Cast adrift on Ly Son Island
by Hoai Nam
(VNS) Ly Son Island, 30km off the coast of the central province of Quang Ngai, is a tranquil destination that can be explored in two days, as Dang Thi Mai Thi and her group recently discovered.
Departed souls: Officials take part in a ceremony to honour the souls of sailors who died during long voyages to the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands in the Nguyen dynasty in the 17th century.
|Quick trip: A passenger boat docks at Ly Son Island daily. The 150-seat vessel departs from Sa Ky port in Quang Ngai Province and arrives at Ly Son district in an hour. — Photo Hoai Nam
The group began their trip in Da Nang City on a package tour from Da Nang Beach Travel. A van took them very early in the morning to Quang Ngai's Sa Ky port, 16km east of downtown Quang Ngai City and a three-hour drive along National Highway 1.
They got on board a 150-seat boat for the hourlong trip to Ly Son Island, which cost VND110,000 (US$5).
"We had to rush a bit in the morning because there is only one ship to Ly Son every day. Tourists have to come to Sa Ky port on time if they don't want to miss the ship," Thi said.
"We were lucky because the trip would have been cancelled if the weather was not mild. A strong wind would prevent us from cruising safely," she said.
One nautical mile away, five mountains form Ly Son Island, of which four are dormant volcanoes.
As soon as the ship docked at Ly Son port, the group was taken to Dai Duong Hotel.
June is the hottest time on the island, so visitors often plan to go in July or August – the best time for fishing – to sample the local seafood at its peak.
Thi's group landed on the island at noon, in the heat of the midday sun. They slaked their thirst with sugar-cane juice in a stall near the port before checking into their hotel.
"The province is well-known for its sugar-cane. The juice is so sweet and cool and very cheap. A big glass costs just VND5,000 (two US cents) and the juice actually refreshed me," the 23-year-old said.
The first site the group visited was Hang Pagoda, which was built in the middle of a mountain that was once a volcano. The local people said the pagoda was an ancient Cham structure.
On the top of Thoi Loi Mountain, one of the four volcanoes, local people built a reservoir in a 1sq.km crater to deal with the lack of fresh water in the dry season on the Islands.
"I felt a bit of fear when I stood on the rough rocks in the former volcano crater. The local people constructed concrete paths around the reservoir for tourists," said Nguyen Thi Le Chi.
Lunch included garlic salad (garlic grows abundantly on the island) and several varieties of sea snail and squid.
The 9.7sq.km island has 3,000 inhabitants, most of whom make their living from farming garlic and spring onion, and fishing.
The stems and roots of the garlic plant are mixed with pea nuts, herbs and vinegar and served with rice pancakes and fish sauce.
"You should not avoid garlic because of its strong smell. The chefs here create great dishes from it," said visitor Nguyen Xuan Ha. "Also, garlic salad helps prevent colds."
|Culinary delight: Ly Son Island, 30km off the coast of Quang Ngai Province, has 3,000 inhabitants, most of whom make their living from farming garlic and spring onion. — Photos Nguyen Dang Lam
Visitors are offered a cup of garlic-soaked wine – a traditional cure for high cholesterol level.
There was not much traffic on the island, so the group decided to explore it by motorbike.
They visited An Hai communal house, and Duc and Am Linh pagodas in the afternoon.
An Hai communal house was built during the reign of King Minh Mang in 1820. It's the oldest building still preserved on the island, with engraved timber girders and beams.
Am Linh Pagoda was a worshipping place for seamen in the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands in the Nguyen dynasty, around the 17th century.
The pagoda was built to worship the soul of sailors who died during long voyages to Hoang Sa and Truong Sa (Spratly) islands.
A museum on the islands displays over 200 ancient documents and 100 exhibits which prove that Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands belong to Viet Nam.
In the evening, the group boarded bamboo coracles to go on a diving trip with local fishermen.
"There is not any beach on the islands, but we were advised to snorkel to explore the coral reefs around the islands," said Nguyen Thanh Ha, a tour group member.
"There are many snails and fishes living in the coral reefs. The water here is so clear and safe for diving."
At night, an outdoor party with a campfire was held at a fisherman's house, where islanders flocked to share drinks with visitors.
"We had a big party with fresh seafood. We danced and sang with local people. Of course, they expressed their hospitality by giving us garlic wine until we got drunk," Ha said.
As the ship leaves early in the morning, travellers must wake up early to get on board in time.
Ha and his friends rushed out to the local market, where they bought dried garlic and spring onion, squid and shrimp as gifts to take home.
The group then went shopping in downtown Quang Ngai and had a lunch of goby – a small fish caught in the Tra River – in a restaurant on the river bank.
"It was a short trip, but we had an interesting experience exploring the island. I hope to stay longer next time," Thi said.
Da Nang Beach Travel offers a package tour from Da Nang to Ly Son Islands and back. The tour lasts one night and two days and costs VND870,000 each passenger for a 10-member group. — VNS