by Thanh Nga
The common local saying "on the waves of March, old women go out to sea", means the sea is often calm in March, making it perfect to venture out to fish, or simply for pleasure. Now, as March swiftly approaches, the waters of the Nam Du Archipelago, 52 nautical miles off the coast of Rach Gia, the capital of the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang, you'll find the natural surrounds very inviting.
Boating bliss: Nam Du Archipelago's 21 islands, which can be reached only by boat, take up 40sq.km, have white sandy beaches, smooth waves, and clear blue water.
|Sea change: Mau Island is blessed with beautiful landscapes of pure nature. — File Photos
The archipelago's 21 islands, which can be reached only by boat, take up a total area of only 40sq.km, have white sandy beaches, smooth waves, and clear blue water.
According to 34-year-old backpacker Nguyen Hai Son, Lon Island, the largest island of the archipelago, will be the first stop when you arrive.
With the even asphalted road, you can travel by motorbike taxi to the lighthouse to see the entire cluster of islands that make Nam Du stretched out like an artistic masterpiece and at night, the lighthouse illuminates the surrounding sea.
You can rent rooms on the island for an overnight stay, but there are no real hotels on the islands, just a few local homes residents opened up as guest houses, with rooms costing about VND50,000 (US$2.5) per night.
"People here can also act as guides for you and you can experience the life of local fishermen by jumping aboard one of their vessels or houses, which don't have refrigerators, bathrooms or other modern conveniences found in most houses," said Son.
You can also hire a boat to go around the Nam Du islands, for about VND50,000. Nom Ngoai, Nom Giua and Nom Trong islands are in the south of the archipelago, while Dam, Hang, Moc, Tre and Nhan are in the north, and be sure to see some of the beautiful waterfalls on Nam Du's islands.
According to the Viet Nam Institute of Geology and Minerals Research, the Nam Du Archipelago was created by two volcanic formations and at some of the islands' peaks, it's easy to image lava erupting, forming these islands. The local rocks are rough, similar to the texture of the flowing lava which created them and each rock bears its own distinct features and shapes.
After exploring the small islands, you should then move on to Ngang Island. There are two boat trips each day to Ngang, one at 7am and one at 3pm, to ferry tourists and locals alike.
Ngang Island is at the centre of Nam Du Commune and its wharf is full of vessels and fishing nets. Nearby, there is a range of stilt houses built of bamboo and concrete, which stretch 2km down the shore.
From Ngang, you can stop at Mau Island, a 20-minute boat ride away. The 200-ha island has a fishing village with 100 households, two sandy beaches and three beaches with a pebbled shoreline.
Residents on this small island will instantly know you're here when you arrive, and they're friendly and hospitable.
Mau is blessed with beautiful landscapes of pure nature and the two white sand beaches, Chuong and Nam, are possibly the best in the archipelago, while their rocky counterparts Bac, Den and Trang, are also stunning.
Nam Beach is very clean and has calm seas all the year round, and a steady stream of boats come to do business here and the residents often crowd around them.
The cool waters of Chuong Beach is another highlight. The beach is surrounded by coconut trees and sand banks with transparent turquoise water.
It is close to two rocky beaches, one filled with shiny black pebbles, named simply Den (Black) Beach. The rocks are a diverse range of shapes and shades and when the sun shines on them, rocks under the sea sparkle like diamonds. Some rocks have strange patterns and inspecting the distinct and unique array of these natural forms can swallow an entire afternoon.
From Den Beach, you can reach Trang (White) Beach after a 15-minute walk. The entire beach is filled only with white rocks, ranging in size from those as small as fingers to some as big as hands. This beach has almost no sand and tourists coming to these rocky beaches often take home with them rocks to remember their journey.
Spending a night in Mau, you can really taste the sea air, and after 11pm, the power generator stops working and life on the island fades into the stillness of night.
You also have the chance to sit with islanders and drink tea or rice wine, and enjoy fresh fish and snails caught from the sea, while listening to stories of life from the Nam Du Archipelago.
According to Huynh Van Loi, chairman of Nam Du Commune's People's Committee, only 12 out the 21 islands of Nam Du are inhabited, and were settled around 30-40 years ago.
"You will be moved to tears when you hear about their experience of harsh storms and raging waves, their feelings when relatives suddenly fell ill or simply the harsh realities of living away from their native lands," said Son.
If you have time, you can also discover the rest of the archipelago's islands. In particular, spending time visiting Dau Island, which is larger than other islands, is a good way to experience the archipelago. The island is home to a primeval forest, which spreads across 95 per cent of the island, with Bai Nha fishing village occupying the rest. This is the most peaceful fishing village in the archipelago, with 20 households living amongst the picturesque coconut trees.
At present, there are not many visitors coming to Nam Du, quite possibly because travelling here is still quite difficult.
"At the end of last year, Nam Du attracted hundreds of tourists and we hope with projects to help develop tourism in the area, especially in Mau Island, more and more visitors will come to the archipelago," said Loi. — VNS