Vietnam Coracle http://vietnamcoracle.com Independent Travel Guides to Vietnam Thu, 20 Jun 2019 05:55:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Where to Stay in Phong Nha: A Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/where-to-stay-in-phong-nha-a-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/where-to-stay-in-phong-nha-a-guide/#respond Wed, 19 Jun 2019 08:29:38 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=29229 Backpacker dorms, family homestays, boutique farmstays & luxurious lakeside bungalows: here's my independent guide to accommodation in & around Phong Nha.... Continue reading

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First published June 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

Accommodation in Phong Nha ranges from dirt-cheap dorms in backpacker hostels to intimate rooms in family homestays; from boutique farmstays among the rice paddies to high-end lakeside bungalows. Phong Nha is gateway to the incredible cave systems, bucolic landscapes, and stunning limestone karsts of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It’s one of Vietnam’s star attractions. But, although widely known, tourism is still relatively new to Phong Nha. However, over the last few years, the range and number of accommodations available in Phong Nha has boomed. The area is flooded with hostels, guesthouses, hotels and homestays. Competition has driven prices right down, and almost all accommodation in Phong Nha is excellent value for money. Indeed, prices are so low that many places are struggling to make a profit, and an ongoing ‘price war’ is currently the talk of the town. For many travellers (including myself), the choice of accommodation in Phong Nha is overwhelming. That’s why, in this guide, I’ve listed and reviewed a selection of places to stay (for all budgets) in and around Phong Nha that I’m particularly fond of, so that other travellers can get more of an idea of what’s available.

Where to Stay in Phong Nha: A Guide AThis guide features 22 illustrated independent reviews of accommodations for all budgets in Phong Nha

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WHERE TO STAY IN PHONG NHA


On this page I’ve listed and reviewed 22 different accommodations in and around the Phong Nha area. I’ve categorized the places to stay into ‘High-end’, ‘Mid-range’, and ‘Budget’. For each accommodation I’ve included the general room rates, contact details, photos, and links to check availability and make bookings. All the places to stay in this guide are plotted on my map. Bear in mind that things can change quickly in Phong Nha: new accommodations open, old ones close, and, at the time of research, there were concerns about pricing, as competition had driven rates so low that many places were no longer profitable. Expect significant changes to rates over the next year or two. Click an item from the contents below to read more:

*Please support Vietnam Coracle: All my reviews are independently researched & paid for. I never receive freebies of any sort in exchange for positive reviews or listings. If you use 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.

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Key: High-end | Mid-range | Budget


View in a LARGER MAP

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HIGH-END: Resorts & Farmstays:

Despite its growing reputation as a travel destination, none of the domestic or international high-end hotel and resort chains have entered Phong Nha’s accommodation market yet, choosing instead to focus their attention on the beach near Dong Hoi, 45km southeast. And this is a good thing, because instead of their brand of bland, business-like luxury on a vast scale, Phong Nha’s high-end scene is more intimate, characterful, tasteful and local. The level of luxury, comfort and style at Phong Nha’s higher-end accommodations is very good, but don’t expect facilities on a level with the gigantic beach resorts on Vietnam’s coast. Phong Nha’s high-end options are more about atmosphere than amenities, and prices reflect this: they are generally very good value for money:

Boats on the river, Phong Nha, Vietnam


• Victory Road Villas [MAP]; $80-$150 [BOOK HERE]:

On the banks of the river, a little west of Phong Nha village’s main drag, Victory Road Villas (www.victoryroadvillas.com) is currently the most luxurious accommodation in the Phong Nha area. Often referred to simply as ‘The Villas’, this property is the pride of the ‘Farmstay Fleet’, which also includes Easy Tiger and Shambalaa hostels, as well as the Farmstay itself. Recently opened, The Villas is contemporary in design but with traditional Vietnamese flourishes here and there. However, the general structure is reminiscent of a half-timbered English country cottage, with exposed wooden beams bisecting white walls. Entering from the riverside road, the terrace bar and restaurant is a great place for a sunset drink and a meal. Inside, the guest rooms are arranged around a central swimming pool – by far the biggest in Phong Nha – with loungers on the patio, hanging tarps to keep the sun off, and a picturesque limestone crag looming up behind. There are only a handful of rooms, all of which are duplexes offering carefully considered interior decor, including tiled floors, kitchenette, beautiful outside bathtubs, large beds on wooden platforms, balconies, swings, and corners of greenery. (As with the Farmstay, some of the bedroom artwork seems at odds with the general style of the place.) Apart from the gigantic three-bedroom apartment, all rooms are doubles. The entire property is tasteful and classy, yet unpretentious and friendly. A drawback is that some of the rooms don’t really have views (although they are enormous and there’s plenty of natural light), but this is counterbalanced by the large outdoor space around the pool and the excellent vistas over the river and mountains from the terrace bar and restaurant [BOOK HERE]

Victory Road Villas, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Victory Road Villas, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Victory Road Villas, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Victory Road Villas, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Phong Nha Lake House Resort [MAP]; $40-$80 [BOOK HERE]:

A few kilometres east of Phong Nha village, the Lake House (www.phongnhalakehouse.com) is a large property just off the Ho Chi Minh Highway as it passes between wooded hills. Entered via the restaurant and bar overlooking the resort’s swimming pool, the Lake House is spread around the shores of a freshwater lake, which is clean and swimmable. Guest rooms are mostly in lakeside bungalows with terraces overlooking the water and hills. Rooms are neat and brightly furnished with sliding doors onto the balconies. There are mosquito nets over the beds and, because the terrace doors have bug screens, you can leave the doors open for the breeze without worrying about letting the mosquitoes into your room (trust me, this is very smart, and it’s remarkable how few other accommodations in Vietnam do it). At the time of research, the resort was just about to open a new wing. The new rooms are even more spacious, with a nice blend of modern design and traditional motifs, all with great lake views. New rooms also have large, stone bathtubs, and outside showers. Prices are about right for the standard of accommodation available. The pool is too small for swimming laps, but the lake is a good substitute for this, and kayaking is also fun. Note that during the dry months – usually March through June – the water level in the lake drops significantly. Although there’s still plenty of water to swim and boat, it changes the aesthetics of the resort: when the lake’s full, the water reaches to just below the terraces of the rooms and, at night, the lights are reflected in the lake; when the water level is low, there’s a stony beach – a kind of no man’s land – between the rooms and the lake, which isn’t quite as attractive [BOOK HERE]

Phong Nha Lake House Resort, Vietnam


Phong Nha Lake House Resort, Vietnam


Phong Nha Lake House Resort, Vietnam


Phong Nha Lake House Resort, Vietnam

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• Phong Nha Farmstay [MAP]; $40-$70 [BOOK HERE]:

Apart from the caves, it was the Farmstay (www.phong-nha-cave.com) that helped put Phong Nha on the map. Located among the rice paddies and corn fields of Khuong Ha village, 10 kilometres east of Phong Nha town, the Farmstay is an attractive complex of two-storey structures spread either side of a corner on a country lane. There are plenty of guest rooms and lots of terrace space with loungers, hammocks and chairs to sprawl out on, relax, and enjoy the sweeping views of farmland, cattle, water buffalo, and clouds rolling in from the distant mountains. All rooms are simply but tastefully furnished, with floral bed sheets, lamps, wooden-frame mosquito nets, white walls, and tiled floors (although some of the artwork verges on the kitsch). The grounds are spacious and shaded by trellised vines, tropical trees and flowers. Downstairs, the communal areas are all inside-outside: open to the breezes off the rices fields and sunlight through the trees. The bar is cozy and well-stocked (including plenty of imported beers, ciders and wines); the new swimming pool is set on the edge of the rice fields with cows coming close enough to touch; there’s a sauna and gym, bicycles and motorbikes with sidecars, and a restaurant with all sorts of tempting local and international dishes. All this is great, but perhaps the most impressive and endearing aspect of the Farmstay is the character and ambience of the place: it feels like a family home. Indeed, it is. Owners Ben (Australian) and Bích (Vietnamese) live here with their extended family. But the feeling runs through the staff (mostly local) and guests, too. One gets the impression that everybody feels comfortable here. I’m not quite sure how this is achieved, but it is most impressive. What’s more, knowledge of the local area and history is unmatched: there are maps, talks, books, tours, advice and information. The Farmstay is informal and friendly, yet also well-organized and well-run; comfortable and convenient, yet also very much part of its natural surrounds and landscape. [BOOK HERE]

Phong Nha Farmstay, Vietnam


Phong Nha Farmstay, Vietnam


Phong Nha Farmstay, Vietnam


Phong Nha Farmstay, Vietnam

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• Chay Lap Farmstay & Resort [MAP]; $50-$100 [BOOK HERE]:

Run by Oxalis, the Chay Lap Farmstay & Resort (www.chaylapfarmstay.com) is a large complex west of the river, not far from Dark Cave (Hang Tối). Chay Lap has lots of rooms spread around a large garden beneath limestone mountains. There are three types of accommodation: rooms in a two storey building, private bungalows, or wooden ‘tube huts’. The latter are the most popular and the most atmospheric of the room types. Made from pine wood, the barn-like huts look like something out of Tolkien’s Shire: squat, round, and vaguely like a Hobbit’s home. Inside, the wooden paneling and curved roof and walls are very attractive. The other rooms are perfectly comfortable, spacious, clean and well-appointed, but fairly characterless, especially considering the price. There’s a vegetable and herb garden, a decent sized swimming pool, bar and restaurant. Chay Lap is very much a resort: it’s on its own, far from any local life or activity. But the setting is very scenic and most guests use it as a base for their Oxalis-led caving expeditions [BOOK HERE]

Chay Lap Farmstay & Resort, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Chay Lap Farmstay & Resort, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Chay Lap Farmstay & Resort, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Chay Lap Farmstay & Resort, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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MID-RANGE: Homestays & Hotels:

In Phong Nha, accommodation in the mid-range price bracket is numerous. These take the form of homestays, bungalows, guesthouses, mini-hotels and resorts. The following accommodations are spread around the Phong Nha area, and the price range is generally between $15-$35 a night. Mid-range value for money is extremely good, but this is partly because of an explosion in local homestays, which is now beginning to drive prices so low that businesses are no longer profitable. At the time of writing, the general feeling is that something has to be done about this. Therefore, expect some changes in rates in the near future. The places below are in no particular order: if they’re on this list, then they are, by definition, recommended:

Boats on the river, Phong Nha, Vietnam


• Nguyen Shack Eco Resort [MAP]; $30-$60 [BOOK HERE]:

A couple of kilometres east of Phong Nha village, Nguyen Shack Eco Resort (www.nguyenshack.com) is hidden down a series of meandering country lanes. A large, lakeside property, Nguyen Shack uses natural, local materials (where possible) to build its collection of huts, bungalows, and cabins. Nestled on the bank between a tree plantation and the lake, Nguyen Shack tries to be as sustainable as possible. Accommodation comes in two styles: cosy, A-frame huts set back from the lake, and large, light and spacious cabins right on the lake. Both are made from local pine and eucalyptus wood, as well as recycled composite materials, such as the roofing of the huts, which is made from old tyres and fibers. The beds in the A-frames are raised on a mezzanine platform with a window looking out across the trees. The cabins boast so much light and space that it feels as if they’re open-air. Vegetables are grown in the garden, local people are employed and trained as staff, and the owners play a positive role in the local community. Quiet, secluded and rural, Nguyen Shack caters to flashpacking couples, mid-range travellers, and families. There’s loads of space to walk around, including the local farming community. Lots of animals wander freely around the property, including cats and dogs and pigs and turtles. The atmosphere is relaxed, informal, and friendly. The lakeside bar and restaurant are great in the mornings and evenings, and the open kitchen offers cooking classes for guests. There’s a large pool by the lake, which is long enough to swim. The pool’s external structure is shaped like a Vietnamese fishing boat, complete with concrete bow, mast and sail. It’s very distinctive but slightly at odds with the tone of the rest of the resort. One slight concern if you have kids, are the sharp bits and pieces, like splintered wood and nails, protruding from some of the woodwork [BOOK HERE]

Nguyen Shack Eco Resort, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Nguyen Shack Eco Resort, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Nguyen Shack Eco Resort, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Pepper House Homestay [MAP]; $350-$55 [BOOK HERE]:

About 7km east of Phong Nha village, and just south of the Ho Chi Minh Highway, Pepper House (www.pepperhouse-homestay.com) is a boutique-style homestay with only four rooms, all beautifully appointed around an L-shaped pool. Run by a Vietnamese-Australian couple, the land has been in the wife’s family for generations. Formerly a banana plantation, the property is still bursting with tropical fruit trees, including papaya, pepper, jackfruit, peanuts and banana. Set down a track off a paved back-road, Pepper House has farmland on all sides, including rice paddies and wandering cattle. The handsome, squat structure is painted ochre yellow with red-tiled roofs. Lantern-lit terraces open onto the pool with bamboo loungers. Inside, the rooms are tastefully furnished with cool concrete floors, wooden window frames, and bright bedclothes. Pepper House has an innovative compost system for its bathrooms, using sawdust instead of water and, eventually, after 10 years, selling the compost to local farmers as fertilizer. It’s worth remembering that Pepper House is popular and there’s only a few rooms, so it pays to book ahead [BOOK HERE]

Pepper House Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Pepper House Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Rice Field Homestay [MAP]; $15-$20 [BOOK HERE]:

A small, new homestay with only two rooms, Rice Field is located down a paved lane with a back garden boasting stunning views across the rice fields and wading buffalo over to jungle-clad limestone mountains. Rooms are very clean and attractive, with plenty of space, and modestly furnished. There’s a little restaurant in front, but it’s all about the back garden, which is a large, landscaped terrace overlooking the landscape. Not much English is spoken but Hằng, a 13 year-old relative of the owner, might be there to help out – in fact, she appears to practically run the place. Rice Field is a good, interesting alternative to the better known mid-range homestays. It’s also good for kids, because of all the space [BOOK HERE]

Rice Field Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Rice Field Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Sy’s Homestay [MAP]; $20-$30 [BOOK HERE]:

Set among the rice fields to the east of the Ho Chi Minh Highway, Sy’s Homestay (www.sy-homestay.com) is scenically located with a homey vibe, a pool, and good mid-range value rooms. Sy’s is on a quiet, paved back-road in the countryside. Recently expanded, Sy’s now has two types of rooms: concrete bungalows raised on concrete stilts above the fields, and a block of rooms off a communal terrace on the second floor of the main building. Structurally, Sy’s isn’t much to look at. But it’s all about the location out on the rice paddies, and the views west over towards the limestone karsts of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Sy’s is quiet and efficiently run by a nice local family. It’s pretty much outgrown its ‘homestay’ status, but nonetheless retains a homey, intimate atmosphere. Rooms are nicely presented but without any fancy stuff – there’s lots of wood, plenty of space, and large bathrooms with a skylight above the shower. The pool is good for a cooling dip, but not big enough for swimming laps. Before the two annual harvests (May and August) the colours of the rice fields surrounding the homestay are extraordinary [BOOK HERE]

Sy's Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Sy's Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Sy's Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Hung Phat Bungalow [MAP]; $20-$30 [BOOK HERE]:

Just across the road from Sy’s, Hung Phat (www.facebook.com/hungphatbungalow) is accessed via the riverside road east of Phong Nha village. New, clean, and neat, Hung Phat has several A-frame bungalows raised on stilts with a pool at the front and rice fields at the back. Each bungalow is simply but comfortably furnished and, although it’s by no means spacious, the rooms don’t feel too cramped. The views from the back are glorious: a sweeping vista over the rice paddies and limestone karsts. Each room has a big window opposite the bed for sunrise views and a balcony with a little bench. Beneath the bungalows there are benches for relaxing, lit by lanterns in the evenings. The pool is compact with loungers dotted around the sides. Because it’s small and family-run, there’s an appealing sense of intimacy. Hung Phat is very good mid-range value [BOOK HERE]

Hung Phat Bungalow, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Hung Phat Bungalow, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Greenfield Ecostay [MAP]; $10-$30 [BOOK HERE]:

Right in the middle of an ocean of rice paddies, Greenfield (www.greenfieldecostay.com) is a big accommodation a few kilometres east of Phong Nha village. With plenty of rooms in a big, barn-like wooden structure and separate bungalows, Greenfield is an island among acres of crop fields. From the benches, loungers and swings in its manicured gardens, the views over the glowing rice paddies, buffalo, conical-hatted farmers, and over towards the sinister silhouettes of the karsts in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park are very evocative. Rooms are comfortable, clean, and stylishly sparse. This is yet another excellent mid-range place to stay in Phong Nha [BOOK HERE]

Greenfield Ecostay, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Greenfield Ecostay, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Funny Monkeys Homestay [MAP]; $20-$30 [BOOK HERE]:

Recently renamed (formerly Ruby Homestay) and under new management, Funny Monkeys (www.facebook.com/funnymonekyshomestay) is one of several very good riverside accommodations spreading south along the east bank of the river. A three storey concrete building right on the water’s edge, Funny Monkeys has 6 very large, bright rooms. But it’s all about getting one of the river facing rooms, which have fantastic views and huge balconies to sit out on and take it all in. The terrace bar and restaurant along the riverbank is a great place for breakfast, and swimming is possible straight off the bank. Rooms are plain but neat and comfortable, and you really don’t need to do that much in terms of decor when you’ve got all that space and those river views [BOOK HERE]

Funny Monkeys Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Funny Monkeys Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Funny Monkeys Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Areca Bungalow [MAP]; $20-$30 [BOOK HERE]:

A little further up river, Areca (www.facebook.com/arecabungalow) is a small and attractive property with a handful of tube-like bungalows set in a garden right on the river. Rooms are nice, simple and tastefully appointed. All rooms are raised above the ground with front terraces and large windows to let the light in. The riverside tables are a beautiful place to watch the sun go down behind the limestone mountains, setting on the figures fishing and rowing on the river. There’s even a sandy beach for swimming off, and kayaks to paddle down the river. Delightful [BOOK HERE]

Areca Bungalow, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Areca Bungalow, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Areca Bungalow, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Carambola Bungalow [MAP]; $20-$30 [BOOK HERE]:

Another collection of riverside, A-frame bungalows, Carambola (www.carambolabungalow.com) is peaceful, green and good value. The property has a large slice of ‘river beach’ with loungers, tables, chairs, and kayaks. The views are excellent, but the rooms and the bungalows themselves aren’t quite as attractive as others in this list. Nonetheless, it’s a popular, friendly place, and  very good value for money [BOOK HERE]

Carambola Bungalow, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Carambola Bungalow, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Carambola Bungalow, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Son River House [MAP]; $20-$30 [BOOK HERE]:

Down a narrow paved alley near where Road 20 veers east into the national park, Son River House (094 263 1451) is a small, cheap, chilled, and simple guest house by the water. On the riverfront walkway, Son River House has a wood-and-tile restaurant in the middle of its gardens, around which several brick bungalows sit. The rooms are very clean, well-kept and sparsely furnished. Walking (or swimming) by the river is nice and peaceful here, as it’s far from the busier end of Phong Nha town [BOOK HERE]

Son River House, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Son River House, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Ho Khanh’s Homestay [MAP]; $25-$35 [BOOK HERE]:

Home of the man who brought Son Doong Cave to the attention of the world, Ho Khanh’s Homestay (www.facebook.com/hokhanhshomestay) is a quiet, little collection of private bungalows in a garden, and separate rooms in a wooden stilt home. Of the two, the latter are the more atmospheric, with wooden paneling and furniture in a more traditional Vietnamese mountain style than the concrete bungalows. As an accommodation, it’s a bit plain for the price, but the prospect of meeting the man himself is enough to make you want to stay. Plus there’s easy access to the river for swimming and the waterside cafe is great for breakfast and a sunset drink [BOOK HERE]

Ho Khanh's Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Ho Khanh's Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Lucky Homes [MAP]; $25-$35 [BOOK HERE]:

On a good stretch of the riverfront, Lucky Homes (www.facebook.com/lehaxiem) is a popular place with mid-range travellers. Set just across the road from the river, Lucky Homes has lots of rooms on two levels arranged around a central swimming pool. Over the road, there’s riverside loungers and seats, popular in the late afternoons for sunset, when the views across to the limestone mountains are fantastic. Rooms are excellent value for money: large, spacious, very clean, comfortable, made to a decent standard, with windows and balconies. Again, it’s fairly plain, but does everything it needs to for the price. Most travellers who stay here are very happy with their choice [BOOK HERE]

Lucky Homes, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Lucky Homes, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Jungle Boss Homestay [MAP]; $30-$40 [BOOK HERE]:

Tucked away in the back streets of Phong Nha, Jungle Boss Homestay (www.jungle-boss.com) is a good option if you’re looking to really explore the national park while you’re in the area. This is because the homestay is run by Jungle Boss, a well-respected local tour company who know the area inside-out. The homestay itself is cosy and intimate, with two types of accommodation: rooms in a brick and bamboo building or wood-paneled bungalows raised above the gardens. Both types are thoughtfully appointed and comfortable places to be, but the latter have more light and space, with windows and a terrace to enjoy the fresh air and views. There’s a small pool and a restaurant where travellers can sit, chat, and plan the various excursions that Jungle Boss offer. English is spoken and there’s lots of local knowledge here. With the competition now available in Phong Nha, prices at Jungle Boss Homestay are a little high for the standard of accommodation offered. But you’ll be well looked after and it’s a great base from which to explore Phong Nha-Ke Bang [BOOK HERE]

Jungle Boss Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Jungle Boss Homestay, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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BUDGET: Hostels & Guest Houses:

These days, Phong Nha is quite a big backpacker destination. In fact, most of the travellers you see in Phong Nha appear to be Western backpackers, and many of the businesses, especially on the main street in town, are geared towards them. As such, there are several hostels with very cheap, dorm-style accommodation available in Phong Nha, as well as dozens of low-price mini-hotels and guest houses. Hostels and guest houses tend to cluster along the main drag, just east of the Phong Nha tourist boat pier. Again, competition keeps prices extraordinarily low. In fact, at the time of research, one hostel was offering rooms for free. [Note: in the following list, one significant hostel is not represented: Central Backpackers. This is because the manager refused me entrance or permission to write about or photograph the property]:

Boats on the river, Phong Nha, Vietnam


• Easy Tiger Hostel [MAP]; $5-$7 [BOOK HERE]:

Despite some decent competition, one hostel rises above the rest: Easy Tiger. The Platonic ideal of a backpacker hostel, Easy Tiger (www.easytigerhostel.com) is the place that almost all young, sociable budget travellers gravitate. It’s an extraordinary hostel and an amazing success. Under the same ownership as the Farmstay and The Villas (but about as different in style and atmosphere as conceivably possible), Easy Tiger ticks just about every box on the list of necessary criteria for a great hostel. Fun, informal, social, international, cool, relaxed, young, efficient, cheap, comfortable, entertaining, convenient, clean, well-organized: check. A bar, a cafe, international food, tours, promotions, happy hours, pool, foosball, chill-out area, swimming pool, outdoor communal space, great local information, maps, motorbikes, bicycles, events, live music: check. Perhaps the only thing Easy Tiger doesn’t have is a view of the surrounding landscape, although it does have a limestone karst looming above its pool. But even if this were an issue, no one cares, and no one notices, because everyone is too busy having a good time, enjoying each other’s company, the food, the drink, the games, and, of course, exploring the national park. I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that Easy Tiger put Phong Nha on the backpacker map. You might think that creating this kind of hostel with this kind of atmosphere is a natural result of getting a bunch of excited, eager, young travellers together in a good, cheap space. But it’s not. It is, in fact, the result of extremely good, subtle, farsighted management. This is an exceptional hostel; possibly the best in Vietnam. But it’s almost always full, so make sure you book ahead [BOOK HERE]

Easy Tiger Hostel, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Easy Tiger Hostel, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Easy Tiger Hostel, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Gecko Hostel [MAP]; $3-$10 [BOOK HERE]:

Although Gecko (www.phongnhageckohostel.com) is a very good hostel in its own right, it is essentially the overflow for backpackers whenever Easy Tiger is full. But don’t worry, Gecko has many of the attributes of Easy Tiger and most travellers will be happy enough here. Dorm rooms are cheap and clean, but there are also good value private rooms with bathrooms, if you feel like ‘splashing out’ for a night. Most things a budget traveller requires – laundry service, pool table, lots of cheap alcohol, fast food, and cosy spaces to meet other backpackers – Gecko offers. In fact, some travellers choose to stay at Gecko and simply dip in and out of Easy Tiger, a few doors down the road, for the social life [BOOK HERE]

Gecko Hostel, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Gecko Hostel, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Nguyen Shack Hostel [MAP]; $4-$7 [BOOK HERE]:

With a much lower-key, down-to-earth vibe, Nguyen Shack (www.nguyenshack.com) is distinguishable from the other hostels lining the main street in Phong Nha because it’s made largely of wood (most of the other hostels are converted concrete-and-brick townhouses behind colourful signage). Nguyen Shack has a mini-chain of accommodations up and down Vietnam, all of which have an emphasis on natural materials and natural surrounds. Nguyen Shack Phong Nha follows this concept with its wood-plank floors, doors, bunk beds, and sinks. The dorms and private rooms are the most atmospheric of all the hostels: simple but tasteful little wooden cabins, screened off from the main corridor by curtains. However, Nguyen Shack doesn’t have the entertainment and socializing areas that Easy Tiger and Gecko do. But, once again, many backpackers choose to stay at Nguyen Shack, and socialize at Easy [BOOK HERE]

Nguyen Shack Hostel, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Nguyen Shack Hostel, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• Shambalaa Hostel [MAP]; $4-$7 [BOOK HERE]:

The (little) sister hostel of Easy Tiger, Shambalaa (www.shambalaa.com) is a smaller, more chilled, and more ‘psychedelic’ hostel than its bigger, badder, older sibling. The dorms here are newer and perhaps more comfortable than Easy Tiger. But the space is quite limited and fairly compact. However, this isn’t a problem because Shambalaa guests get free use of all the facilities at Easy, which is just across the street. The decor is pretty ‘groovy’, with colourful murals of trippy patterns and shapes painted on white-washed walls, windows covered with funky drapes, and shisha pipes available [BOOK HERE]

Shambalaa Hostel, Phong Nha, Vietnam


Shambalaa Hostel, Phong Nha, Vietnam

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• An Binh Hotel [MAP]; $8-$14 [BOOK HERE]:

Just back from the main drag (which can be quite a relief) in Phong Nha town, An Binh is a classic, good value Vietnamese mini-hotel. A not-too-ugly, four-storey lump of bricks and concrete softened by lots of balconies and wooden-shuttered windows, An Binh is a great option for budget travellers who would rather stay in a private room with a private bathroom and a private balcony than a multi-bed dorm with shared facilities. Rooms are super clean, with some wooden furniture and balconies overlooking Phong Nha town and the surrounding limestone karsts. At $10 a night for double occupancy, it’s great value for travelling couples. An Binh is run by a friendly local family [BOOK HERE]

An Binh Hotel, Phong Nha, Vietnam


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 Phong Nha and I want my readers to know about its accommodation. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here

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Ly Son Island: Travel Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/ly-son-island-travel-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/ly-son-island-travel-guide/#comments Thu, 13 Jun 2019 12:31:28 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=28626 A volcanic island surrounded by a ring of reefs, Ly Son is a striking, stark & geologically fascinating destination. Easily reached by regular fast ferries, Ly Son Island is located off the coast of central Vietnam.... Continue reading

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First published June 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

A volcanic island surrounded by a ring of reefs, Ly Son is a striking, stark, and geologically fascinating destination, off the coast of central Vietnam. Three large, extinct volcanic craters dominate Ly Son. Inland, the island is barren, dry, and sandy, its flat patchwork of fields rising violently to dramatic cliffs that plunge to the brilliant-blue sea. The water quality around Ly Son Island is among the best in Vietnam. But this isn’t your typical tropical island: Ly Son doesn’t have long, sandy beaches, brushed by coconut palms. What it does have are coral reefs, crystal-clear seas, twisted rock formations, black cliffs, mesmerizing crater-top views, and one of the most dramatically situated beaches in Vietnam. Easily reached by regular, 30-minute, fast boat ferries from Sa Ky Port, in Quang Ngai Province, Ly Son Island has fired the imagination of young, Vietnamese backpackers for several years. But foreign travellers have yet to arrive in numbers. Famous for its seafood and garlic, which grows in the island’s rich, volcanic soil, the time is right to visit Ly Son Island. Accommodation is plentiful and cheap, and there are lots of things to keep you busy, including hiking the island’s volcanic craters, riding a motorbike along the coastal roads, swimming in the blue ocean, snorkeling the reefs, and taking a boat to Dao Be Island, which is an absolute gem.

Ly Son Island, travel guide, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamLy Son is a volcanic island in the East Sea off the coast of Central Vietnam, in Quang Ngai Province

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GUIDE: LY SON ISLAND


Below is my full guide to Ly Son Island. I’ve divided this guide into several categories, and then sub-sections within each category. The best time of year to visit Ly Son is from March to September, when the weather is generally dry and bright, rainfall is light, and seas are mostly calm. It’s also best to visit on a weekday, avoiding weekends and public holidays, during which Ly Son gets very crowded with domestic tourists. Plan to spend at least two nights on Ly Son, if not more. In many ways, Ly Son is like a bigger, more developed, version of Phu Quy Island. It’s also much easier to get to: up to a dozen sailings each day connect Ly Son with the mainland; no permit is required to visit the island; and there are ATMs, hotels, and other tourist infrastructure. Known as the Garlic Kingdom, Ly Son is a fascinating island: an over-sized reef that the waves couldn’t overcome.

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

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Ly Son Island, Quang Ngai Province


View in a LARGER MAP

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Location & Background:

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

Beach, Dao Be Island, Ly Son, VietnamLy Son is a volcanic island in the East Sea, characterized by extinct craters & white coral beaches


Orientation & Topography & History:

Formerly known as Cù Lao Ré, Ly Son Island is a district within Quang Ngai, a central province which generally escapes the notice of most travellers (with the exception of My Lai, the site of the 1968 massacre). The district comprises two main islands, Ly Son (also known as Đảo Lớn – Big Island) and Đảo Bé (Small Island), both of which are permanently inhabited, with a population of around 20,000. Ly Son Island is divided into two ‘communes’. These are: An Vĩnh (the western half of the island) and An Hải (the eastern half). Đảo Bé (Small Island) is also a separate ‘commune’, called An Bình. On Ly Son Island, both An Vĩnh and An Hải communes are further divided into two villages: Thôn Tây (western village) and Thôn Đông (eastern village). Ly Son Island is essentially a spread of volcanic craters rising from the ocean. Three large craters (and two smaller ones) were formed some 25-30 million years ago. The extinct craters rise from the villages and patchwork of fields that make up the rest of the island’s topography. (For a dramatic introduction to Ly Son’s topography, take at look at the island on Google Maps satellite view, where the craters are clearly visible and, rather disturbingly, bring to mind the bird’s-eye photographs of wartime Vietnam, pockmarked by heavy bombing.) There’s a constant rumble wherever you are on Ly Son island. Like peals of distant thunder, this is the sound of waves breaking out on the reef that encircles the entire island, like a natural sea wall, protecting Ly Son from direct hits.

Hang Cau Cliffs, Ly Son Island, VietnamAt points on the island where the craters meet the ocean, Ly Son’s topography is very striking & stark


Ly Son Island, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamThe extinct craters give way to flat land where fields of garlic, corn & shallots grow in the rich soil

As is often the case with lesser-travelled destinations in Vietnam, I found it difficult to find much information about the history of Ly Son*. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of Sa Huynh artifacts and settlements on the island. Sa Huynh was a iron age culture that flourished along the central coast during in the first millennia BC. The indianized kingdom of Champa was active on the island before succumbing to the Vietnamese who swept in from the north, eventually setting up a colony on the island from the 17th century. From Cham times, the Xo La Well, on the south coast, was used to supply passing ships with mineral-rich freshwater. During the Reunification War, the US used the island as a radar base. Whale worship has been a fundamental aspect of local culture. As with many Vietnamese fishing communities, whales were (and are) seen as deities of the ocean and protectors of sailors. There are several ‘whale temples’ on Ly Son (see Temples & Pagodas for details). There’s a military presence on the island, partly because most islands in Vietnam are considered border areas, but also partly due to the ongoing longstanding dispute with China over the Paracel and Spratly islands, which lie to the east of Ly Son. Seafood, garlic and other alliums (onions, shallots etc.) are the islands’ main industry. Indeed, as you travel around Ly Son, you’ll notice that the island actually smells like garlic (from the fields and the markets) and seaweed (drying by the roadside). However, tourism increasingly accounts for a significant proportion of the local economy and will surely be the main employer and earner in the not too distant future. There’s a fair amount of construction going on, including new embankments, hotels, and a large new port, so expect some major changes in the coming years. When I was on Ly Son, I noticed that peoples faces were different from the mainland – more angular, with stronger features. And, like many islands, the accent is quite unique.

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

Nui Thoi Loi Crater, Ly Son Island, VietnamThere are spectacular views of the island from Ly Son’s volcanic craters, some of which are off limits

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Environment & Pollution:

Apparently sand erosion, caused by the large quantities of sand taken from the beaches to use as protection and cover for the hundreds of little fields of garlic, shallots and onions, is starting to weaken Ly Son’s coastline. However, it’s hard to see how this practice can continue anyway, since almost the entire circumference of Ly Son is being walled by an enormous embankment project, currently under construction.

Garlic fields, Ly Son Island, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamLy Son Island’s main crop is garlic: the quantities of sand used to protect the crop is responsible for beach erosion

Trash, of course, is a big problem, and many of the beaches are spoiled by litter, especially plastic. It’s a national (and international) problem and one that’s exacerbated on Ly Son by the sudden influx of travellers (like me), who consume large amounts of single-use plastic and, sadly, many neglect to dispose of their trash responsibly. It’s a worrying situation that appears to be getting worse, although the issue is now widely acknowledged and discussed. Opinions about litter and how to get rid of it are changing, but actual practices are not keeping pace. A couple of examples: when I boarded the ferry to the mainland, each ticket was inspected and then simply ripped up and thrown in the sea, leaving a white trail in the ocean next to the boat; one informal garbage dump (in a fishing marina) was right below a notice saying ‘Don’t litter. Protect our environment. If caught you face a fine of up to 500,000vnd each time’. This had not deterred anyone from using the ‘informal dump’ rather than the green wheelie bins by the roadside.

Trash on Ly Son Island, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamTrash is a problem on Ly Son Island, as elsewhere in Vietnam, although it’s not as bad as other islands

There’s a large trash facility in the north of the island. It seems as though a daily garbage collection – trash trucks and carts – arrives here to dump its load, where it’s then separated and incinerated. The smoke from the tall chimneys wafts over the island, carrying with it a nasty smell. It makes you realize that even when trash is disposed of responsibly (into bins) and collected by a waste management team, we still don’t have a good long-term solution for what to do with it. There’s also at least one recycling centre on Ly Son Island. However, there are reasons to be optimistic…..

Trash incinerator, Ly Son Island, VietnamThere’s a daily trash collection on Ly Son Island: some of it is recycled; much ends up at this trash incinerator

On nearby Đảo Bé Island, just a 10-minute boat ride north of Ly Son, plastic trash on the island (a mixture of local litter and flotsam and jetsam washed up on its beaches) is being collected and recycled in some creative and exciting ways. Plastic bottles, for example, are filled with sand and arranged in lines held together by cement in place of bricks. Plastic bottle walls can now been seen in the little hamlet on Đảo Bé Island. Old fishing buoys are being re-purposed as hanging flower pots, among other creative uses for the garbage that once stained the beautiful beaches of this tiny island. It’s only a start and there’s a long way to go, but already the effect is obvious: the beaches are much cleaner than they were just a year or two ago.

Recycled plastic bottle wall, Ly Son Island, VietnamThere’re some encouraging signs, especially on Dao Be Island, where bottles are recycled as building materials


A wall made entirely from recycled plastic bottles collected from the beaches of Dao Be Island

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Things to See & Do:

There’s lots to keep you busy on Ly Son Island for at least a couple of days. In order to avoid the crowds, follow these two general rules: 1) don’t travel to Ly Son on weekends or public holidays, when the island gets busy; 2) do your sightseeing between 10am and 3pm, when most of the beaches, mountains, temples and other sights are empty. This is because Vietnamese travellers (who make up the vast majority of visitors to Ly Son) tend to prefer the mornings and late afternoons, when temperatures are cooler. A lot of domestic tourism on Ly Son Island is straightforward selfie-taking: groups go on a circuit of the island, ticking off each sight with a bunch of posed selfies, then moving on to the next one. The drawbacks of following the two rules above are, of course, the intense heat in the middle of the day, and the light (which isn’t as good for photography):

The road, bay & cliffs at Hang Cau, Ly Son Island, VietnamThere’s lots to see & do on Ly Son Island, including hiking the volcanic craters & riding the coast roads


Riding, Hiking & Motorbiking:

All of the places mentioned in this guide can be reached by motorbike or on foot: both are pleasant ways of getting around the island. Ly Son is relatively small, but obviously walking takes a lot longer than motorbiking. However, if you’re a hiker, it’s totally feasible to walk all around Ly Son Island, just remember to take the phone number of a taxi company with you (see Getting Around for details). Additionally, walking around Dao Be Island, just a short boat ride north of Ly Son, is a joy (see Dao Be Island for details). Cycling would be good too, but sadly I didn’t see any bikes for rent.

Motorbiking the coast roads, Ly Son Island, VietnamMotorbiking the coastal & inland roads is great fun & a rewarding way to see Ly Son Island

Motorbikes are available from many of the island’s accommodations for 100,000-150,000vnd per day. Ly Son’s roads are generally quiet and OK quality, and the distances are short. However, the roads can be narrow, sandy, and rough in places, so ride carefully (see Getting Around for details). There are lots of roads to choose from, and getting lost is part of the fun. Even so, you can easily ride pretty much every road and lane on the entire island within a day or two. The road network leads all around the western, southern, and parts of the eastern and northern coasts. Inland, several roads lead through the rural interior, where fields of garlic dominate the landscape. At the time of writing, a new seafront road had opened (but was not yet shown on Google Maps) linking the port at Thôn Tây with Tò Vò rock arch. Also, it’s now possible to stay on the coast road all the way around the southeastern tip of the island, going from Mu Cu marina and continuing to Hang Cau cliffs. Although the whole area, and the road itself, is undergoing heavy construction, it is possible to get through. Given the amount of work on upgrading infrastructure on the island, things are bound to change by the time you read this guide, but I’ve done my best to draw on some of the access roads that Google Maps doesn’t yet show. When riding around Ly Son, bear in mind that some of the roads and areas on the island are restricted access. This is because they are controlled by the military, particularly the volcanic craters. I’ve marked some of the restricted areas on my map with a ‘police icon’.

Riding coast roads, Ly Son Island, VietnamCoast roads: This new embankment road just north of Thong Tay port is great for riding & sea views

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Mountains, Craters, Volcanoes & Viewing Points:

Ly Son Island consists of at least five extinct volcanic craters of varying sizes. Signs of volcanic activity are everywhere – from the tortured weave of the cliffs to the black rocks partitioning the fields. The extinct volcanoes make for a dramatic and striking landscape, offering beautiful, short hikes, and fantastic views. In addition to the craters, there are several other excellent viewing points on the island, both natural and made-made. Click below for details:

Hang Cau Cliffs, Thoi Loi Mountain, Ly Son IslandLy Son Island has several extinct volcanic craters, some of which have roads & hiking trails


Nui Thoi Loi Crater [MAP]: The highest of the volcanic peaks on the island, Nui Thoi Loi is a giant, gaping crater in the east of Ly Son. From near the top, the views over the island are superb. A paved road snakes perilously close to the cliffs along the north edge up to the Ly Son Flagpole. Continuing further up is off-limits, but from here you can hike along the cliff-edge for a while in both directions. The views are wonderful: south back to Thon Dong village and the garlic fields, and west over the ridge to the Nui Gieng Tien Crater. However, the best views are actually from the road up to the flagpole, particularly at the lay-by and the lookout post. Stunning at any time of day, the views are best from 4pm, when the fields of garlic glow in the low light and the sea appears smooth and soft as velvet. But, if you thought these were breathtaking vistas, wait until you take the slip-road around the southern edge of the crater and up to Ho Thoi Loi. The paved lane is very steep and ends at a concrete hut. A pathway leads along the ledge beneath a freestanding boulder which is perhaps the best photo spot on the entire island. Up here, you’re standing on the edge of a giant volcanic crater: just imagine it 25 million years ago, spouting fire and ash, oozing lava, bellowing with each eruption, literally changing the topography in this violent moment; until the sea water cooled the lava and ash, and the eruption solidified into pretty much what you see today. Casuarina trees grow around the rim of the crater which has filled with rain to become a freshwater lake, long-used as a reservoir for the inhabitants of Ly Son Island.

Nui Thoi Loi volcanic crater, Ly Son Island, VietnamThe views from the top of Thoi Loi Crater are excellent, taking in the entire island


Nui Thoi Loi volcanic crater, Ly Son Island, VietnamThe bulky bulge of Thoi Loi Crater rising from the garlic fields, seen from the top of Ly Son Lighthouse

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Nui Gieng Tien Crater [MAP]: Accessed via a stairway behind the giant statue of the Goddess of Mercy, it’s only possible to climb part of the way up this crater, because the top, which is an expansive meadow, is restricted access. But the views down over the western side of Ly Son, over to Dao Be Island, and out to sea are absolutely brilliant. The rock formations and volcanic hills around Nui Gieng Tien are twisted and tortured, as if they were moulded in extreme heat, which, of course, they were.

Nui Gieng Tien Mountain volcanic crater, Ly Son IslandA stairway leads behind the statue of the Goddess of Mercy towards the top of Nui Gieng Tien Crater

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Other Craters: In the south of the island, near Thon Tay, is Nui Hon Vung, a small crater with a war martyrs’ cemetery on its slopes. Nui Hon Soi is a large crater near the center of the island. On its northeastern slopes is Ly Son’s neat, new cemetery (from where there are good views), but the rest of the crater is off limits and tightly controlled. Nui Hon Tai is another small crater in the west of the island. It’s covered in terraced crops fields. Attractive and serene but not spectacular, some dirt lanes lead around it.

The slopes of volcanic craters on Ly Son Island, VietnamThere are several other, smaller volcanic mounts scattered about Ly Son Island, affording good views

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To Vo Rock Arch [MAP]: A small headland of volcanic rock sticking out into the shallow blue sea in the northwest of the island, To Vo ‘rock arch’ is one of the most photographed places on Ly Son Island. The reason for this is not its scale (or necessarily its natural beauty), but because erosion has formed an arch in the rock in which you can, at the opportune time of day, frame the sun and a silhouette of yourself. It’s definitely worth stopping by because it’s a pretty sight, although much smaller than you’d imagine (the arch is only a couple of metres high), and it’s best to avoid sunrise and sunset, where the place gets ridiculously busy with selfie-stick-wielding tourists.

To Vo Rock Arch, Ly Son Island, VietnamTo Vo is popular with local tourists, who come at dawn & dusk to photograph the sun framed by the arch

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Ly Son Lighthouse [MAP]: Originally constructed during French colonial times, this lighthouse was rebuilt in the 21st century. Resembling a grey rocket, the modern lighthouse is accessed through the original French structure in front of it, a handsome, wide, ochre-yellow building. It’s a steep climb up over 150 wooden steps to the top, but well worth it, because the views are exquisite. You can see the whole of the south and east of Ly Son Island: from the steep walls of Nui Thoi Loi Crater to Hang Cau Cliffs, Thon Dong marina, and across the fields of garlic to Thong Tay village.

View from Ly Son Lighthouse, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamLy Son Lighthouse offers fantastic views from the top, looking over garlic fields to Nui Thoi Loi Crater


View from Ly Son Lighthouse, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamLooking straight down from the top to the lighthouse entrance, a handsome building in a garden

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Beaches & Islands:

Ly Son isn’t replete with quintessential tropical island beaches, but the beaches it does have are very striking indeed. In fact, Ly Son and nearby Dao Be Island are home to one or two of the most dramatically situated beaches in Vietnam. The water quality is generally fantastic: very clear and turquoise-blue. However, swimming isn’t that easy because of reefs, surf and rocks. It’s fine for experienced sea swimmers, but for those who aren’t too comfortable in the ocean, it might be better to look at than to bathe in. But snorkeling is great and Ly Son is probably one of the best untapped surf and kite-surf locations in the country (although you’ll need to bring your own equipment, as there’s none for hire on the island yet):

Surf breaking on reefs around Ly Son Island, VietnamLy Son’s ocean is blue & clean: the island doesn’t have many beaches, but those it does are very striking


Hang Cau Beach & Cliffs [MAP]: Quite possibly one of the most dramatically situated and photogenic beaches in Vietnam, Hang Cau is a seam of white-coral sand swept between the giant, swirling contours of an arch-like cliff-cave. In the northeast of the island, the surf at Hang Cau breaks about 100m offshore, where a line of reefs protects the beach from large rollers. The sea is crystal clear and the air always has a slight mist caused by the spray of the surf drifting up from the ocean and into the cave. It’s incredibly atmospheric and very striking. If possible, try to visit on a weekday, preferably before 4pm, so that you have the chance of getting it all to yourself.

Hang Cau Beach, Ly Son Island, VietnamHang Cau is one of the most spectacularly situated beaches in Vietnam, lodged beneath these cliffs


Hang Cau Beach, Ly Son Island, VietnamHang Cau Beach gets fairly busy in the late afternoons but is practically empty during the day

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Chua Duc Beach [MAP]: Below the tortured cliffs where the colossal statue of the Goddess of Mercy stands, a long, coral-bleached beach stretches for a kilometre or so. The sea is very clear and a beautiful colour. The break is constant thanks to a long reef lying offshore. It’s a barren, exposed and striking coastline that’s fine for swimming and snorkeling. However, litter spoils the sand (but not the water).

Chua Duc Beach, Ly Son Island, VietnamChua Duc Beach is bleached coral & volcanic rock, set beneath the tortured cliffs of Gieng Tien Crater

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Chua Hang Beach [MAP]: Neatly set in a cove in front of Chua Hang Cave and Shrine, this beach, in the north of the island, is very photogenic, but not that great for swimming. White – blindingly white – sand from eroded coral and large slabs of volcanic rock form the beach, creating a patchwork of textures and colours. Under the perfectly clear water, reefs whip up the surf. It’s good for snorkeling and paddling, but not really deep or calm enough for swimming.

Chua Hang Beach, Ly Son Island, VietnamChua Hang Beach is a colourful cove of sand & rock in front of an ancient cave temple

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Mu Cu (former) Islet [MAP]: Once a tiny islet, this rocky reef is now the eastern-most tip of Ly Son Island, thanks to a newly completed sea wall linking it to Thong Dong marina. The red- and white-striped lighthouse is a decent viewing spot, and walking (or riding) up and down the sea wall is good fun.

Mu Cu Lighthouse, Ly Son Island, VietnamFormerly a rocky islet, Mu Cu is now connected to Ly Son Island by a concrete causeway to its lighthouse

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Dao Be Island [MAP]: An enchanting little island just to the north of Ly Son, Dao Be is a real treat. A 10-minute fast boat whisks visitors to Dao Be each morning (see Getting Around for details). The island is small, flat, very beautiful and charming. Little buggies meet the boats to take visitors around the island, but because Dao Be is so small, it’s much better to go on foot. Utilizing the narrow paved lanes, it’s possible to hike the entire circumference of the island (and the interior, too) within an hour or two. Boats leave after three hours which gives you enough time to explore the island and stop for a swim and a drink. However, if you have the time, I highly recommend staying overnight on Dao Be Island at one of a handful of rustic, cheap and cheerful ‘homestays’ (see Accommodation for details). Inland, the island is portioned into rectangular plots, partitioned and terraced by volcanic rocks walls. Garlic and peanuts are the main crops, but tropical fruit trees, such as coconut palms, banana plants, and screwpines grow in clusters here and there. There’s only one settlement on the island, a tiny hamlet of squat, angular concrete homes bisected by sandy alleyways on the south coast, where the boat pier is. Many of the houses have colourful murals painted on their external walls, which makes strolling around the hamlet an interesting experience.

Beach on Dao Be Island, Ly Son, VietnamDao Be Island is a real treat: a tiny disc of land in the ocean, the sea is clean & the beaches beautiful

For sandy beaches, bathing and palm fringed water, stick to the south side of the island. The little beach stretching east of the pier to the volcanic cliff is stunning, especially when viewed from the cliffs themselves. The sand is bright white, the water bright blue, and the palms bright green. The east coast is mostly black volcanic rock and can be quite rough. At the northern tip the rocks coalesce to for a series of jagged cliffs and coves. One of these coves hides a white sand beach dotted with colourful fishing coracles. The surf is perfect blue as it washes up on the white beach under the black cliffs. The west coast has equal parts rocky and sandy beach, but there’s a fair amount of flotsam and jetsam on this side of the island.

Beach on Dao Be Island, Ly Son, VietnamThe combination of black volcanic rock, bright white sand & blue sea are fabulous

In the past, trash has been a big problem on the island. But, although it is still an issue, it has been directly addressed in the last couple of years. Plastic bottles, cans, containers and other reusable waste that’s washed up on the beaches or discarded by tourists and locals is now being collected for recycling. One form of this is using plastic bottles as a building material to makes household walls. The bottles are filled with sand and used in place of bricks to build walls in some recent dwellings in the hamlet. This is very encouraging, indeed. Although litter is still a problem, a lot of it is now collected, and local and visitor practices are better than before. In fact, much of  the garbage now on Dao Be is only flotsam and jetsam, washed up and caught in the jagged volcanic shoreline from the wider ocean, particularly polystyrene boxes and fishing equipment. What’s been done on Dao Be Island, in a short space of time, is very encouraging, and a good example for other such areas in Vietnam, particularly islands.

Recycled plastic bottle wall, Dao Be Island, Ly Son, VietnamDao Be Island’s trash problem is now under control thanks to recycling, such as this plastic bottle wall

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Temples, Pagodas & Architecture:

Ly Son has dozens of temples, pagodas, shrines and other places of worship. Below I’ve listed only a few. Much of the architecture on the island is now quite new (many old buildings having been knocked down within the last few years), but in the back streets there are still some intriguing older structures:

Temples on Ly Son Island, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamAs is the case with most islands in Vietnam, Ly Son has dozens of colourful temples, shrines & places of worship


Quan Am Statue, Phat Mau Temple & Cemetery [MAP]: Near the northwestern tip of Ly Son Island, a colossal statue stands at the foot of impressive, stratified cliffs. Depicting Quan Am – the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy – the statue is pure white and stands around 50m tall. The goddess presides over a tremendous ocean vista. At her feet are the graves of islanders and plots of sandy land reserved for Ly Son’s special crop: garlic. Climb the stairs behind the statue to reach Gieng Tien Mountain. On the road to the statue, behind the decorative facade of Phat Mau Temple, are hundreds of bright tombs scattered over the lower slopes of Mount Gieng Tien. It’s an interesting sight, especially seen from afar on the new seawall road.

Colossal statue of Quan Am, Ly Son Island, VietnamQuan Am statue rises above a cemetery on the slopes of Gieng Tien Crater, presiding over the open sea

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Ly Son Cemetery [MAP]: Sprawling beneath the crater of Nui Hon Soi Mountain, this cemetery is the largest on the island. The focal point, accessed by many wide steps, doubles as a good viewing platform, with vistas over thousands of tombs and much of the island’s garlic fields. Unfortunately, the cemetery also overlooks Ly Son’s trash facility, which billows bad-smelling smoke into the air (from incinerating trash) and tends to blow over to the tombs.

Ly Son Island Cemetery, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamLy Son Cemetery covers the slopes of Nui Hon Soi Crater, with hundreds of scattered, decorative tombs

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Chua Hang Cave Temple [MAP]: A spectacular location for a very atmospheric shrine, Chua Hang is at one of the most northerly points on the island. It’s a popular attraction, so be prepared for light crowds, a few trinket stalls and the like. Steps lead around a rocky cape to a gorgeous cove of white sand, book-ended by stratified cliffs. The colours are glorious, and in the middle of the beach a serene sculpture of Goddess Quan Am pokes up from frangipani trees, looking out to sea. But the real shrine is behind the goddess, under the cliffs. A short stairway leads down beneath the cliff face and opens into a wide but low cave. Filled with incense, this cave has been used for many centuries for worship, dating back to Cham times. Several shrines, tombs, and altars haunt the eaves of the cave. Light some incense and watch the smoked curl around the cave in the shafts of sunlight from outside. You must remove your shoes before walking on the cave floor.

Chua Hang temple, Ly Son Island, VietnamThis serene statue of the Goddess of Mercy stands outside the entrance to Chua Hang cave temple


Chua Hang cave temple, Ly Son Island, VietnamInside the cave, several altars, tombs & temples emerge from the clouds of drifting incense & sea vapour

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Old Temples & Church [MAP]: On a shady, quiet stretch of coast between Thon Tay and Thon Dong villages, this collection of temples, shrines and old communal village hall is very atmospheric. There’s a church just behind, too.

Old temple, Ly Son Island, VietnamThis collection of old temples & communal houses on the south coast is very attractive & atmospheric

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Whale Temple [MAP]: Noticeably small for a whale temple, this colourful, squat temple houses the bones of many sea mammals, including whales and dolphins. But, unlike whale temples elsewhere in the country, the bones here are dumped in a corner. I imagine they’ll be assembled into a coherent skeleton sometime soon.

Whale temple, Ly Son Island, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamLy Son’s whale temple is quite small with a collection of whale & dolphin bones piled in a corner

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Villages & Communes:

Ly Son Island is divided into two ‘communes’, which are probably better to think of as ‘districts’. These are: An Vĩnh (the western half of the island) and An Hải (the eastern half). A little confusingly, both An Vĩnh and An Hải communes are further divided into two identically named villages: Thôn Tây (western village) and Thôn Đông (eastern village). Thus, there’s a Thôn Tây and a Thôn Đông village in both An Vinh and An Hai communes:

Fishing village, Ly Son Island, VietnamLy Son Island is divided into two communes (like districts), each of which consists of two villages


An Vinh Commune: The main port, where the fast boats from the mainland dock, is in An Vinh’s Thon Tay village. This is the commercial and tourist centre of Ly Son Island. The small streets are tightly packed with hotels, cafes, seafood restaurants, street food vendors, and shops. As such, Thon Tay is the most bustling of Ly Son’s villages. Although it’s nice enough on the seafront or on the back streets, Thon Tay lacks charm, and there’s quite a lot of touting for hotels and sightseeing. However, the village makes up for it with conveniences and the typical life and energy of Vietnamese urban areas. Separated from Thon Tay by a pleasant stretch of coast road, An Vinh’s Thon Dong village is generally quieter and less touristy than Thon Tay. This is where you’ll find Ly Son’s main market (chợ Lý Sơn). However, things look set to change with the construction of a large new port, in front of the Muong Thanh Hotel, that’s due to open sometime this year.

The port at Thong Tay village, An Vinh Commune, Ly Son IslandThong Tay village in An Vinh Commune is Ly Son’s main port for fast boats to/from the mainland


An old structure in Thon Dong village, An Vinh commune, Ly Son IslandA beautiful, highly decorative old home in Thong Dong village, An Vinh Commune

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An Hai Commune: An Hai’s Thon Tay village is essentially just a continuation of An Vinh’s Thon Dong village, sprawling along the coast. However, An Hai’s Thon Dong village, in the southeastern corner of Ly Son Island, has a distinctive character all its own. Spreading along a crescent bay and clustering beneath the crater of Thoi Loi Mountain, Thong Dong is quiet and attractive, although it lacks variety when it comes to dining and accommodation options. The fishing port at Thong Dong is currently being shored up with sea walls protecting it from the high seas. At the time of writing, the marina and harbourfront were a bit of a mess because of the building work, but it won’t be long before it’s finished, after which it will be a nice place to be. The fishing fleet – surprisingly small by Vietnamese standards – moors in the marina, along with a couple of rusting tugs. Take the time to get lost in the back-streets of Thong Dong, where diminutive homes with little courtyards with garlic and shallots drying in the sun, green hedges and bougainvillea are very charming indeed.

Thong Dong village, An Hai commune, Ly Son Island, VietnamA view of Thong Dong village in An Hai Commune, the eastern-most settlement on Ly Son Island


Old house, An Hai Commune, Thon Dong Village, Ly Son IslandAn old home on the charming, quiet, narrow back-streets of Thong Dong village, An Hai Commune

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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 many travellers will need to spend a night on the mainland, near Sa Ky Port, before taking the boat across to Ly Son Island, I’ve included accommodation options in nearby Quang Ngai, My Khe Beach and Sa Ky Port, as well as hotels and guest houses on the island itself:

Muong Thanh Hotel, Ly Son Island, VietnamThere’s plenty of accommodation on Ly Son Island & the mainland near Sa Ky Port & Quang Ngai city


Quang Ngai, My Khe & Sa Ky Hotels: If you want or need to stay a night on the mainland before catching the ferry to Ly Son Island, there are several different areas to stay. Quang Ngai is the nearest city, and has plenty of accommodation options; My Khe is the nearest beach, where there are a couple of OK places to stay; and Sa Ky Port has a few simple guest houses that are very convenient if your boat leaves early the next morning. See below for details:

Sao Mai Motel, Sa Ky Port, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamIf you need to spend a night near the port, there are hotels in Quang Ngai, My Khe beach & Sa Ky Port


Quang Ngai Hotels: The provincial capital, Quang Ngai city is 20km east of Sa Ky Port. It’s the transport hub for the region, so many travellers might find themselves staying here for a night on the way to or from Ly Son Island. Quang Ngai is quite small for a provincial capital, but it’s pleasantly situated on the banks of the Tra Khuc River with the Truong Son Mountains looming behind, and there are plenty of comfortable places to stay. Excellent budgets digs, including dorms, can be found at Min’s House [BOOK HERE]; good value private rooms and a quiet location are at the attractive Hana Riverside Villa [BOOK HERE]; the centrally located King Hotel [BOOK HERE] is good for flashpackers; and finally, Thien An Riverside [BOOK HERE] and My Tra Riverside [BOOK HERE] hotels are both good options for mid-range lodgings with wonderful river views. [For more accommodation options in and around Quang Ngai take a look at this list on Agoda.com]

Sunset over the Tra Khuc River, Quang Ngai, VietnamQuang Ngai, a small, seldom visited but pleasantly situated city, has plenty of accommodation options

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My Khe Beach Hotels: My Khe Beach is just a 10-minute drive south of Sa Ky Port, and 15km east of Quang Ngai city. A lovely stretch of sand lined with casuarina trees, the surf at My Khe is shallow and good for swimming. The beach has been marked for tourism for years (at least a decade, since I first visited), but still nothing has really happened. A string of good, informal seafood restaurants cluster around the central section, as do a couple of sad looking hotels. My Khe Hotel ($20-$30) looks pretty soulless from the outside, but the rooms are actually good value, considering their size and location near the beach [BOOK HERE]. Otherwise, the mini-hotels along the main road are cheaper options, such as Dong Tien (tel: 0962 630 545; 200,000vnd) and Anh Tuong [BOOK HERE] guest houses.

My Khe beach, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamMy Khe, just a 10-minute ride south of Sa Ky Port, is a beautiful stretch of sandy beach & blue surf


Anh Tuong Hotel, My Khe Beach, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamThere are a couple hotels along the beach, but the guest houses on the road behind are better

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Sa Ky Port Hotels: Sprawling along the banks at the confluence of two rivers before they flow into the sea, Sa Ky is a scruffy port and village. This is where all the boats to Ly Son Island depart from, so you may find it convenient to stay here for a night, particularly if your boat leaves early in the morning. A couple of decent guest houses line the bankside road leading to Sa Ky boat terminal. Sao Mai Motel (tel: 038 581 9177: 150,000-250,000vnd) has clean, simple, perfectly acceptable rooms for a night, some with views over the river and rice fields behind. Dai Thanh Motel [BOOK HERE], a little further up the road, is another option of similar quality. Both are just a few minutes’ walk from the boat terminal, and both can arrange tickets (see Getting to Ly Son Island for details).

Sao Mai Motel, Sa Ky Port, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamSa Ky Port has some decent guest houses, which are very convenient it you’re catching an early boat

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Ly Son Island Hotels:

Almost all of the current accommodation options on Ly Son Island are in the budget price bracket. There are dozens of guest houses and mini-hotels on the island, a couple of backpacker-style hostels, and one or two mid-range hotels, too. Accommodation is spread around the island, but the greatest concentration is in Thôn Tây village, around the port in An Vinh commune, in the west of the island. Tiny Dao Be Island also has a couple of homestay-style hostels. During the week, it shouldn’t be necessary to book in advance, but on weekends and public holidays, it’s essential. Click an area below to read my recommendations [For a full list of accommodation on Ly Son check this list on Agoda.com]:

Ly Son Bungalow Hostel, Dao Be Island, VietnamOf the dozens of hotels & guest houses on Ly Son Island, the vast majority are in the budget price-range


West Coast Hotels [MAP]: Dozens of guest houses and mini-hotels cluster around the port area on the west coast. This part of the island is known as Thôn Tây, in An Vĩnh Commune. The seafront and the backstreets opposite the harbour are crammed with accommodation. It can feel a bit touristy during high season, but get a sea-view room at one of the hotels on the front and you’ll be happy for a night or two, plus it’s very convenient for boats to Dao Be Island and back to the mainland. There are lots to choose from: the back streets are usually cheaper than the front, but the general price-range is from 200,000-500,000vnd a night depending on the amount of guests/beds. Here are some I liked:

• Binh Yen Motel [MAP]; $10-$20: [BOOK HERE] This excellent mini-hotel is right on the embankment road, just on your left as you disembark the ferry from the mainland. Binh Yen Motel is good value for money, with very clean rooms, hot showers, air-con, windows (some with little balconies looking over the harbour), comfy beds and fresh linen. Family-run, relaxed but well-organized, Binh Yen is a solid choice if you’re staying in the port area. Staff can also arrange all number of island excursions and activities, including the boat to Dao Be Island.

Binh Yen Motel, Ly Son Island, VietnamBinh Yen Motel is a solid choice, with good rooms, sea views and reasonable prices

• Dai Duong Hotel [MAP]; 300,000-500,000vnd | tel: 0977 205 818: Right next door to Binh Yen, this hotel is a good option if the former is full. Good, clean rooms, some with sea-views, and a terrace cafe overlooking the port make Dai Duong a comfortable mini-hotel. On the corner as you exit the port, Ly Thien Hotel is also a good budget option in a central location.

• Hiep Si Hotel [MAP]; $15-$20: [BOOK HERE] Hidden down a narrow back street behind the port, and not far from An Vinh Market, Hiep Si Hotel has typically clean, bright, and inexpensive rooms is a quiet location.

Hiep Si Hotel, Ly Son Island, VietnamHiep Si is a good, cheap hotel in a quieter location on a back street near An Vinh Market

• Thanh Tran Guest House [MAP]; $10-$15: [BOOK HERE] A couple of minutes north of the port area, Thanh Tran is a classic little townhouse mini-hotel. Decent rooms with windows and easy access to the embankment promenade are very cheap, especially if sharing between 2-4 people.

• Central Ly Son Hotel [MAP]; $40-$50: [BOOK HERE] Despite its prime location – right opposite the port – and mid-range pretensions, Central Ly Son Hotel is ludicrously overpriced for the standard of accommodation available. Having said that, it’s a bit plusher and smarter than the mini-hotels, the rooms are spacious, and the views are good.

• Khai Hoan Hotel [MAP]; 250,000-500,000 tel: 0906 496 860: A few minutes out of town, Khai Hoan is a big new hotel in the back streets. It’s a pleasant, quiet, leafy area, and the hotel has good rooms with everything you need and expect from a budget Vietnamese accommodation of this kind.

Mini-hotel, Ly Son Island, VietnamMost mini-hotels & guest houses on Ly Son offer good value for money: clean, comfortable but sparse

• Quynh Anh Guest House [MAP]; 200,000-400,000 tel: 01699 353 868: A kilometre or two east of the port, Quynh Anh is a typical Vietnamese guest house. The area is more local than the port – not so touristy – and it’s near Ly Son Market, a block back from the seafront. Rooms are clean, bright and fine.

• Homestays [MAP]; $5-$10: There are quite a few homestays in the narrow streets just north of the port. You’ll see signs for some of these around town, and some are also marked on Google Maps. However, I found it a bit difficult to work out how to get a room. My feeling is that they mostly cater to young Vietnamese backpackers, but I’m sure it’s possible for foreign travellers to stay, too. Ask around.

Homestays on Ly Son Island, VietnamSome homestays, especially in the narrow lanes north of the port, are worth checking out

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South Coast Hotels [MAP]: The largest settlement on the south coast is Thôn Tây in An Hải Commune (not to be confused with Thôn Tây in An Vĩnh Commune, on the west coast of the island: see above). A fairly modest village at the moment, this area looks set to become the island’s major town, thanks to the new port which is currently under construction here. Therefore, expect some big changes in the next year or two. For now, there’s a spattering of decent mini-hotels and the island’s smartest accommodation to date:

• Ba Thanh Guest House [MAP]; 200,000-450,000vnd | tel: 0165 750 2151: Just a little east of the main village, Ba Thanh Guest House has a pleasant location right on the seafront promenade. The guest house is much bigger than it first appears, and the rooms are clean, bright and comfortable for the price. The area is quiet and you can swim in the sea off the rocks by the embankment road.

Ba Thanh Guest House, Ly Son Island, VietnamBa Thanh Guest House has a good, quiet location on the seafront road & comfortable rooms

• Quang Vinh Guest House [MAP]; 250,000-450,000 | tel: 01679 064 776: On the main road as it passes through town, Quang Vinh Guest House is a well-kept place with good-sized rooms; the ones at the back are quietest and you can even see the sea from some of them.

• Mini-Hotels [MAP]; $10-$20: A block inland from the embankment road, several mini-hotels are clustered together. Anh Duong and Tuong Vy are both decent value for money with simple, clean, bright rooms.

• Muong Thanh Holiday Hotel [MAP]; $45-$65: [BOOK HERE] The island’s only upscale accommodation, Muong Thanh is part of a large Vietnamese hotel chain. The rooms are spacious, comfy and bright, with big windows and sea-views (but no balconies), and there’s a swimming pool out front. When rates are low(-ish) it’s decent value, but as a building it’s hardly sympathetic to its surroundings. The hotel has very little style or character, but it’ll do if you don’t like guest houses or are in need of some facilities, like a pool and gym.

Muong Thanh Holiday Hotel, Ly Son Island, VietnamMuong Thanh is a conspicuous lump of concrete: the fanciest hotel on the island, but rather soulless

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East Coast Hotels [MAP]: The main settlement on the east coast is Thôn Đông, in An Hải Commune. A quiet, likable little place, Thôn Đông fronts a fishing harbour, and is backed by the dramatic cliffs of the Thoi Loi volcanic crater. A handful of good guest houses dot the village, most of them cluster near the harbourfront, but others are tucked away in the narrow, leafy back-streets. However, the most atmospheric accommodation on the entire island can be found at Hang Cau, in a giant cavern next to the ocean, where camping is available. See below for details:

• Phuoc Loc Guest House [MAP]; $10: [BOOK HERE] A family-run guest house in a quiet setting, Phuoc Loc has a homey ambience, good, simple rooms, some greenery, and balconies.

Phuoc Loc Guest House, Ly Son Island, VietnamPhuoc Loc is a nice family-run guest house in the quiet surrounds of Thon Dong, An Hai commune

• Hoa Bien Hotel [MAP]; 200,000-300,000vnd | Tel: 098 386 75 22: Just across from Phuoc Loc, Hoa Bien is a good mini-hotel. Rooms are nice, the price is cheap, and there’s easy access to the fishing harbour. Minh Thanh Guest House (tel: 097 260 5035) is a bit further up the road and also has decent rooms.

• Song Binh Motel [MAP]; 200,000-350,000vnd | Tel: 098 992 89 94: This surprisingly large hotel sits incongruously in a network of charming, narrow back-streets, lined with attractive little homes.

• Hang Cau Cave Camping & Huts: [MAP]; 100,000vnd per person | Tel: 0988 880 8186: In a glorious position on the white coral beach beneath the extraordinary cliffs of Thoi Loi crater, there are two accommodation options. Rooms in a cramped A-frame bungalow sleep up to 5 people: 100,000vnd per person. But the real attraction is camping on the beach under the cliff. Rented tents with blankets and pillows sleep up to four people: 130,000vnd per person; or you can pitch your own tent for just 50,000vnd. It really is a dramatic location for camping. However, foreigners aren’t really allowed to stay here (yawn), because it’s kind of a sea border, and kind of sensitive. But with a little perseverance, patience, Vietnamese language, and charm you might just be able to swing it. But don’t count on it. Also note that during busy times the camp site can get a bit rowdy, beer-soaked, and robbed of peace by karaoke machines.

Hang Cau Cliffs Camping, Ly Son Island, VietnamCamping under the cliffs at Hang Cau is spectacular, however, foreigners aren’t really allowed to camp


Hang Cau Cliffs Camping, Ly Son Island, VietnamTents are arranged on the beach beneath the Hang Cau cliffs: it’s a great location for a campsite

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Dao Be Island: Homestays & Camping [MAP]: A 10-minute boat ride north of Ly Son, Dao Be Island is a gem (details here). If you have time, you really should spend a night on this tiny islet: it’s magical. However, try to overnight on a weekday (not a weekend), when it should be almost deserted at night. All the places listed below have shared bathrooms and showers, and food and drink is available, but limited. There are only a handful of simple but charming places to choose from: perfect for budget travellers:

• Gio Bien Homestay & Camping: [MAP]; 100,000vnd per person | Tel: 0888 920 107: On the south coast, Gio Bien Homestay & Camping is the best place to stay on Dao Be Island. An attractive setup of wooden huts, hammocks, and tents right next to the best beach on the island, Gio Bien is an excellent and friendly place to be. There’s limited capacity, so grab a space here as soon as you get off the boat from Ly Son Island. At Gio Bien you can stay in the attractive wooden beach hut on a mattress on the floor with a fan for 100,000vnd per person. The same goes with the room in the concrete house behind. Both rooms sleep up to 4 people so, unless you’re in a group, you may be sharing the floor with someone else. Tents are available to rent and can be pitched right on the beach or on the bank under the trees (for shelter) for 130,000vnd. Each tent sleeps up to three people. It’s a gorgeous location and dirt-cheap. Even better, bring your own tent and pitch it here for free.

Gio Bien Homestay & Camping, Dao Be Island, Ly Son, VietnamGio Bien Homestay & Camping is a superb little budget place to stay on an excellent stretch of beach

• Alabin Homestay: [MAP]; 100,000vnd per person | Tel: 0165 745 2175: In the east of the island, Alabin has several rooms to choose from, all of which are fan-cooled and quite hot. A mixture of diminutive wooden huts and concrete villas, the rooms are tasteful, cute, and comfortable, especially considering the price. Alabin isn’t on the beach, but it’s only a 30-second walk to the seafront.

Alabin Homestay, Dao Be Island, Ly Son, VietnamAlabin Homestay has a selection of small, cutesy but tasteful rooms: they’re a bit hot, but good value

• Ly Son Bungalow Hostel: [MAP]; 100,000vnd per person | Tel: 0981 749 535: With only two, fan-cooled rooms sleeping up to 10 people, Ly Son Bungalow Hostel can get quite crowded. But it’s cheap, bright, cheerful, and social. The pastel tones, wall murals and relaxed vibe are all indications that this is a classic, tasteful, Instagrammable, young Vietnamese hangout. The rocky beach is just a stroll away.

Other Homestays [MAP]: In the hamlet by the boat pier, a few, simple homestays operate. Consisting of fan-cooled rooms, some with en-suite bathrooms, these homestays are OK, and you get to be part of the village for a night.

Ly Son Bungalow Hostel, Dao Be Island, VietnamLy Son Bungalow has a bright, colourful, young & social vibe: a classic 21st century Vietnamese hostel

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Food & Drink:

Below I’ve written some recommendations of where to eat and drink on Ly Son Island and on the mainland, in Quang Ngai, Sa Ky and My Khe, where most travellers will need to pass through on their way to catch the ferry to the island:

Bún bó beef noodle soup, Ly Son Island, VietnamLy Son is famous for its seafood & garlic, but there’s also street food available on the island & mainland


Mainland Food & Drink: Quang Ngai | Sa Ky Port | My Khe Beach [MAP]: All these locations have decent street food options – Central Vietnam has a lot to offer the travelling foodie. Quang Ngai is famous for cơm gà (chicken rice). You’ll see signs for it all over the region, but Nhung 2 is a good place to start: it’s one the city’s ‘famous’ restaurants. There are lots of decent coffee shops in Quang Ngai, too, especially along Phan Dinh Phung and Nguyen Nghiem streets [MAP], which are also good for street food. The waterside promenade on the banks of the Tra Khuc River is packed in the evenings with seafood and beer joints. In Sa Ky Port, the little, scruffy village is brightened by street food vendors in the mornings and evenings. On My Khe Beach, the central sections offers dozens of tightly packed quán hải sản – seafood restaurants overlooking the surf.

Com Ga (chicken rice) at Nhung 2, Quang Ngai, VietnamQuang Ngai Province is known for cơm gà (chicken rice), which can be found all across the province

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Ly Son Island Food: It’s no surprise that seafood and garlic are the main features in Ly Son’s local cuisine, which is no bad thing. But some street food and a surprising amount of fruit are also available. When visiting Ly Son, it’s a good idea to know the Vietnamese for seafood (hải sản) and garlic (tỏi). Both are island specialities and both are available in many forms at reasonable prices across the island – garlic honey, garlic liquor (yep!), giant lobsters, sea urchins, and rock crabs. Other dishes include central Vietnamese staples, such as bánh xèo (sizzling, rice flour pancakes), bánh ít (savoury dumplings made from glutinous sticky rice), and bún bò Huế (Hue-style spicy beef noodle soup). The largest concentration of restaurants and food stalls is in Thôn Tây village in An Vĩnh commune, in the west of the island, near the port. See below for specific recommendations:

Seafood on Ly Son Island, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamLy Son Island has plenty of places to eat & drink, including fresh seafood, street food, and some cafes


Street Food: Thôn Tây village, on the west coast, is the centre for street food vendors on the island, particularly on the back-streets (one block from the seafront) and along the boat pier where there’s a night food market. However, the variety isn’t anything like what you get in Vietnamese towns on the mainland. Expect to find a few bánh xèo (savoury crepes with fresh herbs), noodle joints, and rice eateries. I’ve marked several such places that I enjoyed on my map (see the knife and fork icons), but there are many more besides. Banh Xeo Cay Bang is a popular place with locals in the evening, where dozens of little savoury pancakes sizzle together over a wood-fired stove. And Quan Phuong Chau is a nice, simple, rice eatery for a quick, cheap lunch. Over on the south coast, another good line of food vendors is along the road just before Muong Thanh Hotel. Also nearby, Quan Tuyet Vy has lots of good noodle dishes: try the mì quảng – a much loved central dish with thick yellow noodles. Breakfast options include the ubiquitous bánh mì (filled baguettes) and lots of bún (rice noodles) soup stalls. Some are pretty ordinary but some are exceptionally good, like Van Phi, where the freshness and lightness of the lemongrass, garlic, herbs and vegetables are superb. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, because this is central Vietnam, one of the best regions for food in the country. You’ll see the famous Ly Son garlic for sale by the roadside all over the island. It’s cheap and very good quality. For all things garlic, head to Dori Toi Den Garlic Shop.

Mì quảng noodles, Ly Son Island, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamThere’s some decent street food on Ly Son Island: this is mì quảng noodles at Quan Tuyet Vi


Bánh xèo pancakes, Ly Son Islands, VietnamBanh Xeo Cay Bang is a popular place among locals for these tasty little sizzling savoury pancakes


Rice lunch, Ly Son Island, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamQuan Phuong Chau is a classic, simple, little rice eatery offering good, fresh, cheap lunches

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Seafood: Thôn Tây, in the west of the island near the port, has several very good seafood restaurants geared towards Vietnamese visitors from the mainland. The food is fresh, reasonably priced, and delicious. The day’s catch is displayed out front of the restaurants, including lobster, crab, shellfish, and myriad types of fish and crustaceans. At night, more informal seafood stalls line up along the boat pier. There are other clusters of seafood restaurants around the island, especially along the embankment road on the south coast. Two other good spots, away from the villages, are Hon Ngoc floating restaurant, a few minutes north of the port and very atmospheric at night, and Son Thuy Restaurant, way in the north of the island, beautiful at sunset overlooking the ocean.

Seafood on Ly Son Island, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamLy Son’s seafood is famous for freshness & variety: check out the seafood stalls & restaurants in Thon Tay


Famous Ly Son garlic & shallots, Quang Ngai, VietnamGarlic & shallots blanket Ly Son Island & they can be bought on the roadside anywhere

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Ly Son Island Drinks: In the evenings, sinh tố (smoothie stalls) set up along the road leading down to the port. Almost every restaurant, eatery, or local shop sells cold, local beer: the regional favourite is Dung Quat, named after the oil refinery over on the mainland, where it’s brewed. Cafes are scattered here and there, but the coffee is only OK quality. However, a street-side coffee vendor, named Thanh Tai, at an intersection on the south coast, operates her very own espresso machine. She’ll click the buttons and pull the leavers to brew you up a fresh cup of real coffee for just 10,000vnd. There’s another roadside coffee machine opposite Muong Thanh Hotel, at Xanh Cafe, also 10,000vnd. Great value, and very enterprising. If you’re curious to try the island brew – rượu tỏi (garlic liquor) – you can find it at most restaurants or buy a bottle at Dori Toi Den Garlic Shop.

Xanh Cafe with espresso machine, Ly Son Island, VietnamA couple of enterprising locals have set up street stalls with espresso machines for good coffee

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Getting There & Around:

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

Ly Son Island can only be reached by boat from Sa Ky, a small, scruffy port on the coast of Quang Ngai, a central province roughly 150km south of Danang. Fast boats between Sa Ky Port and Ly Son Island sail multiple times daily, and journey time is only 30-45 minutes. The nearest transport hub to Sa Ky Port is Quang Ngai City, which has good rail and road connections to most major cities. The nearest airport is Chu Lai, 40km north of Sa Ky, which has daily flights to Hanoi and Saigon. Once on Ly Son, the island is best navigated by hired motorbike, but there are also taxis, electric cars, and boat tours to Dao Be Island. See below for full transportation details:

Getting the fast boat to Ly Son Island, VietnamLy Son Island can only be reached by boat from Sa Ky Port, in the central province of Quang Ngai


GETTING TO SA KY PORT: 

Because Sa Ky Port isn’t on a major road or rail line, getting there is necessarily a two-leg trip (unless, of course, you have your own wheels). The two entry points are Quang Ngai City (20km west of Sa Ky Port) and Chu Lai Airport (40km north of Sa Ky Port). Quang Ngai City is well-served by buses and trains to most major destinations in Vietnam, and Chu Lai Airport has direct flights to Saigon and Hanoi. Local buses and taxis connect Quang Ngai City and Chu Lai Airport with Sa Ky Port. See below for details: [You can search & book buses, trains & flights in the search boxes below with Baolau.com]

Sa Ky Port, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamThere are several ways to get to Quang Ngai City & Sa Ky Port: by train, bus, motorbike & taxi


By Bus: Quang Ngai City is easily reached by bus. The main bus station is located on Highway QL1A, the country’s main artery. Buses ply this route all day, every day, stopping at most major cities along the coast between Saigon and Hanoi. There are lots of bus lines and dozens of departures every day in both directions. For comfort and efficiency, try Futa Lines sleeper buses. [Check current bus routes, ticket prices & availability on Baolau.com] From Quang Ngai to Sa Ky Port you can take a local taxi (these are easy to find at the bus station or through your hotel), but this is relatively expensive. A cheaper option is to take local bus No.3 (15,000vnd), operated by Mai Linh bus line. Bus No.3 leaves regularly (almost every hour), taking about one hour and stopping at various places in Quang Ngai, including the main bus station.

Bus No.3 from Quang Ngai to Sa Ky Port, VietnamThe useful Mai Linh bus No.3 plies between Quang Ngai City & Sa Ky Port, via My Khe Beach

By Motorbike: If you have your own wheels, riding between Quang Ngai City and Sa Ky Port is an easy, scenic journey, taking about 45 minutes. Follow the Tra My-My Khe embankment road east of Quang Ngai to My Khe Beach where it joins Road QL24B to Sa Ky Port. Alternatively, take the busier QL24B all the way from Quang Ngai to Sa Ky, which gives you the option to stop by the Chau Sa citadel and the Son My memorial park (site of the 1968 My Lai massacre). There are also some highly scenic back-roads through rice paddies that are worth exploring.

Search & Book: Type your travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for buses to Quang Ngai:

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By Rail: Quang Ngai is on the main north-south rail line between Saigon and Hanoi. Almost all north-south trains stop at Quang Ngai. Each day there are at least half a dozen trains north to Hanoi and south to Saigon, stopping at all major stations along the way. Journey time from Saigon to Quang Ngai is around 16 hours; from Hanoi it’s around 18 hours. Taking the night train in a sleeper compartment is a comfortable, fun, convenient and relatively good value way to get to Quang Ngai. Prices are between 500,000-1,000,000vnd depending on the class. [Check current train times, ticket prices & availability on Baolau.com] From Quang Ngai train station, you can take a taxi to Sa Ky Port or catch Mai Linh bus No.3 (see above).

Search & Book: Type your travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for trains between to Quang Ngai:

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By Air: Three of Vietnam’s four carriers operate flights to Chu Lai Airport, 40km north of Sa Ky Port. Jetstar, VietJet, and Vietnam Airlines all connect Chu Lai with Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi daily. You should be able to get a one-way ticket for under 1,000,000vnd on Jetstar and Vietjet, but Vietnam Airlines are usually more expensive (however, they’re also more likely the run on-time). From the airport, taxis and buses meet the planes to take passengers to Sa Ky Port, which is about a 45-minute ride away. [Check current flight schedules, ticket prices & availability on Baolau.com]

Search & Book: Type your travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for flights to Chu Lai:


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GETTING TO LY SON ISLAND:

The only way to reach Ly Son Island is by boat from Sa Ky Port, in Quang Ngai Province. There are three fast boat companies operating regular daily ferries: up to a dozen each day in both directions. The three ferry companies are: Super Bien Dong, An Vinh, and Chin Nghia. Ticket prices are very reasonable and easy to purchase (foreign traveller don’t require a permit, but you must register your passport when buying your ticket). Sailing time is only 30-45 minutes, depending on the boat and weather conditions (Note: it’s possible to take your motorbike or bicycle on some, but not all, of the boats). See below for full details:

Fast boat ferry, Sa Ky Port to Ly Son Island, VietnamGetting to Ly Son Island by fast boat from Sa Ky Port is pretty easy, quick, comfortable & reasonably priced


The Boats: The three ferry companies currently operating on the Sa Ky-Ly Son route are: An Vinh, Super Bien Dong, and Chin Nghia. Each company operates similar vessels: long, narrow fast boats, or medium-sized catamarans. All seating is inside an air-conditioned cabin on coach-style chairs. (All boats have decent toilets and plenty of life jackets and rafts.) There can be an excited buzz on board, and the music does little to calm things down. But it’s only a short voyage, and if you don’t like the atmosphere inside the cabin, you can stand out on the back deck for the entire voyage. This is something that’s often forbidden on other such fast boat journeys in Vietnam, when passengers must stay inside during departure and arrival. The most exciting parts of the voyage are leaving Sa Ky Port via a channel clogged with fishing boats and surrounded by forested headlands, and drawing closer to the volcanic silhouette of Ly Son Island. Boarding and disembarking is a bit of a scram, but nothing to worry about: it’s busy rather than chaotic. However, I imagine things can get pretty hectic on weekends and public holidays with the sheer number of visitors descending on the boats and the piers. Foreign travellers will be approached by an official in green uniform after arriving off the boat at Ly Son pier, in order to check your passport and possibly take your phone number. This interaction should be without incident.

Fast boat ferry, Sa Ky Port to Ly Son Island, VietnamAll three fast boat ferry companies operate similar, long vessels with coach-style seating & air-con

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The Ports:

Below is a description and photos of Sa Ky and Ly Son ports:

Sa Ky Port [MAP] Sa Ky is a scruffy but busy little port near the mouth of a river as it empties into the East Sea. Some 20km east of Quang Ngai City, the port can be reached by taxi, motorbike, or Mai Linh bus No.3 (see Getting to Sa Ky Port for details). Although initially Sa Ky doesn’t look like the gateway port to a popular island destination (for domestic travellers, at least), I was surprised by the significant infrastructure and organization of the passenger terminal. Inside the large, new terminal, there’s lots of space, a canteen, gift shop, toilets and showers, ticket offices for each of the ferry companies, plenty of seating in the waiting hall, and an information board with all the day’s sailings, times, and prices on it. The atmosphere is calm and organized, and it shouldn’t be too difficult for most foreign travellers to navigate. (However, things might be different on a busy weekend or public holiday.)

Sa Ky Port, passenger terminal, VietnamSa Ky Port has quite a large, modern passenger terminal: it’s well organized & efficient

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Ly Son Port [MAP] The port on Ly Son Island is in Thôn Tây village, part of An Vinh commune, on the west coast. The port consists of a concrete pier jutting into the sea from the main glut of hotels in Thôn Tây village. The pier can accommodate several boats at a time, but gets quite busy, crowded, and frantic when two boats arrive and depart simultaneously (as they often do during peak times). That’s one reason why the port is due to be relocated to a much larger site on the south coast (which is confusingly also known as Thôn Tây village, but part of An Hai commune). At the time of writing, the new port still appeared to be many months from completion, but workers at the construction site assured me it would open to passengers within the year (2019). However, for the time being, all boats from the mainland still dock at the old port on the west coast. The port itself doesn’t have any facilities, except for a dozen or so plastic seats under cover. But there are plenty of hotel cafes and food stalls around the entrance to the pier, where most passengers choose to wait for the boats. All three boat companies have offices near the pier, and the main port ticket counter has a board outside with all the day’s sailing, times, and prices on it (see Booking Tickets for details).

Ly Son Island Port, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamThe boat pier on Ly Son is in the west of the island, but it’s scheduled to move to the south coast this year

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Booking Tickets: adfad

Below is all the information for booking tickets (for passengers and motorbikes) on the boats between Sa Ky Port and Ly Son Island:

Sa Ky Port, passenger terminal, VietnamBooking tickets in person at the ports is quite easy & there are multiple sailings in both directions each day


General Information: Because there are so many sailings each day in both directions, there’s generally no need to book tickets in advance. Even if the boat you want to catch is full, chances are the next one will sail soon after. However, personally I’d recommend getting to Sa Ky Port on the afternoon before departure in order to book your ticket for the next morning, just to be safe, especially if you’re on a tight schedule. This is also advisable if you’re travelling to Ly Son on a weekend or public holiday, when things get busy. At the very least, get to the port early during these peak times. Note that motorbikes and bicycles can be carried on board, but not on all vessels (see Motorbikes & Bicycles for details).

Although there are separate ticket kiosks and offices for each of the three ferry companies, in reality all tickets for all boats are sold from the main ticket counter: at Sa Ky Port, this is clearly marked ‘Ticket Office’, and on Ly Son Island it’s the building at the corner of the intersection near the pier [MAP]. The day’s sailings (normally at least 10 in both directions) are listed on a white-board in the middle of the waiting hall at Sa Ky Port, and outside the ticket building on Ly Son Island.

Note: although no permit is required to visit Ly Son Isalnd, at Sa Ky Port all foreign travellers must register their passport with the officials at window No.5, marked ‘Border Guards Procedures’, next to the ticket counter. Then, at the pier on Ly Son Island, an official will inspect your passport again, and possibly take your phone number or email. All this should be a fairly quick and painless process, providing your papers are all in order.

List of sailing times, Sa Ky to Ly Son Island, VietnamEach day the sailing schedule is listed on a white board at the ticket offices at Sa Ky Port & Ly Son Island

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Motorbikes & Bicycles: It’s possible to take your motorbike or bicycle with you on the boat from Sa Ky Port to Ly Son Island. As the boats continue to be upgraded to more modern and bigger vessels, so the space for motorbikes and bicycles increases. At the moment, most (but not all) of the fast boats operating for An Vinh and Super Bien Dong companies can accommodate a half dozen or more motorbikes, depending on available space (remember these boats are also used for cargo and supplies from the mainland to the island). The cost is a very reasonable 90,000vnd per motorbike, but the ticket is bought separately from your passenger ticket. At Sa Ky Port, buy your passenger ticket first, then take your motorbike around the back of the boat terminal, where the cargo is loaded, about 30 minutes before departure. Here, a boat company staff will sell you a ticket for your bike. Tip: Early morning boats carry a lot of cargo; try to catch a later ferry (mid-morning, for example) so that there’ll be plenty of space for you bike.

Sending a motorbike on the fast boat, Sa Ky to Ly Son IslandTaking your own motorbike or bicycle on the boat to Ly Son is quite easy, but only some boats carry them

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Sa Ky Ticket Offices: There are three main fast boat ferry companies currently operating between Sa Ky Port and Ly Son Island. They are: An Vinh Express, Super Bien Dong, and Chin Nghia Express. Each ferry company has a separate office inside the passenger terminal at Sa Ky Port. However, in reality, all tickets are sold at the general ticket counter inside the terminal, opposite the ferry company offices. The general ticket counter is clearly marked ‘Ticket Office’ in English. The daily schedule is posted on a white-board in front of the main ticket office. Below is the contact information for all fast boat ferry companies:

 • Super Bien Dong: tel: 0977 761 879 | 0255 629 7999 

 • An Vinh Express Express: tel: 0987 745 722 | 0966 266 439

 • Chin Nghia Express: tel: 0944 50 76 76 | 0905 790 298

Passenger ticket office, Sa Ky Port, VietnamThe main ticket counter for all boats is inside the passenger terminal at Sa Ky Port

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Ly Son Ticket Offices: On Ly Son Island, all three fast boat ferry companies have offices around the intersection behind the port in Thôn Tây village. However, in reality, all tickets are sold from the kiosk in the (easily missable) building on the corner of the intersection [MAP]. The daily schedule is posted on a white-board out front of the ticket kiosk. (Note: a much larger, new ferry terminal is currently under construction in the south of the island. When it’s finished it will replace the current boat pier.) Below is the contact information for all fast boat ferry companies:

 • Super Bien Dong: tel: 0977 761 879 or 0255 629 7999 

 • An Vinh Express Express: tel: 0987 745 722 or 0966 266 439

 • Chin Nghia Express: tel: 0944 50 76 76 or 0905 790 298

Ly Son Island fast boat passenger ticket office, VietnamThe main ticket office on Ly Son Island is in this building on the corner of an intersection near the port

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Schedules, Times & Prices: Between the three ferry companies (An Vinh Express, Super Bien Dong, and Chin Nghia Express), there are multiple sailings daily in both directions between Sa Ky Port and Ly Son Island. Depending on the day of the week and the time of year, you can count of roughly 7 (weekdays, low-season) to 15 (weekends, public holidays, high season: May to September) sailings every day. I was surprised by the amount of daily sailings operating on this route, and it’s great news for travellers. Sailing time is only 30-45 minutes, prices are reasonable, and booking is fairly easy and quick – just show up at the port on the day of departure (or, preferably, the day before).

With so many sailings each day, the exact schedule changes regularly. But, as a general rule, sailings start from 7am-7.30am and continue until 3.30pm-4.30pm. During these times, there’s between 1 and 3 sailings every hour, depending on the day of the week, time of year, and weather conditions. (There appears to be a ‘lunch break’ between 12noon and 1pm, when there are no sailings at all.) All the day’s sailings and ticket prices are listed on a white-board in the middle of the waiting hall at the passenger terminal in Sa Ky Port, and outside the ticket office on Ly Son Island. Note that rough seas, storms, or high winds may force boats to cancel; this is most likely to happen between October and February. You can check Windy.com for good online weather forecasts, including wind and waves. Prices vary slightly according to the vessel, but the general range is 150,000-180,000vnd per one-way adult ticket. The schedule below is only a rough indication of sailing patterns:

*Key: AV=An Vinh Express; SBD=Super Bien Dong; CN=Chin Nghia Express


SA KY PORT  LY SON ISLAND

Departures: 7.30am-4.00pm: at least one sailing every hour (except 12noon-1pm), all companies (AV, SBD, CN) daily*

Duration: 30-45 minutes

Passenger Ticket: 150,000-180,000vnđ, (discounts for seniors, children, disabled)

Motorbike Ticket: 90,000vnd (AV & SBD boats only)

Contacts: AV: 0987 745 722 or 0966 266 439 | SBD: 0977 761 879 or 0255 629 7999 | CN: 0944 50 76 76 or 0905 790 298

*weather permitting


LY SON ISLAND → SA KY PORT

Departures: 7.30am-4.00pm: at least one sailing every hour (except 12noon-1pm), all companies (AV, SBD, CN) daily*

Duration: 30-45 minutes

Passenger Ticket: 150,000-180,000vnđ, (discounts for seniors, children, disabled)

Motorbike Ticket: 90,000vnđ (AV & SBD boats only)

Contacts: AV: 0987 745 722 or 0966 266 439 | SBD: 0977 761 879 or 0255 629 7999 | CN: 0944 50 76 76 or 0905 790 298

*weather permitting


Motorbikes & cargo on the fast boat to Ly Son Island, VietnamBoats run all day, carrying passengers & supplies to/from the mainland: this is my motorbike covered in veggies

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GETTING AROUND LY SON ISLAND:

Ly Son is a relatively small island and easily navigated. Two wheels is ideal, but there are also taxis on the island. And, because the distances are fairly short, it’s entirely possible to get around on foot. Small speed boats whisk passengers between Ly Son and Dao Be Island to the north; just a 10-minute trip, and well worth it. See below for details:

Getting around Ly Son Island by motorbike, VietnamThere are several ways to get around the island, including motorbikes, taxis, electric buggies & walking


By Road: Ly Son is a pretty small island and can be easily traversed by rented motorbike, bicycle, taxi or electric bus. The dimensions of the island are roughly 6km from east to west, and 2km from north to south, so the distances are very small. Despite its size, Ly Son has plenty of roads leading to most corners of the island. The northwest coast is the only area that isn’t really reachable by road. Everywhere else on the island has a narrow paved lane or dirt path to it. However, some of these roads (especially the ones leading up to the volcanic peaks) are controlled by the military, and therefore off limits. I’ve marked these areas as best I can with a ‘police’ icon on my map.

Motorbikes (or scooters) can be rented from most accommodations on the island for 100,000-150,000vnd per day. Riding around Ly Son is a great way to get around independently and see the island. Traffic is generally light and roads are OK quality. However, the roads can be very narrow and often buried in drifts of sand that has been dumped by the roadside to be spread over the fields of garlic. Motorbikes don’t like sand: if you brake suddenly or turn your wheel in sand just inches thick, the bike is likely to skid. Ride cautiously. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any bicycles for rent on the island, which is a shame because the terrain is mostly flat and bikes would be an enjoyable, quiet, and environmentally friendly way to get around. But it is perfectly easy to bring your own bicycle with you from the mainland on the boat to Ly Son Island (see Getting to Ly Son Island for details).

Motorbiking the coast roads, Ly Son Island, VietnamTwo wheels is the most rewarding way to get around the island, especially riding the coastal cliffs

A fleet of taxis serves Ly Son Island. If you speak some Vietnamese, pick up the cab company phone number from your hotel (or note it down from the side of a taxi). Alternatively, when you need a taxi, ask the staff at your accommodation to book one for you. Another way to get around is by electric mini-bus. Although they generally cater to larger groups of tourists, it’s possible to book one separately. Try the office (92 Nguyen Trai Street | tel: 0868 799 239) near the port, beneath Motel Tien Tri for details.

Taxi, Ly Son Island, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamIf you don’t like to get around Ly Son on two wheels, there’s a fleet of taxis & electric buggies on the island

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On Foot: There are some good, short hikes on Ly Son Island, most of which lead up the slopes of extinct volcanic craters to spectacular viewing points (see Mountains & Viewing Points for details). But it’s also entirely possible to get around the island in general on foot. If you’re a hiker, or prefer walking over transportation, there’s no reason why you can’t go all over the island on foot. As mentioned before, Ly Son is only a few kilometres wide, so the distances are never great and, apart from the craters, most of the terrain is flat. This makes walking a viable option. Of course, getting from A to B will take a lot longer and it’s important to remember that heat may be an issue during the middle of the day. But, apart from that, if you’re a keen walker, hiking around Ly Son should be possible.

Hiking on Ly Son Island, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamGetting around Ly Son Island on foot is entirely possible: the hills are beautiful & the roads are quiet

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By Boat: The only outlying island is Dao Be (also known as An Binh or Cu Lao Bo Bai), which lies just north of Ly Son. Little passenger speed boats leave the Ly Son pier every morning between 7am and 10am for Dao Be Island. The journey only takes 10-15 minutes, but if seas are rough boats won’t sail. Ticket prices are good value at 80,000vnd return per person. Tickets are easily arranged through your accommodation the night before, or morning of, departure (or you can just show up at the boat pier and try your luck, but this probably isn’t a good idea during high season or on a weekend). All boats are equipped with safety gear and passengers must wear the life jacket provided (this is good practice in Vietnam, which has a pretty poor maritime safety record). All boats dock at the main pier on the south side of Dao Be Island, and all boats leave three hours later: if your boat departs Ly Son at 7.30am, your return from Dao Be Island will be at 10.30am, and so on. The tickets are very reasonably priced and the whole setup works well. If you suffer from motion sickness, bear in mind that the boats are fast and the swell can be big. On Dao Be Island, electric buggies ferry visitors around, but it’s much better to walk instead: the island is tiny and easily traversed on foot. (See Dao Be Island for details).

Fast boats to Dao Be Island, Quang Ngai Province, VietnamDozens of small speedboats ply between Ly Son & nearby Dao Be Island (10-15 minutes) every day

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Weather:

The best time of year to visit Ly Son Island is between March and September, when the weather is warm, sunny and generally dry, and seas are calm. The months of March, April and September are ideal, because they fall either side of the Vietnamese summer holidays (during which the island can get too busy). Between November and February, conditions can be wet, grey, and surprisingly cold.

The sun sets on Ly Son Island, VietnamThe best weather on Ly Son Island is usually between March & September


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

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Tam Hai Island: Travel Guide http://vietnamcoracle.com/tam-hai-island-travel-guide/ http://vietnamcoracle.com/tam-hai-island-travel-guide/#comments Sat, 11 May 2019 16:55:22 +0000 http://vietnamcoracle.com/?p=29100 A small & tranquil island at the mouth of a river, Tam Hai is within easy reach of Hoi An & Danang. This little island is a self-contained, peaceful world, with its own beauty, its own festivals, and its own resort.... Continue reading

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First published May 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS

A small and tranquil island within fairly easy reach of Hoi An and Danang, Tam Hai has long beaches, coconut groves, volcanic cliffs, and sleepy villages whose houses are splashed with colourful murals. A pleasant 1-2 hour drive south of Hoi An via the coast road, Tam Hai is an island at the mouth of the Truong Giang River, in Quang Nam Province, Central Vietnam. The placid river flows either side of island, thus cutting Tam Hai off from the mainland. Accessed via small ferries from the north and south, the island retains its own character, with local festivals and temples, a distinctive dialect, some historical relics, and even wildlife, including a population of Leopard Cats. Walking, cycling, kayaking, motorbiking, swimming, snorkeling, fresh seafood, and boat trips to outlying islands are all very good fun and worth making the trip for. Tam Hai is a particularly rewarding excursion for independent travellers. The island only has one accommodation option: the peaceful and tasteful Le Domaine de Tam Hai.

Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamTam Hai is a quiet little island, off the beaten path & a rewarding excursion for independent travellers

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GUIDE: TAM HAI ISLAND


This guide is a brief introduction to Tam Hai Island for any travellers considering making the trip. Below I’ve written a short summary of what it’s like, what to do, where to stay, and how to get there. Tam Hai Island is good for independent travellers looking to get off the beaten coastal path, especially anyone following my Coast Road route. Two days and one night is enough to explore the island, but the longer you stay the more you’ll tune-in to island life. Weather is best from March to September.

Click an item in the contents below for more details:

CONTENTS:

MAP:

Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province


View in a LARGER MAP


Freshwater well, Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamThis old, freshwater well still provides islanders with clean water for washing, cooking & cleaning

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The Island:

Tam Hai is s quiet, still, and slow-paced island. Even compared to the villages either side of it, on the mainland, Tam Hai seems to operate at a different speed. This is a very appealing quality for a visitor. The island has two roads and two small villages. The bigger of these is sprawled along the east-west road, which connects the two ferry crossings. The smaller village is clustered at the north of the island, sheltered under the volcanic bluff at the end of the north-south road. All around the island there are narrow, paved lanes leading off into the coconut palms, past shrimp farms, through family cemeteries, under casuarina trees, and out onto the beaches and river banks.

Old house, Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamTam Hai island is a slow-paced, self-contained little world, with a couple of hamlets & a few old buildings


Painted coconut palms, Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamTam Hai is a laid-back place with quiet corners: a world away from the frenetic energy of the mainland

Tam Hai Island is widest at its southern end, where the brackish water of the river estuary nurtures mangroves, and fishing boats gather along the concrete embankments where the water is calm. Going north, the island quickly tapers, forming two, long, sandy beaches on either side, which, though lovely, are tainted by trash. The northern tip is perhaps the most charming part of the island. The volcanic cliffs, which swell up behind the brightly painted hamlet, have a certain aura about them: there’s a sense of time and history here, helped by several old and attractive houses, some ruins of Cham-era foundations, the remnants of a war-era military base, and a still-active freshwater well at the bottom of the hill. Small temples and shrines dot the interior of the island, including a newly-built whale cemetery, where dozens of sea mammals are given burial in the belief that they will bring good fortune on the seas.

Mural village, Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamThe mural village, in the north of the island, boasts a collection of colourfully painted houses


Mural village, Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamVegetables sold by the roadside in the mural village, in the north of Tam Hai island

Naturally, Tam Hai’s main industry is fishing, and there are reminders of this everywhere on the island; from nets to boats to coracles to seafood restaurants. But shrimp farming is the most obvious, and one of the reasons for this is the mess that the farms produce. The plastic piping for the water, plastic lining for the pools, plastic sacks for the shrimp feed, and the discharge from the farms into the ocean are all too obvious. Like so many islands in Vietnam, Tam Hai is suffocating in plastic. There’s no formal trash collection on the island, so locals have no choice but to collect and burn, or throw into the sea and river, the litter they produce. Neither of these are long-term solutions, of course, and the beaches and interior are suffering for it. But, assuming a trash collection service is on the way, it might get better soon. Note that, in general, the water quality of the river and the sea is pretty good; don’t let the littered beaches put you off swimming, snorkeling or kayaking.

Fishing coracles, Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamThe main industry on Tam Hai is fishing: these are three, large, woven coracles on the beach


Fishing coracles, Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamPlastic fishing coracles on the west coast beach. Inland, shrimp farms dominate the island

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Activities & Sights:

There’s enough to see and do on Tam Hai to keep you busy for a day or two, and because the island is so small and so quiet, it’s easy to explore independently:

Kayaks on Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamThere’s plenty to do on Tam Hai Island for a day or two, including kayaking, walking & swimming


Cycling & Motorbiking: Tam Hai Island is only a few kilometres in diameter at its widest point, which makes getting around by bicycle or motorbike extremely quick and easy. Le Domaine Resort can rent wheels to guests, and a couple of the local cafes might also be able to rustle one up. The island’s two ‘main’ roads run east to west and south to north. Not much more than paved lanes, these roads pass through the island’s villages and hamlets. At the time of writing, a new embankment road was under construction on the east coast. Another embankment road leads along the southern shore, fronting a large lagoon filled with fishing boats, with the Truong Son Mountains rising in the distance. Leading off the two ‘main’ roads, lots of little, concrete lanes are good for exploring, taking you to beaches, shrimp farms, fruit orchards, shrines, cemeteries, and fishing hamlets.

Motorbiking on Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamRiding or cycling along the quiet, paved lanes is a fun way to explore Tam Hai Island


Beach, Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamA woven coracle on the beach at Le Domaine de Tam Hai Resort in the west of the island

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Hiking & Walking: Because the distances are so short, Tam Hai is great for walking. There’s very little traffic on the island’s roads and lanes, so ambling around on these is fine and pleasurable. Depending on the tide, it’s even possible to hike the entire circumference of the island: from the beaches on the east and west coasts, to the rocky bluff at the northern tip, and the dykes through the mangroves in the south. The most challenging hike on the island is in the north, where it’s possible to take dirt paths on a loop. Starting in the northeast, from behind the seafood restaurants at Ban Than cliffs, either walk along the fascinating rock formations by the sea or up the dirt path to the communications tower, then across the exposed and beautiful bluff, and down the other side through thick tropical foliage to an ancient (and still functioning) communal freshwater well in the northwest.

Ban Than cliffs, Tam Hai Island, VietnamIt’s possible to hike around the whole island. This is the view from Ban Than cliffs, at the northern tip


Freshwater well, Tam Hai Island, VietnamLooking into the communal freshwater well in the northwest of Tam Hai Island

Also at the northern tip of the island is the mural village, where several homes and shops have been painted in bright colours with fishing and sea-related scenes, adding a lot of character to this isolated community. As you wander around, you’ll see a few handsome but crumbling century-old houses standing beneath the palms. Many of the homes on the island appear to have been abandoned and left to decay. I was struck by the relatively old population of the island. In most Vietnamese cities, towns, and villages, children are everywhere, but this was not so much the case on Tam Hai. Finally, a whale cemetery can be reached via a lane between shrimp farms. Many whale graves are laid before a pagoda, which is still under construction. (Note: the whale cemetery marker on my map is only an approximate location.)

Mural village, Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamPaintings on a house in the mural village. Most of the murals depict fishing scenes & seascapes


Mural village, Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamLaundry drying outside one of the painted homes in the mural village, this one depicting jellyfish


Small shrine, Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamIncense in front of a little local shrine in the northern hamlet on Tam Hai Island

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Kayaking & Boat Trips: Kayaks, for rent at Le Domaine Resort, are perfect for paddling upriver to the mangroves and lagoon, or downriver to the sandbar on the opposite bank or the long, sandy, beach on the west coast. The river is placid, but, once it flows into the ocean, the chop can make things more difficult. Two small islets lie off the northeast coast of Tam Hai Island. The smallest, Dao Da Island, can be reached by hired boat from the collection of seafood restaurants at the northeast of Tam Hai. During the day, small groups of Vietnamese tourists gather here to take the boat trip. You can join one of these for a few dollars. The island has a little beach and some interesting rock formations and coral. Dao Da Chim is the bigger island, but I’m told access is restricted, because a shipwreck was discovered carrying a valuable cargo of Chinese porcelain, dating from the days of the maritime silk road, which traded goods between China, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Arabian peninsular. However, boats can still sail around the island to give passengers a look. But you’ll just have to imagine the shipwreck and its cargo, which is long gone.

Kayaking on Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamKayaks are available to rent at Le Domaine Resort: they’re great for paddling up & down the river


Dao Da Island, near Tam Hai, Quang Nam Province, VietnamA couple of small islands lie off Tam Hai: this is Dao Da which can be visited by boat

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Swimming, Snorkeling & Beaches: Swimming is possible in both the river and the sea around Tam Hai Island. Although the water quality is pretty good and clear, the trash on the beaches can be off-putting. The best (and cleanest) places to swim are at Le Domaine Resort and off the rocks along the cliffs near Ban Than, in the northeast of the island. The latter has some coral, fish, and submerged volcanic rocks that make snorkeling an option. Two, long, beautiful, fine-sand beaches, backed by coconut palms and casuarina trees line much of the east and west coasts of Tam Hai Island. Unfortunately, in their current state, they are more attractive from afar than up close, when the litter problem becomes apparent.

Long, sandy beach, Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamTam Hai has some long, lovely beaches: swimming is good & water quality fine, but trash is a problem


Beach, Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamOne of the best (and cleanest) places to swim on Tam Hai is at Le Domaine Resort

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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.

The only accommodation on the island, Le Domaine de Tam Hai [BOOK HERE or call (+84) 077 9533 622] is a lush, peaceful and tasteful riverside resort. Set under a dense canopy of coconut palms, the 11 private villas are comfortable and atmospheric, including tiled floors, wooden furniture, thatched roofs, outside showers, and terraces with river views. The resort lies along the banks of the Truong Giang River, a beautiful spot, particularly in the mornings and late afternoons, when the sun is low, bathing everything in a pink light. There’s a swimming pool, large gardens dotted with tropical trees, and an excellent lounge bar under a thatched roof on the sand, offering creative cocktails (and a happy hour) and an enticing menu, including fresh-caught, local seafood. Le Domaine is a refuge and it treads lightly on its patch of the island. Low-rise and low-impact, Le Domaine chooses to work with its natural surrounds, rather than stamp all over it, like the string of concrete mega-resorts between Danang and Hoi An, for example. The resort is perfectly positioned as a base from which to explore the island. From Le Domaine, you can hire bikes to ride the back-roads to villages and temples, or kayaks to row downriver to beaches, sandbars and headlands. Le Domaine is overseen by Caroline, who works hard to maintain the resort and help guests (and non-guests) get the most out of their visit to Tam Hai Island. Prices hover around $100 a night for a villa [BOOK HERE or call Ms Caroline on (+84) 077 9533 622 for special rates & promotions].

If Le Domaine is out of your budget, you could potentially camp on Tam Hai, if you have your own equipment. While exploring the island, I came upon several good, potential campsites. Otherwise, head to Tam Thanh Beach (15km north of Tam Hai), where there’s a smattering of good guest houses and hotels, or into Tam Ky City (20km) for more accommodation options. You can find out what’s available in Tam Ky and Tam Thanh Beach on Agoda.com or start your search HERE.

Guest villa at Le Domaine de Tam Hai Resort, VietnamLe Domaine de Tam Hai Resort is lush, tasteful & comfortable: it’s the only accommodation on the island


Swimming pool at Le Domaine de Tam Hai Resort, VietnamThe swimming pool at Le Domaine Resort is under coconut palms, on the sand, by the riverbank

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Food & Drink:

Although food and drink options on the island are fairly limited, especially compared with mainland towns, you won’t go hungry on Tam Hai. There are inexpensive noodle and rice joints (looks for signs saying phở, bún, mỳ, cơm) in the main village in the south of the island, and a handful of fresh seafood restaurants (quán hải sản) in the hamlet at the north of the island, as well as elsewhere. Le Domaine Resort has a good, eclectic menu at their beach lounge, and a great choice of cocktails – time it for the sunset happy hour (5-7pm).

Local noodles, Tam Hai Island, VietnamThere’s not a lot of food on the island, but there are several rice & noodle joints & seafood restaurants

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Getting There:

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

Tam Hai Island can be accessed from the north or the south via small ferries that operate regularly during the daylight hours (apart from a ‘siesta’ between about 12noon-1.30pm):

From the North: From Hoi An/Danang, it’s roughly 60km due south on the pretty coastal road, via Tam Thanh Beach, to the furthest tip of the sandbar. When the road and land end, there’s a small motorbike ferry (10,000vnd) to take you across the Truong Giang River to Tam Hai Island.

From the South: Coming from the south, Chu Lai Airport (which has daily flights to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi) is just 10km away via Road 618 to Ky Ha Port. From here, a bigger ferry (capable of carrying a couple of cars, as well as motorbikes) makes the 5-minute crossing (5,000vnd) to Tam Hai Island.

Booking Tickets: The major transportation hubs in the region for flights, trains and buses are Danang, Quang Ngai, Tam Ky, and Chu Lai Airport: you can search schedules, prices, and book tickets easily through Baolau.com or use the search box below:

Search & Book: Type your departure & arrival cities & travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for flights, trains & buses:


The ferry to Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province, VietnamThere are two ferry crossings to Tam Hai Island: one in the south & one in the north


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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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’

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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


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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

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First published February 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle

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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

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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

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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 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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