Summer, which is from June to September in Vietnam, is the best season for travelling to Ly Son. The weather is sunny and gorgeous during these months. September is also when Ly Son farmers grow their famous island garlic. The harvest time is early December.
Ly Son was formerly known as “Re Islet”, as it is a small islet covered by a kind of plant called “re” (theAlpinia conchigera). It is the only island district, located 15 nautical miles to the northeast of Quang Ngai Province.
Ly Son’s To Vo Gate (photo by laodong)
In 2007, Quang Ngai opened an island tour to Ly Son. Travellers can go along the National Highway 24B to reach Sa Ky Wharf from the city center, then take the high speed ships to the island. While on the island, they can rent a bike to explore the famous beauty spots. They will have a chance to taste Ly Son’s food specialties, such as garlic salad, alibi salad, seaweed salad, and sea urchin porridge.
The island of Ly Son was formed some 25 to 30 million years ago as a result of the eruption of five volcanoe. Traces of the volcanoes can still be found on the 5 mountains on the island. The eruptions brought to the island exquisite natural landscapes. They also covered the southern part of the island with a thick layer of basalt soil, which is rich and can support various kinds of plants. In addition, the eruptions resulted in the formation of fringing reefs, creating the habitat for a large number of sea creatures.
About 3000 years ago, people of the Sa Huynh civilization started to inhabit the island of Ly Son. Those people lived in sedentary communities along the banks of the ancient streams of Oc and Chinh, and fished in the sea for a living. Their traditional food included fish and shelled seafood.
Succeeding the Sa Huynh Civilization was the Champa Civilization, which had been rising since the early centuries. Physical traces of the civilization can be found in the earliest cultural layer of the Xom Oc and Suoi Chinh relic sites.
Sometime between the late 16th and early 17th century, a group of Viets came and settled down on the island. They were the fishermen from An Hai and Sa Ky of the Binh Son and Son Tinh Districts, and were the ancestors of the 15 largest families in the region. Soon after boarding, the group quickly defined their territories on the east and west parts of the island.
During the early days, the Viets endured various hardships in terms of the weather, and the attack of the Tau O army. Traces of the Ly Son’s people struggle against the foreign attackers can still be seen at various historical sites, including the Nang Roi Temple, Hang Temple, and the story of Nguyen Van Tuat.
In general, the history of Ly Son is associated with the lives of many communities on the island. Along with the development of the island is the groups of Sa Huynh, Champa and Viet have unified to protect the island’s sovereignty as well as its cultural values. Ly Son officially became a district on January 1, 1993, after separated from the Binh Son district.
WHEN TO VISIT LY SON
Summer, which is from June to September in Vietnam, is the best season for travelling to Ly Son. The weather is sunny and gorgeous during these months.
September is also when Ly Son farmers grow their famous island garlic. The harvest time is early December.
The 18th, 19th, and 20th day of the third lunar month witness ceremonies to honor soldiers fighting to keep the Hoang Sa Archipelago.
TRANSPORTATION TO AND IN LY SON
The closest airport to Sa Ky Wharf is the Chu Lai International Airport in Quang Nam. Every week, there are three flights from Hanoi and three from Hochiminh to Chu Lai, with round-trip ticket prices ranging from VND3,000,000 to VND3,500,000 (USD140 to USD160).
Consider reserving a car trip for the 50km distance between the airport and the wharf.
You can find various high quality bus tours from Hanoi and Hochiminh to Quang Ngai online. Contact a company from two to five days in advance to book your ticket during the normal days, or earlier if your trip is on a special holiday.
There are five Thong Nhat trains from Hanoi and Hochiminh to Quang Ngai every day. The ones with an odd number are from Hanoi, while the ones with an even numbers are from Hochiminh.
SE1 & SE2 [Hanoi 19:00 Quang Ngai 13:23] – [Hochiminh 19:00 Quang Ngai 09:03]
SE3 & SE4 [Hanoi 23:00 Quang Ngai 15h23] – [Hochiminh 23:00 Quang Ngai 11:41]
SE5 & SE6 [Hanoi 9:00 Quang Ngai 4:00] – [Hochiminh 9:00 Quang Ngai 23:32]
SE7 & SE8 [Hanoi 06:15 Quang Ngai 0:36] – [Hochiminh 06:25 Quang Ngai 20:22]
TN1 & TN2 [Hanoi 13:15 Quang Ngai 10:28] – [Hochiminh 13:15 Quang Ngai 04:57]
Once you’re in Quang Ngai, take bus 03 from Quang Ngai Bus Station to Sa Ky Wharf. It’s an one-hour journey, so remember to take the earliest bus at 5 AM or you will miss the ship. If you’re a group, have a taxi to cover the 20k distance.
Starting July 9, 2014, you can buy the tickets to Ly Son right downtown at 379 Nguyen Nghiem. The ticket office is open daily from 13:00 to 15:30.
Update: There are 3 ships to and from Ly Son every day. The ones to Ly Son departs at Sa Ky at 07:30, 08:00, and 15:00. The trips back starts at 07:00, 08:00, and 13:30.
The ticket office is open at 06:30 every day. Each person can buy two tickets at most, and the buyer will be required to leave their full name, year of birth, address, and ID number. When you’re in a group, make a list of the members, include the aforementioned information and the leader’s phone number. Fax the list to the administrators before 15:30 on the day before departure. You can also buy a ticket in advance some time from 09:00 to 11:00, or 13:30 to 15:30.
In the case that you know you’re going to miss the train, inform the administrators at least 2 hours before departure time. In this case, you will be refunded 80% the value of the ticket. Otherwise, pay an additional 20% of the fare value, and wait to catch the next train.
Sa Ky Wharf Administration Office
Tel.: 055 3626 431 – Fax: 055 3626138
Apart from the high speed ship, there is a cargo ship that also carries passengers to and from Ly Son. The ship takes a while longer (3 hours) to finish the journey, compared to the high speed ship (1 hour).
The Dao Lon-Dao Be ship departs at Dao Lon at 08:00 every morning, and at Dao Be at 14:30. You can also make a deal with the fishermen to travel on their boat.
ATTENTION: According to a notice by our reader who currently travelled to Ly Son, the Tan Loc and Thong Nhat buses from Sa Ky to Quang Ngai and Hoi An would allow too many people onboard. According to him, those busses would ‘share’ their passengers with other buses. He recommends not taking buses offered by those two companies.
Travelling to Ly Son from Da Nang
As many travellers would fly to Da Nang before going to Ly Son, here’s a guide on how to get on the Ly Son high speed ship on time (at 08:00 and 15:00).
The distance between Da Nang and Quang Ngai is about 120km.
There are two trains that allow you to travel from Da Nang to Quang Ngai and reach Sa Ky Wharf on time to catch the ship: the SE1, which arrives at Quang Ngai at 13:23 and the SE5, 04:23. From the Quang Ngai Train Station, take a Mai Linh Taxi (with the “low-price” sign) to Sa Ky. If you arrive on the early morning train, catch a Mai Linh bus. The bus departs at the Quang Ngai Bus Station (4km from the train station) at 05:30 and reaches Sa Ky at 06:30.
Apart from taking the train, you can also catch a bus to the wharf. From Danang city center, go to the bypass and take any bus going from north to south. It’s best to take the sleeper coach and avoid the 16-seats, as these small ones tend to overspeed to find their potential passengers.
From Sa Ky, to go back to Da Nang, take the bus at the wharf and tell the driver to drop you off at Tra Thuc Bridge. Walk up to the middle of the bridge. You will see a few coffee houses, and a group of people standing there who would try offer to help you catch the bus. They’re actually paid by the short-distance buses, and it’s best to simply ignore them.
Instead, try to walk ahead for another 100m, and choose a north-to-south sleeper bus to get back to Da Nang. There are a plethora of them, so you really don’t need to worry about failing to find one. These buses are cheap (at around VND100,000), and there are usually a plenty of vacant seats. This is the best option if you’re travelling alone or in a small group, and want to minimize the cost.
WHERE TO STAY IN LY SON
As a hot beauty spot powered with electricity, Ly Son has received generous investments on its accommodation capacity. The Ly Son Hotel is the biggest hotel on the island, but there are other hotels and hostels for your choice. To be off the beaten track, you can also go to Dao Be and set up your camp and stay the night there.
WHAT TO EAT IN LY SON
Ly Spn garlic, spanner crab, and banh it (photo by kay.vn)
Banh it la gai (glutinous rice cake with white ramie leaves)
Muốn ăn bnh t l gai,
C chồng ngoi đảo cho di đường đi.
(If you want banh it la gai
Marry a guy from the island, but the way will be long – folk poem)
Banh it la gai is a very common snack among the locals, and the women on Ly Son are known to make the best banh it la gai in the whole country. This special rice cake originates from Binh Dinh, but the Ly Son people make it to a whole new level of tastiness.
Most village women know how to make banh it la gai. First, you need to soak sticky rice in water until the rice becomes very soft. Next, grind the rice into wet powder and put it into a cloth bag to remove the water. At the same time, boil the ramie leaves, cut them into small pieces and pound them in a millstone. Mix the powder with the pound leaves and some sugar, and make small balls from the mixture. For the inside of the banh it, the islanders would cook coconut or green bean with sugar.
It takes very skillful hands to make the perfect cone-shaped banh it. The cover is made of two layers of banana leaves, which have been dried in the sun or with fire so they won’t break. The maker then spread some peanut oil on the leaves so the banh it becomes easier to peel.
The Ly Son people has a special way to cook their banh it. They put the cake onto a bamboo basket, before steaming them.
Banh it la gai is a combination of the strong aromas of sticky rice and ramie leaves, the sweet and fatty taste of sugar, coconut, and peanut oil and the smell of banana leaves. They mix together to make an unforgettable snack. Banh it can last for a whole week, but it’s best to eat them on the second or third day, when the taste and the smell is the best.
Banh it is very common in Ly Son. The islanders eat it as a snack between main meals, they eat it when working on the garlic field or when fishing in the sea. They add it to the offerings to their ancestors in ritual events and during holidays. They have it in the days of significant importance in their spiritual and religious life.
During the traditional Tet holiday, every family make banh it la gai to eat and for their relatives and neighbors coming over for a new year visit. The non-stop conversations about their working life, endless stories about the fishing trips far in the sea, the hot tea pot and the sweet banh it la gai add to the crowded, warm, and sometimes solemn atmosphere of the Tet holiday on the island.
Ly Son is an island of extinct volcanoes. Most of the soil on the island is larva of thousands of million years. But that is not the only reason why Ly Son garlic has such unique flavors. The farmers here spend a lot of their time and effort on the garlic: they cover their farm with a layer of sand from the beach. The sand is not normal sand, but it is made of the broken shells of sea creatures died naturally on the beach hundreds of years ago. When covering the soil, the sand works as a fertilizer for the garlic to grow fast and has flavors that no other garlics in the world can beat.
Ly Son garlic
Ly Son garlic has a gentle aroma, and is tenderly spicy. It doesn’t cause a shock to the eater, nor does it leave the unpleasant smell in their breath like other garlics usually do. The garlic is very small, but thick and hard. It is not only a high-class spices but also a precious herb. The Quang Ngai people love the “toi mot” (single-clove garlic) the most – they even make it a herbal wine to treat high cholesterol and blood pressure. The garlic wine helps reduce the blood pressure and improve the body’s immunity.
Ly Son garlic salad
After harvesting, cut off the root of the garlic, but keep the body and a few leaves. Next, peel the garlic, chop it and cut it into short pieces before rinsing with water. After that, steam until the garlic becomes soft and is well-cooked. Then, add sugar, pepper, salt, and lime to the garlic and mix it thoroughly. Finally, sprinkle some fried peanut onto the mixture, and it is done.
The garlic salad is easy to make, but your tastebuds will never forget the aroma and the spiciness of this Ly Son specialty.
The giant clam is a very big species of sea snail. These clams live in large numbers along the coast in Ly Son. However, it’s not easy to catch them, because they cling to rocks in the very deep sea. Also, when the clams feel the presence of human, they cling even harder to the rock. The biggest giant clams can be as big as an adult human’s spread hand, and weigh up to half a kilo. They are the tastiest. The fishermen usually catch alive and keep them in a tank, handy for cooking.
For a quick snack, rinse the clams with water, and boil them in hot water. Once they’re cooked, take the clams out and separate its soft body from the shell. The clam’s meat should look as clear as steamed squid, and smell and feel like the well-cooked animal cadillac.
The two most common dishes with the giant clam in Ly Son are clam porridge and clam salad.
The porridge is very easy to make, and the islanders make it in the same way they do chicken porridge. First, they cook the rice with a lot of water. As the rice becomes very soft and thick, they add the clam. Some people like to cut the clam into pieces before adding them into the rice, others prefer cutting it after it is cooked. Nevertheless, the clam tastes good either way. For the porridge to look inviting, it’s important to add green onion, black pepper, chilly, some other herbs, and especially high quality fish sauce.
On the other hand, it’s a bit more complicated to make clam salad. First, the islanders boil the clam and separate the ‘meat’ from the shell. Next, they chop the clam into very thin pieces. Then, they mix it with broken peanut and spices such as garlic, chilly, lime, pepper, and fish sauce. The salad is served with a huge dish of vegetables and grilled dry pancakes.
The spanner crab (also called red frog crab) is as big as the spread hand of an adult human. Its body is round and look s like a giant bug or a small turtle with its head slightly hooked downwards. The crab is red, with a square shell, short legs, a long head with a lot of small whiskers. The spanner crabs living in the deeper areas can weigh more than one kilo.
In the Binh Dinh and Quang Ngai area, the spanner crab is praised as the king of crabs. Its Vietnamese name, ‘huynh de’, has an interesting story behind it. According to old folks, the crab was originally “hoang de”, which means “king”. However, since there was a Vietnamese king called Nguyen Hoang, the local people have to change to name of the crab to “huynh de” in order to avoid offence to the king.
The old fishermen has another legend, however. According to them, as a king was travelling across the country, he saw that some fishermen caught a very strange crab whose meat looks as red as a soldier’s cape. After tasting the crab, the king decided that the seafood was not only delicious but also very healthy. Thus, he demanded that his people living in areas where the spanner crabs are available serve this crab to the royal family. The spanner crab are called “cua huynh de” or “cua vua” (king’s crab) since then.
Ly Son chopped fish
An essential requirement for the Ly Son chopped fish is that the fish must be fresh and never frozen before it is used. Thus, the Ly Son chopped fish is not a year-round produce. It’s only available when the weather is fine and the fishermen can bring back fresh fish. If the fish is not fresh, its meat won’t have the typical toughness, pale pink color, and the inviting smell.
Another remarkable thing about the Ly Son chopped fish is the presence of Ly Son garlic in it. The islanders always use Ly Son’s garlic for their chopped fish, as it mixes with the fish meat to create a very strong aroma. Use garlic grown in another place and the flavor will subside.
Ta ma fish
Ta ma (“ghost fish”) is a kind of fish living in the sea. With dark scales on a thin body, the ca ta ma looks like a bigger version of the tilapia. No one can say for sure why the fish is named “ca ta ma” (ghost fish). Yet according to the islanders, they are so named because they live under sea boulders, and are smart and very hard to catch.
How the islanders cook and serve the ta ma fish depends on what season it is. Usually, it’s grilled ta ma for the winter, and ta ma porridge, soup with herbs, or ta ma hot pot for the hot summer.
When we landed on the island the other day, it was just afternoon, so we decided we’d have ta ma soup with sour-soup creepers. To prepare for this soup, the fish is rinsed and all scales are removed. Next to the fish are big dish of sour-soup creepers, pineapple, and tamarind, a pot of boiling water, and a bowl of salt with chilly.
First, put the fish into boiling water, and cover the pot for about 5 minutes. When the water boils again, add the sour-soup creepers. Wait for another 10 minutes before adding all the herbs and spices, and the steaming ta ma soup is now ready.
The ta ma soup has a pleasant smell, which quickly spreads all over the restaurant, and attract other dinners. The fish gradually turns from red to white, from soft to tough, its healthy fat bloating on the broth.
When eating the ta ma fish, you will feel its toughness and sweetness. The belly of the fish is especially delicious – every one loves how the belly fat conquers their taste buds. You can eat it hot in the pot, or put the fish in a separate dish and dip it in pure fish sauce if you’re into strong flavors. The ta ma soup can go with rice or rice vermicelli. As the fish is delicious, the broth is also very tasty.
Ly Son watermelon
After the main garlic season on the second lunar month, the farmers would make use of the fertilized farm to grow watermelon, sometimes together with green onion. The watermelon is grown naturally to cover the farmland, and the fruit is harvested and sold as soon as they become ripe. The farmers thus only sell a few hundred kilos of watermelon a day.
The watermelon in Ly Son is not too impressive in terms of size. The biggest weighs only about 4 kilos. Nonetheless, Ly Son watermelon has very unique flavors. It tastes tenderly sweet, and has its own special smell. Consequently, Ly Son watermelon is one of the island’s healthiest and most delicious specialties.
BEAUTY SPOTS IN LY SON
As an island district, Ly Son has a lot of spots for sightseeing. Here are a few attractions on the island.
Am Linh Tu Temple
An ‘am linh tu’ (photo by thanhnien)
The am linh tu (meaning temple for folks’ spirits) is a spiritual construction that is commonly found in any villages in Vietnam.
It is the place for worshipping the spirits of those who died but are never recognized or found by their relatives or friends. They could be a homeless person who does not have a family. Or, they could be someone with families and friends, but who died lonely of a sudden disease or accident in a strange place far away from their loved ones’.
Also worshipped at the temple are soldiers who lost their lives not he line, but whose body were never retrieved. The old folks call those people “the ten kinds of beings”, and offer a strong sympathy towards them.
A famous work to pay tributes to those unfortunate souls is “Van te thap loai chung sinh” by poet Nguyen Du, author of Truyen Kieu.
While some temples (dinh and chua) are for worshipping Buddha and the other gods and deities who offer good luck, others (mieu am hon) are for the “lone souls” who have not reincarnated. Sometimes, the lone souls are taken care of inside the village’s temple, near the Bodhisattva’s worshipping spot. If worshipped outside in a yard, the lone souls’ altar will be placed behind a curtain, facing the direction of the temple’s main gate.
At the Buddhist temples, the altar for the lone souls is usually on the left side of the temple, where stands the statue of Tieu Dien Dai sy (also called Ong Tieu). This god is an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, who manages and saves the lone souls. During the praying time in the afternoon, the monks leave food at the altar as an offering to the lone souls.
Following the notion that one’s life after death should be the same as when they are alive, during holidays and other important religious events, the temples and families usually have offerings for the lone souls to ease their sufferings and make them feel cared about.
In many provinces along the middle coastal line, including Quang Ngai, there is a grave-visiting festival in the third lunar month every year. During this time, the locals come visit the graves, and burn incenses at the temples for the lone souls. It’s very different from the North, where people visit their ancestors’ graves and celebrate the festival.
The am linh tu in the An Vinh village is built on a mini hill in the Tay ward of An Vinh, some 500m to the north of Ly Son Wharf. The temple faces south, with an imposing monument for soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country.
Unlike the other temples for lone souls, the An Hai village am linh tu has an outhouse and well-organized altars. It’s also where many important ritual events in the village take place every year, attracting most of the villagers. The am linh tu also plays the role of a library, as it’s where the villagers keep important documents regarding Hoang Sa and Bac Hai marines, as well as their families’ secret information.
According to the respected elder village leaders, the then villages of An Vinh and An Hai had their own village hall and temple for the lone souls. Unfortunately, the An Vinh village hall was damaged sometime in the 1950s. As a result, the villagers ‘invited’ their gods and ancestors to the am linh tu for worshipping. As a result, for more than half a century, the An Hai am linh tu has been the public space for ritual events and festivals in the village.
Every year on the Grave Visiting Festival, the An Hai villagers have a special ceremony at the am linh tu. This ceremony is to honor the sailors of Hoang Sa and Bac Hai, as well as the militia and young men in the village who died fighting for peace on the sea and at the country borders. It is for those who died to protect the fishermen, their boats and ships, and the normal life of the islanders.
History has it that the Nguyen Royal Familyestablished the flotillas of Hoang Sa and Bac Hai. The duties of these two teams were to protect the sea, collect specialties, measure the sea, and constructed a monument to declare their ownership over the archipelagoes.
Maps and other documents created and stored by Western explorers, traders, marine men and missionary men suggest the regular presence of the Vietnamese civil and army forces on the wharfs and sea surrounding the Paracels.
The sailors patrolled around the Paracels on the fishing boats (as these boats are faster and easier to ride in narrow seas with coral reefs). They stayed on duty on the sea for 6 months at a time. Exposed the whole time to the great waves and fierce winds, the soldiers accept that death for any reason would mean their body will forever be buried in the dark sea.
In their luggage for the long-day trip to the Spratly and the Paracels, apart from the usual necessities, the sailors each also prepares for themselves a special package. It includes a couple of sedge mats, 7 bamboo sticks, 7 rattan ropes, and one ‘identification card’ with their name, place of birth, and the initials of their branch.
In the unfortunate case of death to a sailor, the fellow sailors would cover his body with the sedge mats. They would then put the identification card into the mats, place the 7 bamboo sticks along his sides, and tie them with the rope. After some simple rituals, the body would be released to the sea.
The survivors would pray that the body of the deceased would make it to the shore. If fortunate, someone may find the body, and learn who he is from the identification card.
But they are not always blessed with that luck – not everyone makes it ashore. Sometimes, a rough storm would struck and sink a whole boat, and a whole team.
Till this day, the islanders are still singing a folk song about the hard lives of the Spratly (Truong Sa) and Paracels (Hoang Sa) sailors. Below is a rough translation of the song.
is there a chance to be back?
But it’s the King’s command, and the heart’s call
Hoang Sa, a plethora of islets and dulls
Here’s a sedge mat tied in rattan ropes
The sea is vast, and the sky is large
So many people left, never to be back
It’s all clouds and sea in Hoang Sa
Whose sailors we’d honor every second lunar month
Am linh tu is also the place for fishermen to visit before a fishing trip, or for the other local folks before they move to another town. They pray that the gods and souls of the deceased bless them with safety, good harvest, and good luck in their business. Back safe from a fishing trip or when they come back to visit their hometown, those people usually bring their offerings to thank for the blessings.
Apart from the villagers, the construction of Am linh tu is financed also on the donations of the fishermen who are back from a successful trip, or of the Ly Son’s children who come back after making their fortune elsewhere. This is considered a prestigious custom.
In 2010, the An Hai’s village hall was reconstructed, and the gods and souls of the soldiers were brought back for worshipping. However, the souls of the Bac Hai and Hoang Sa soldiers are worshipped and honored by the common people.
Grave of the Hoang Sa soldiers
In Ly Son as well as many other places along the coastline of Vietnam, there are a plethora of graves that have no body inside them. Those are called “mo gio” (literally: wind grave).
In order to built a mo gio for the deceased, the family has to ask for the help of an exorcist. After some rituals to ask for the permission of their patriarch, the exorcist would go to a nearby volcano to take some clay from from the top. Next, he adds some water and cotton, and makes a human body out of the mixture based on the description of the deceased provided by the family. The clay body has to have exactly the same size as the real body.
The exorcist then chops a branch of mulberry to make a ribcage. If the deceased is a male, he would have 7 rib bones; if female, the number is 9. He then use either silk or the peel of the mulberry to make sinews. Meanwhile, the backbone and limb bones are all made out of a mulberry branch.
The clay sculpture has to have all essential body parts and organs, even their private parts. The exorcist has to use all of the clay, as it symbolizes the body of the deceased. Any of it left would mean that the deceased will be hurt for losing their flesh.
After making the clay body, the exorcist spread egg yolk all over it. Once dry, the yolk looks just like human skin. Next, the family cover the sculpture with clothes and other accessories. Then place on its face a wooden tablet with the deceased’s identification information, before putting it into the coffin. A boat full of offerings with money and food would then be released into the sea for the gods as well as the soul of the deceased.
After the the soul calling ritual, it is believed that the soul of the deceased has come back and enter the clay sculpture. The family then bury the coffin. If the date of death is unknown, the date the deceased set off to the sea will be remembered for the yearly death anniversary. When exploring the century-old graves, archeologists sometimes find that the sculptures remain in very good shape.
Legend has it that the custom of making mo gio started more than 200 years ago. The first ones were for Pham Quang Anh and 24 other soldiers under his command line in the Hoang Sa flotilla. The team lost their lives to a fierce storm while on duty, their bodies never to be found.
To honor the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country, the king sent his people to the island for a soul calling ceremony. Accompanying the group is a respected exorcist. After landing on the island, the exorcist asked his assistants to climb onto Gieng Tien Mountain and take back some clay. He made 25 human bodies out of the clay, each sculptured carefully until it matched with the smallest details in the descriptions by the family.
Once he finished with the 25 sculptures, the exorcist started a soul calling ritual that lasted for days. As the souls were believed to be back into the clay bodies, he asked the villagers to go on burying them as they would in other normal cases of death. Leader Pham Quang Anh was the first to be buried, followed by his 24 soldier men in a row.
Apart from Pham Quang Anh, there are other soldiers and army commanders whose names are written on the headstones of the mo gio’s in Ly Son. They are mainly Nguyen Dynasty’s commanders, such as Vo Van Khiet and Pham Huu Nhat. In addition, there are mo gio’s without a headstone. They belong to the soldiers who simply died for their ideology, never hoping to leave their names in history.
To Vo gate
Walk from the wharf to the welcome gate, then turn left and follow the small path to the Duc Temple, you will see a small cliff standing right at the seashore. Most photographers
would visit to when they come to Ly Son, as it is the place you can watch both sunrise and sunset.
Chua Duc (Duc Temple) and sculpture of the Bodhisattva
Chua Duc (photo by giacngo.vn)
The Chua Duc (Duc Temple) is located on a flank of the Gieng Tien mountain, a volcano that has been asleep for thousands of years. As a result, visitors have to climb more than a hundred stairs to reach the temple.
Welcoming visitors at the front hall of the temple is a 27-meter-tall sculpture of the Bodhisattva, behind which are antique shrines covered in moss. Chua Duc is also called “the non-monk temple”. However, according to local Buddhists, the Bodhisattva used to stay at the temple to protect the islanders from natural disasters.
Standing at the temple, looking to the same direction as the Bodhisattva, you will see the picturesque scenery of the sea. At the top of mount Liem Tu is the mouth of the volcano, which has by now become a concave meadow. The mountain top is an ideal place to enjoy the view of the whole island. Looking from there there, you will know why it is considered the landscape of heaven.
An Vinh Hall
Located at the center of Ly Son, the Hoang Sa memorial house and sculpture complex stand against the fierce sea waves and winds, symbolizing Vietnam’s consistency in her ownership of the archipelago.
At 150 m2, the main hall of the house is for the display of items. Most of the items, which are placed carefully in glass boxes, are those used to be owned by Hoang Sa soldiers. They include the package of two sedge mats, seven rattan ropes, and seven bamboo stick, as well as water containers, among others. In addition, you will also find here Dipterocarpus oil and jute fiber (used to fix broken boats), and especially craftsman Vo Hien Dat’s work of a well-restored boat.
In the center of the hall are the plaques of the heroes who fought in wars to expand and protect the country, such as Pham Quang Anh, Pham Hua Nhat, and Vo Van Khiet.
Ly Hai Hall
The Ly Hai Hall is located in Ly Hai Ward, Ly Son District. The hall and the shrine were constructed in 1820, the first year of King Minh Mang’s time. The complex, which was for the worship of great father Ly Hai, are considered religious constructions with Nguyen style. The style can be seen in the unique sculpting techniques displayed on the altar, columns, and doors, the embossing motif of imaginary birds in squares for decoration, or dragons facing each other or fighting for a ball on the roof, and the nghe (an imaginary animal) supporting the hall columns. Also in the hall are horizontal lacquered boards, thrones, and Chinese nacre engraved boards. To the islanders, those items have significant historical, cultural, and spiritual values.
The village hall of Ly Hai are one of the rare village halls in Quang Ngai that remain undamaged through the wars. This is partly because the shrine and the hall are built with wood, which is surprisingly enduring to harsh weather. Some of the engraving, however, seems to have faded away due to the temperature and humidity, and wind from the sea.
Chua Hang (Cave Temple)
Chua Hang has the official name of Thien Khong Thach Tu, which means “the stone temple built by God”. The temple is in An Hai Ward of Ly Son district. It was constructed during King Le Kinh Tong’s time by Tran Cong Thanh, one of the early founders of the village of An Hai, An Vinh. As its name, Cave Temple, suggests, the temple is built in one of the biggest caves on the island. It is at the foot of Thoi Loi Mountain, which has steep cliffs of 20m in height, and has the color of magna.
The front yard of the temple faces the sea. In the middle of the yard is a lotus pond with a sculpture of the Buddha. Surrounding it are centuries-old sea almonds. The cave is 24m in depth and 3.2m in height, with a total area of 480m. Inside the cave, in the middle position are altars of the Amitabha Buddha, the Gautama Buddha, and the Maitreya Bodhisattva. On the left is the altar of the Bodhidharma. There are also the altars of the twelve lords of death, the first three leaders of the temple (Tran Cong Thanh, Tran Cong Hien, and Tran Cong Quan), and the seven fathers of the An Hai village. All of the altars are carved out of the natural stalagmites rising from the cave floor.
Thoi Loi Mount
The Thoi Loi Mount is an extinct volcano. At 149m, it is the highest mountain on the island. On its top is a lake with a volume of 30,000 m3, providing enough fresh water for residents on both the large and the small island.
Hang Cau (Cau Cave)
Hang Cau, Ly Son (photo by nguoichiase)
Located in thon Dong (the East Village) in An Hai Ward, at the foot of Thoi Loi Mountain, Hang Cau stands in a very gorgeous landscape, with the mountain to one side and the sea to the other. The cave was created thousands of years ago as sea waves eroded the mountain foot. The scenery remains almost untouched with a poetic beauty which fascinates all visitors.
It takes less than 15 minutes to travel from the city center along the road down at the foot of Thoi Loi Mountain to the northeast beach, where Hang Cau is located. Stretching along the two sides on the roads are onion and garlic farms. At the beach, you will breath amazingly pure air, feel stiff easterly breezes, and see strong waves hitting the hundreds-meter high rock cliffs, creating both a romantic and majestic scene. How the cave got its name a myth, but some people believe that it is called Hang Cau because it’s where the islanders go fishing. Others blame the abundant amount of seaweeds in the water (in Vietnamese, “cau” means “to catch fish with a rod” as a verb, and “rau cau” means “seaweed”).
You will love Hang Cau for the majestic scenery with the canyon and eroded rock cliffs leaning to the sea. You will enjoy the flat rock reefs covered in moss and in millions of white bubbles as the waves hit them. The sea is amazingly clean at this place, so clean you can see the fish swimming several meters deep in the water while standing on the reef. The pure water makes it a great place to take a bath in the sea.
In addition to treating your body and letting it heal from the heat on the island with the fresh, cool water, you can also do a little of diving to watch beautiful sea creatures swimming freely together. Keep it in mind that while you’re diving, the corals may hurt your bare feet. Therefore, the best thing to do is to buy some plastic boots right at the market at VND 30,000.
National flagpole on Thoi Loi Mountain
The national flagpole in Ly Son got under construction since May 4, 2013. It is built on the Thoi Loi, the highest mountain on the island. The pole itself is 20m in height, with lower bases made with concrete.The whole item included a base, a pole, stairs, and surrounding garden. The base was buried deep down under a layer of rock, as it’s meant to do so in large sea houses.
On the main side of the construction is the exact location of the flag. It’s 5m in height, the body covered in white and red paint, following the color of the flag.
Mu Cu Islet
The Mu Cu islet is 3.2 km to the east of the district center, next to the small wharf of An Hai. It’s a beautiful islet with black rocks in various shapes and sizes, and an ideal place to watch sunrise and sunset.
Dao Be (Little Island)
As its name suggests, Dao Be, also called Dao An Binh, is very small. Nevertheless, it has an amazing beach with fine white sand, surrounded by rock cliffs covered in white bubbles every time the waves hit the rock.
There are ships and boats to and from Dao Be every day. The ship from the main island always depart on the big island at 8am, and return at 2:30pm. If you’re a group of people, it’s best to rent a whole ship so you get to decide the departure time. If you stay overnight, start a campfire and enjoy together. Catch a ship in the early morning the next day to go back to where you’re from.
Ships to Dao Be
Mr Tron: 0166 3716017
Mr. Thong : 0168 7425419
Ms. Cam: 0985 431923
At Dao Be, you can take a long walk around to enjoy the scenery, the garlic fields, and the beaches, before going back to the wharf with your peers for food.
Recommended 3 day schedule for Ly Son
As thereis only one ship to Ly Son per day, you’d better make sure you can make it the Sa Ky before 7AM. If you decide that you can’t, it’s better to exploresome Quang Ngai beauty spots and cuisines while waiting for the next ship to come. Regardless of the vehicle you’re employing, make sure you’re in Quang Ngai in the morning or till noon to catch the ship.
Get to Quang Ngai by air, by car, or ship, depending on your schedule and budget.
Day 1 : Quang Ngai – My Khe – Sơn My – Quang Ngai
- After checking in at Quang Ngai, call a taxi to My Khe Beach (about 12km from the city, following the direction to Sa Ky). Have lunch at the beach.
- In the afternoon, go another 3km from Son Ky to Son My, where the My Lai massacre took place.
- Return to Quang Ngai for dinner.
- On the first day, we would recommend that you buy the tickets in advance (sold from 9:00 – 11:00, and 13:30-15:30) if you’re in a big group.
Day 2 : Quang Ngai – Sa Ky Wharf – Ly Son
- Wake up at 5am to get yourself ready. Call a taxi (even better if you book one in advance) to take you to the wharf. The distance is 20km. Get your member list ready and stand in line to buy the ticket.
- At 08:00, get onboard the ship and head to Ly Son
- You should be on the island at 09:00. After checking in your hotel, rent a bike to explore the island. You can find the bikes for rent at most hotels and hostels on the island.
- Have lunch at a random place on your way, or go buy the ingredients for your meal in the market, and have the hotel staff cook them.
- Continue your exploration of the island until 15:00. Rent a ship or a boat to Dao Be. Before you leave, ask the hotel to help you book ship ticket for the next day, and arrange a boat to pick you up.
- Enjoy a camping night and have dinner on Dao Be
Day 3: Dao Be – Dao Lon – Sa Ky – Quang Ngai
- In the morning, return to the mainland.
- In the evening, get back to Hanoi or Hochiminh.
If your schedule allows, you can extend your stay on Ly Son for another day or two so you have more time to explore the islands and the local cuisine.
Keep in mind…
…to make a list of your group members in advance, and have several copies of it. That will save you from unnecessary hassles when buying the high speed ship tickets.
…to get onboard the ship on time, and to contact the ship company in advance if you feel like you’ll fail to do so. This ensures you won’t miss the train and destroy your schedule.
…to book your hotel in advance, especially during the high season.
Enjoy your trip!