mattresses laid out on the wooden floor under mosquito nets, partitioned from each other by curtains or drapes. The dormitories are fan-cooled, and there’s also a breeze off the lake coming through the open windows on warm nights (during the winter months it can get quite cold in Vu Linh). The dorms, which have shared bathrooms and showers, are comfortable, clean, cosy, and great value for money: prices range from 50,000-150,000vnd ($2-$6) per person, per night. Some of the homestays in Vu Linh also offer private or family rooms. These are larger, self-contained rooms with en-suite bathrooms. At La Vie, the private rooms are particularly atmospheric, with windows and terraces overlooking the water, rustic bathtubs, and mezzanine lofts. However, the prices are significantly higher ($30-$60 a night) and the level of comfort isn’t necessarily much better than the dorms. You’re paying for the privacy and the space, rather than any extra amenities or luxuries. But, it’s worth the extra cost, especially if you’re travelling as a family or a couple.

Guest room, Vu Linh homestays on Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamDormitory-style sleeping is very cheap & consists of mattresses on the floor under mosquito nets


Guest room, Vu Linh homestays on Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamMore expensive private rooms are available, with lake views, terraces & direct lake access

As with other homestays across Vietnam, meals are generally eaten ‘family’style’, as a group sitting on the floor of one of the communal houses. Food, which is a highlight of any homestay, is excellent, locally-sourced, and the cooks can usually cater to vegetarians, too. Meals must be ordered well in advance, because the cooks need to know how many ingredients to buy at the local market. Prices are generally between 100,000-200,000vnd ($4-$8) per person for dinner, and about half that for breakfast. Drinks, such as tea, coffee, and beer, can be purchased throughout the day. At La Vie, there’s a fabulous lakeside terrace bar serving a wide variety of beverages, from French red wine to gin and tonics, familiar cocktails to locally-produced grain alcohol.

La Vie Vu Linh Homestay, Thac Ba Lake, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThe terrace bar at La Vie Vu Linh Homestay overlooks the lake & has a good range of drinks

For many of the homestay families, life revolves around the lake and the land, and work changes according the seasons. Most homestays, whether by coincidence or design, are low-impact and fairly sustainable. But at La Vie they make a point of trying to promote sustainable tourism, preferably in a way that gives back to the local community and reinforces good practices in agriculture and fishing. A lot of this revolves around integrating the local Dzao ethnic minority. There are many ways to get involved, most of which are outlined on the La Vie website. All the homestays are warm, friendly, welcoming, and very hospitable. At La Vie, I felt there was occasionally just a hint of ‘performance’ to the hospitality: stories and anecdotes about the local area, people, history, and produce that had been rehearsed and staged numerous times before. But that didn’t make them any less interesting or engaging.

Rowing a boat on Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Ye Bai Province, VietnamLife for locals in Vu Linh revolves around the lake & agriculture: at some homestays you can get involved

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects about staying at the Vu Linh homestays is access to the lake. The swimming is wonderful: the entire lake is your infinity pool. When I stayed at La Vie, the weather was horrendous – it hardly stopped raining once, and the landscape was all grey: there was no visible line between the lake and the sky. But as soon as we arrived – I was travelling with my extended family, most of whom swim – we jumped off the terrace and into the lake. It was a gloomy, dark, and brooding dusk with black clouds hanging over the lake, thunder rumbling, lighting illuminating the forested islets, and torrential rain falling onto the black water. But the lake was warm and calm – it somehow felt safer and more sheltered to be out in the water, floating on one of the bamboo rafts, than on land. Looking back at the homestay, with the lights of the terrace barely shining through the rain and enveloping night, it looked as though Vu Linh were an ark drifting through the storm, while everything else around it flooded and sank. But, just 10 minutes later, I was warm and dry under the thatched roof of the terrace, shooting back corn liquor and eating mounds of rice and local delicacies before going to sleep on my mattress under a mosquito net, listening to the rain falling outside.

Swimming in Thac Ba Lake, Vu Linh, Yen Bai Province, VietnamThac Ba Lake is serene & clean: it’s perfect for swimming (even during a storm)


Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like these homestays and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

[Back Top]

RELATED POSTS:


Related Posts

[Back Top]

The post Vu Linh Homestays, Thac Ba Lake appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/vu-linh-homestays-thac-ba-lake/feed/ 4
Panhou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang http://vietnamcoracle.com/panhou-village-ecolodge-ha-giang/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/panhou-village-ecolodge-ha-giang/#respond Thu, 18 Oct 2018 12:27:12 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=27265 Deep within the folds of steep mountains & plunging valleys, Panhou Village Ecolodge is set in the middle of a remote & seldom-visited part of Ha Giang, Vietnam’s northernmost province.... Continue reading

The post Panhou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
First published October 2018 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | REVIEW | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Deep within the folds of steep mountains and plunging valleys, Panhou Village Ecolodge is set in the middle of a remote and seldom-visited part of Ha Giang, Vietnam’s northernmost province. A cluster of bamboo, brick-and-thatch structures constructed on a lush patch of land by a clear-flowing river, Panhou Village Ecolodge is a boutiquey blend of local ethnic minority architecture and a few modern comforts. In recent years, Ha Giang has become famous for the extraordinary landscapes of the Extreme North Loop, which lies to the east of the Lo (Blue) River, a major waterway that bisects the province. But the territory west of the Lo River is far less trodden, yet it offers equally beguiling countryside. Panhou Village Ecolodge is an ideal base from which to explore this scenic region. The hiking and biking are excellent, and the Ecolodge is a cosy place to call home for a few days in the green embrace of Vietnam’s northern highlands. [Average rates are $40-$50. To check availability & make a reservation for Panhou Ecolodge please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamDeep in the mountains of remote Ha Giang Province, Panhou Ecolodge is a cosy & unexpected hideaway

[Back Top]


REVIEW: PAN HOU ECOLODGE


Address: Thong Nguyen Hamlet, Hoang Su Phi District, Ha Giang Province, Vietnam [MAP]

Average Rates: $40-$50 | Website: www.panhou-village.com


MAP:

View in a LARGER MAP


Located on a small, paved lane, about 20km west of road DT177, Panhou Village Ecolodge is accessed via a narrow, wooden bridge, suspended above a rocky river. Even when you’re on road DT177, you’re already off the beaten path, so by the time you reach the Ecolodge, you’re way off the grid. Panhou is a few kilimetres north of Thong Nguyen hamlet, which isn’t much more than a cluster of concrete houses at a rural crossroads. The nearest town of any size is Hoang Su Phi, 25km to the north. And Ha Giang, the provincial capital, is a 3-hour drive northeast of the Ecolodge. What’s more, many of the local roads are regularly blocked due to landslides, such is the mountainous nature of the surrounding terrain. In short, Panhou Village Ecolodge is remote.

The bridge to Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Village sits on an island in a stream: a wooden bridge leads across the water to the ecolodge

With this isolation comes spellbinding landscape. For most Vietnamese, the name Hoang Su Phi, the district in which Panhou is located, conjures romantic images of a wild, mist-shrouded mountainscape, where forests are punctured by waterfalls, and rice terraces grace the valleys. And this romanticized image is, well, pretty much accurate. It’s a majestic part of Vietnam; a region with genuine grandeur. And yet, there’s still very little tourist infrastructure here, which is one of the reasons Panhou Ecolodge is so special and unique. It was established specifically for travellers who wanted to experience this part of Vietnam, especially on trekking holidays. Personally, I think of Panhou as a place to treat myself in the middle of a long motorbike road trip, specifically the Borders & Back-Roads route, between Sapa and Ha Giang.

Guest room at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Ecolodge makes a great stop for travellers on the back-roads route between Sapa & Ha Giang

Unsurprisingly, given its remote location, getting to Panhou Ecolodge requires a long journey. You can get here independently by motorbike (or a very challenging bicycle ride) or hired private vehicle. The nearest transport hub is Ha Giang city, but from there, local buses will generally only get you as close as the town of Hoang Su Phi. Or, if you book in advance, the Ecolodge can arrange transportation for you from Hanoi or Sapa, at an extra cost. Either way, it’s a day’s journey, perhaps more if road and weather conditions are bad.

Restaurant & fireplace at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Village is very remote, but the lodge is cosy & comfortable, including this restaurant & fireplace

The Ecolodge is nestled on a patch of flat land between the riverside and the hills behind. It’s a small complex that resembles a traditional hamlet. The grounds are extremely lush: tropical plants, trees, and flowers grow profusely all around the property – you can almost see the foliage growing as you walk through the gardens. In amongst this jungle are dotted several thatched structures, connected by meandering stone pathways. The gardens and buildings are very well kept and cared for by a staff that includes local people from ethnic minority groups. Twenty three guest rooms, including doubles and triples, are tastefully but minimally furnished. Wooden desks, bamboo chairs and curtain rails, bedside lamps, crisp white sheets, and tiled en-suite shower and toilet are enough to make the rooms comfortable and cosy. There’s a ceiling fan, but no air-conditioning. Windows open onto the lovely gardens and feature mosquito netting so that you can leave them open at night for the breeze without letting the bugs in – a simple feature, but one that most accommodations in Vietnam lack.

Garden at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamThe gardens at Panhou are incredibly lush – tropical foliage grows all over the property

As the name suggests, Panhou Ecolodge is ostensibly an environmentally friendly property. Solar panels heat the water, local materials are used for building, local people are employed, and local ingredients – many of which are grown on the property – are used in the cooking. I always find it difficult to judge, but on the surface at least this eco-lodge does appear to be low-impact and sustainable.

Garden at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Ecolodge appears to be relatively low-impact & eco-friendly, including the use of solar power

Breakfast, including excellent bread and home-made jams, is included in the room price. Lunch and dinner are set menus consisting of good Vietnamese highland dishes. There are vegetarian options, too. All meals are a flat rate of $13 per person. If you have your own transport, you can go a few kilometres down the road to Thong Nguyen hamlet for a meal at a quán cơm (rice eatery), but otherwise the only option is to eat at the Ecolodge. The restaurant and bar are (somewhat unnecessarily) housed in separate structures close to one another, both of which appear to blend traditional architectural motifs with modern flourishes. The bar offers a good list of cocktails, which must be the only ones for miles around. A gin and tonic or Campari and orange next to the blazing, open fire after a long day’s trekking or motorbiking in the mountains is a real treat. Another treat after an excursion is to indulge in one of the traditional, herbal, therapeutic baths on offer. 

Dinner at Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamGood, home-cooked, locally sourced meals are available & cocktails & wine are served in the bar

But all this comes at a price, and that price is usually around $50 a night for bed and breakfast, double occupancy. For a couple, or two friends sharing, this seems pretty reasonable, especially considering the location is so remote, and the fact that it’s a generally low-impact and environmentally friendly property. But, for the price, some guests might have higher expectations when it comes to the level of comfort and amenities. When I first visited the Ecolodge, I was quite surprised (but not disappointed) at how sparse the rooms were. This is something to bear in mind, particularly if you’re a budget traveller thinking of ‘splashing out’ for a night. Whenever I’ve stayed at Panhou Ecolodge I’ve shared the cost with a friend and felt that the room rate represented value for money. In any case, it’s such a lovely, lush, well-maintained, and pretty place that you won’t be thinking about the money. [Average rates are $40-$50. To check availability & make a reservation for Panhou Ecolodge please BOOK HERE]

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: I never write a review for money: all my content is free & my reviews are independent. You can support the work I do by booking your hotels via the Agoda links & search boxes on my site, like the ones on this page. If you make a booking, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). Any money I make goes straight back into this site. Thank you.

Pan Hou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang, VietnamPanhou Village Ecolodge is atmospheric, remote, cosy, comfortable & very scenically located

Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this review because I want to: I like this ecolodge and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

[Back Top]

RELATED POSTS:


Related Posts

[Back Top]

The post Panhou Village Ecolodge, Ha Giang appeared first on Vietnam Coracle.

]]>
http://vietnamcoracle.com/panhou-village-ecolodge-ha-giang/feed/ 0