‘Ly Son’ should be the name of a mountain. Why would an island nestled amidst the sea have the name of a mountain? The name ‘Ly Son’ suggests that there is something distinct about this increasingly popular island – Ly Son not only has blue sea, white sand and sunshine. Ly Son is also Vietnam’s only island formed by a five-crater volcano 25-30 million years ago. In the past, when fishermen saw this island from a distance, it looked like a range of five mountains rising up from the sea, and because the sea and oceans are measured in nautical miles, they called this island Ly (meaning nautical mile) Son (meaning mountain).
Up on getting to the island by boat, I understood why ‘nautical mile’ is an important part of the name of this island. The distance from the nearest port, which is Sa Ky, to Ly Son is 15 nautical miles (28 kilometres). When the boat started to cleave the waves, we wished that the distance were only 1-2 nautical miles.
The entire 75 minutes on board turned passengers into acrobats. But unfortunately, we are not circus performers aside from being able to juggle. The waves here are really big, bigger than waves in Co To. You should listen to music so that you do not hear the sound from the stomachs of the people around you.
My friend who has travelled a lot by boat recommended I lie down on a chair. The balance gained that way prevents you from feeling dizzy. However, there was a side effect that only came when we went to bed: the bed seemed to turn into a ship and I felt light-headed again.
The island here! We were as happy as Robinson or Pi once we started exploring. Although the first impression was not favourable, as the port area is dusty and crowded like a market, my travel instincts told me that beautiful and interesting things rarely appear immediately. Patiently discover and to find it – that is the interesting part of a journey.And we did not have to wait too long. Due to a natural phenomenon, the volcano erupted, spilling its lava, which then encountered air and cold sea-water to create a rare and magnificent sight.
To Vo Gate, a black 2.5-meter-high arch formed by volcanic rock emerges amidst the sea, creating a spectacular view during dawn and sunset. The little rocks scattered around it, are the evidence of a volcanic eruption like the one we witnessed when we first got here. Local people named it ‘To Vo’ because it looks like a beehive. To Vo Gate is similar to the Azure Window, a famous symbol of Malta Island, one of the tourist paradises of the Mediterranean. Azure Window unfortunately collapsed during a strong storm in March, disappointing tourists and locals alike.
Vietnam is fortunate to have such an amazing wonder and there are many people climbing on the gate to capture selfies. Tourists and even brides and grooms wait for a moment to capture beautiful photos. Worried about the Gate, the Department of Culture and Information of Ly Son District recently announced a limit of five people climbing up on the gate at one time. However, no one looks after it, so few people abide by the law. So do hurry to visit To Vo Gate before it collapses due to this storm of visitors.
Besides To Vo Gate, Thoi Loi Mountain, the highest of the five craters is also a special gift of nature to Ly Son. With a height of about 170 metres above sea level, from the mainland, Thoi Loi Mountain looks like the dome of this island. You can easily get to the top of the mountain by walking or by motorbike, but you should be careful because there are some steep slopes.
Once getting to the peak, you can comfortably drop your soul into the white clouds above your head, or the blue carpet of the endless sea below that is decorated with white dots of tiny ships departing for the high sea and the light green border of the water with white sand at its bottom.
We also saw a white strip below – part of Cau Cave at the foot of the mountain. Cau Cave is the result of mountain erosion by wind and waves over the course of millions of years. The white strip we saw is a small sandy beach in front of the cave. The water here is so clear that from the shore I could see the layers of seaweed changing colour from dark to pale green to brown next to blocks of stone – another great place for a selfie with a Fisheye Lens. Swim and dive and you will find yourself lost in the world of clownfish like in the movie ‘Finding Nemo’ with lots of colourful little fish swimming around you. Many people travel to this beautiful place to relax and go fishing, hence it is named Cau (meaning fishing) Cave.
If you come here in the afternoon when the tide is low, you can walk through the cave to get to Hang Pagoda, which is nearby. We arrived in the morning and had to wade through the cave when the tide reached our bellies. Being in the cave is like an adventure, but you should be very careful as there is a multitude of slippery stones below. If you do not want to get wet, you can rent a rowing boat for only VND10,000.
As the name suggests, Hang Pagoda is a temple located in a cave. The pagoda was built by one of the first settlers of this island during the Le Kinh Tong Dynasty (1588-1619). Overlooking the sea, the surroundings and entrance of the temple are cliffs with beautiful stone patterns that create a sculpture made by nature. In this 400-year-old temple, the air is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. This is a refuge for people in times of natural disasters or to hide from pirates. At the entrance, there is a small well built to catch the falling groundwater from the cliff. This water is considered sacred as it helped people survive when staying here. Today, visitors to this pagoda often drink a sip of this sacred water for good luck, wealth and to pray to the deity for a male heir. But according to the locals you should not look at the well when you drink as then you may miss the opportunity to become a millionaire.
Although I wanted to drink enough sacred water for all of my future wishes, I decided to go to the next place so as to not miss out on the best moments of the present, like a chance to go to Be Island (Little Island) – a small island near Ly Son said to be a must-see attraction when you come here.
WHERE THE MEDITERRANEAN MEETS HAWAII
Unlike Ly Son, Be Island made us fall in love at first sight. A beautiful small dock is nestled in calm blue water below the coconut trees making this island look as charming as a young girl. We spent so much time at this place just taking photos that people passing by started reminding us that the most beautiful scene was yet to come, so we rushed ahead.
A vehicle looking like the tuk-tuks of Thailand only costs VND10,000 per ride, but we refused because Be Island is very small so it only takes 10 minutes walking through the fields and lush gardens to get to where we wanted to go.
The ‘young girl’ grows into a ‘beautiful woman’ and takes your breath away with a mix of the deep blue colours of the water bringing a Mediterranean feel to the place and white waves and black volcanic cliffs reminiscent of Hawaii. Though some people think Ly Son is like the gentle Maldives of Vietnam, I found it to be hotter and more impressive.
We rented basket boats and went diving to admire coral reefs – a popular activity here. It was an enjoyable experience. The circular shape of the boat requires a very special rowing method, the rider has to stand on his boat and keep the balance while leaning his body to the left and then to the right. It made me understand that the reason men here have very toned bodies is thanks to this daily work-out.
However, the corals here are not very colourful so we went back to the beach to relax, and do a bit of sightseeing. Only when we got hungry did we start thinking of the seafood. The specialties of the area are King crab, lobster, moon snail and sea urchins, as well as popular dishes such as fresh steamed sentinel-crab and steamed squid, which made us happy. Yes, sometimes happiness is that simple.
Now back in Hanoi, whenever I think of Ly Son, a 3-in-1 feeling appears: dizzy (with waves), breath-taking (thinking of its the beauty) and salivating (remembering the seafood).
From Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, there are daily flights operated by Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet Air and Jetstar to the nearest airport, which is Chu Lai in Quang Ngai. Round-trip flight tickets range from VND1.5 million to 3 million per person. You can also fly to Danang and then drive 130 kilometres to Sa Ky Port. Train and bus tickets are cheaper but you have to spend half a day travelling. Sometimes, a flight ticket is even cheaper than a train ticket, so if you are lucky you can get a promotional ticket from VND400,000 to VND600,000 per person.
From Chu Lai Airport, you have to travel 50 kilometres to get to Sa Ky by bus or taxi. Here, you can buy high-speed ship tickets to the island. There are many ships from 7:30am to 3:30pm. If you want everything to follow your schedule, then you should book tickets in advance, especially on weekends or holidays because the tickets often sell out very quickly. You can book tickets by phone with the Port Management Board: (0255) 3626 431 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get to Be Island, you have to buy a high-speed boat ticket at Ly Son Port at a price of VND80,000 per person and the ride takes 15-20 minutes.
Travelling on the island: it is best to rent a motorbike or car because the attractions are 5-7 kilometres apart. The price for renting a car is VND150,000-200,000 per day at the hotel or motel.
Ly Son Island: Muong Thanh 4-star hotel and Ly Son Central 3-star hotel are the two most popular hotels with prices of VND1.2-2 million per night. There are some small hotels and motels from VND200,000 to 300,000 per night like Hoa Bien: 0983867522 (near Thoi Loi Mountain) or near the dock like Tan Tien: 01678344108, Dai Duong: 0977205818 and Minh Tam: (0255) 3867268.
Be Island: There are no hotels here. But there are some homestays, which cost VND200,000-300,000 per night, such as Minh Vy Homestay: 01658768790/01688313631 or Bui Minh Homestay: 01657452175.
There is a common characteristic for seafood restaurants here, which is that they all offer local specialties in addition to basic dishes. There is a fresh selection of produce for you to choose from. Prices are much cheaper than in other places, like VND600,000 per kilogram of crab or VND800,000 per kilogram of lobster.
The Ly Son’s specialties you can buy as a gift for family and friends is garlic. Solo garlic is the most expensive as it is a rare type of garlic. Each hectare of land can only yield a harvest of about 1-2 kilograms or at most 5 kilograms of this garlic. And it is considered a precious medicine, which can cure flu, stomachache, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease so it costs from VND800,000 to 1,200,000 per kilogram. The more common garlic comes as type 1 and type 2 with prices from VND50,000-250,000 per kilogram.
HAI AU RESTAURANT
Located in the centre of the island with cool airy space overlooking the sea, this restaurant is suitable for both families thanks to its warm interior and tourist groups as it has a large yard outside. In addition, the restaurant offers services such as organising campfires, events, barbecues, music shows and galas in accordance with individual needs. There is also a karaoke area.
Address: Dong Hamlet, An Vinh, Ly Son. Phone: 094 502 72 53.
PHAT HAI RESTAURANT
The restaurant is located right by the sea. From the wharf, turn right and continue for about 1-1.5 kilometres to get to this restaurant. This is one of the most crowded restaurants on Ly Son and some dishes here are more expensive than at other places.
Address: By the coast, An Vinh, Ly Son.
LONG HIEN RESTAURANT
This is a barbecue seafood restaurant frequented by both Ly Son locals and tourists, located near Ly Son Port. It is recommended to visit the restaurant in the evening because that’s the suitable time to enjoy fresh seafood, caught in the afternoon. And the owner is very friendly.
Address: Tay Hamlet, An Vinh, Ly Son, Quang Ngai. Phone: 0984477600.
HOA BIEN SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
The restaurant is in a guesthouse so it is very convenient for the guests and the seafood is varied and fresh.
Address: Dong Hamlet, An Vinh, Ly Son, Quang Ngai. Phone: 0983867522.
Le Diem | Wanderlust Tips