Thanh Nam fishing village, a short bike ferry from Cua Dai harbour, is a popular stop-off for early morning bicycle tour groups and you can see why: as the sampans park laden with the day’s catch it’s a vibrant, bustling backdrop of conical hats, pyjamas and of course, fish. Fabulous for photographers, it’s well worth a visit for that alone, but for those brave enough to dump their tour guide and gear up for a motorbike trip, Thanh Nam island offers rural landscapes and mile upon mile of powder-soft sandy coastline so idyllic that it’s become our favourite Hoi An province to get lost in.
The 10,000 VND ferries that go from Cua Dai harbour take you directly to the fishing port, which links with the coastal road around the perimeter of the island. To access the road, drive straight up from the dock and take a left; this road takes you through fish sauce-making territory, rows of brightly painted houses with yards of fish bunting out front and an almost Marmite-like stench (you either love it or hate it), interspersed with basket boat-makers, fish farms and roadside stalls firing up barbecues and delicious seafood mi quang noodles.
Exit the villages and the road flattens out. To your left you’ll start to catch glimpses of the never-ending coast, while to your right, numerous burial sites mingle with underdeveloped casuarina-lined land plots. When the road forks left, hug the coastal route, winding through more tiny beach villages where the paved road gives way to red dusty dirt tracks. All along this road are access paths to island bays with white, powder soft sand gently shelving off into sea so clear you can still can see your one-dollar pedicure when you wade out past your shoulders.
If you plan on spending some serious beach time here, stock up on drinks and snacks in one of the villages or grab a fish and some herbs from the dockside market and fire up your own beach barbecue; the beaches are void of refreshment stalls and other than the odd fisherman, deserted.
Return boats run from the harbour until just after 19:00. For safety, you’ll want to head back well before dark. If you miss the boat you’ll be adding an extra 40 kilometres to your return journey via Highway One, one of the most unpleasant roads to negotiate during the evening rush hour.
Although during the rainy season from October through January roads can get quite hazardous for the less than experienced rider, when the sun shines on Thanh Nam, there really is no better place to be — and that includes the Hai Van Pass.
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 12th December, 2014.