Photo: The view from Mount Thoi Loi.

A day around Ly Son

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A day devoted to exploring Ly Son can be rewarding, especially if visitors balance the main attractions that are usually crawling with domestic tourists with poking around the uncrowded corners of the island.

The best way to get around is by renting a motorbike, which we were easily able to do from our guesthouse. If travelling through the country on your own bicycle, you can certainly bring it on the ferry. By foot, this itinerary can be covered over the course of two or three days.

Looking over the east of Ly Son from Mount Thoi Loi. Photo taken in or around A day around Ly Son, Ly Son Island, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

Looking over the east of Ly Son from Mount Thoi Loi. Photo: Cindy Fan

The first spot to head to is Mount Thoi Loi, the highest point of the island. The panoramic view will give a good orientation and overview. The road up is on the eastern side of the mountain: go to the eastern village Thon Dong, then head towards the north coast on the road along the foot of the mountain. There’s a signposted path for “Mount Thoi Loi and National Flag Tower”—turn left and follow the extremely steep road up. Midway, there’s a fork; head right. At the very top is a military base/coast guard and it’s strictly off limits. Stop well before the gate. The flag is a good spot, with a sensational vantage of the rugged, undeveloped northern coast, the dark volcanic rock contrasting with the vibrant green foliage, white sand and turquoise water.

Return to the fork and head left. This road leads to the crater-turned-reservoir. The view along this road reveals that every inch of useable land on this island is devoted to growing garlic, shallots and onions. Ly Son garlic is coveted throughout the country. The bulbs are small and good quality, especially a variety that grows with only one clove, it almost looks like a pearl. The island floor is a pretty patchwork of greens and beige from the top soil of sand. We asked some women who were planting a crop why and were told it prevents the soil from getting too hot in the day while cooling down very quickly at night.

The beachy cove at Hang Cau. Photo taken in or around A day around Ly Son, Ly Son Island, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

The beachy cove at Hang Cau. Photo: Cindy Fan

Returning to sea level, ride 400 metres to the northern coast to Hang Cau, a beach cove at the foot of Mt Thoi Loi with overhanging rock forming a kind of cave (hence the name Cau Cave). A local sells drinks and has set up plastic tables and chairs. Like most beaches on Ly Son, it’s rocky here but we reckon it’s one of the better spots on the island for a dip since it’s private and the water is clear. Otherwise, save the swimming for the day trip to An Binh island.

We enjoyed staying in Thon Dong, the fishing village on the eastern side of the island, but if you are not staying there then it’s worth finding your way through the garlic plots and alleyways to take a look at the village and harbour. There’s a lighthouse (off limits to the public), a long breakwall you can venture along and Tan temple, a temple devoted to whales. Like many islands in Vietnam, whales are worshipped as protectors of fishermen and any whale found dead is given a special burial and ceremony here. Enormous whale bones are kept inside the temple. Look for the colourful building and a sign with “Den Tho Ca Ong”, translated as temple of the whale god. Fishermen about to depart for a long stint would come to worship Ca Ong for luck and help when trouble strikes at sea.

The southern coast of Ly Son Island. Photo taken in or around A day around Ly Son, Ly Son Island, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

The southern coast of Ly Son Island. Photo: Cindy Fan

A road skirts along the southern edge of the island, with more pretty temples and views of the water along the way. Back at the pier at Thon Tay, it’s probably time for a cold drink at the pier or lunch at one of the many shops along the tourist street, one street up from the water. The island is heaven for people who love fresh seafood. Places that are busy with Vietnamese tourists are usually a good sign. We saw that the eatery at Nha Nghi Dai Hang motel was packed and enjoyed a tasty plate of stir-fried squid, morning glory and rice, with portion sizes designed for sharing family style, for a whopping 65,000 dong (US$3).

In the village, Am Linh Tu temple has a striking palette of pastels: yellow, pink, green and powder blue. The temple is dedicated to the dead, especially soldiers who fought and sacrificed their lives for the disputed Paracel (Hoang Sa) and Spratly (Truong Sa) islands. Every second day of March, Ly Son has an important festival paying tribute to these soldiers.

Strike a pose at Ta Vo Gate. Photo taken in or around A day around Ly Son, Ly Son Island, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

Strike a pose at Ta Vo Gate. Photo: Cindy Fan

Most of Ly Son’s notable tourist attractions are located on the northwest coast and the rest of the day can be spent ticking those off the list. This is selfie-central, especially at To Vo Gate at sunset when couples crawl all over the natural stone archway trying to get that memorable shot of the arch framing the sun. Follow the concrete breakwall which shelters a harbour to the end where vendors have set up. There’s a sign and short path that puts you on top of the arch. Walk down to the beach to see it from the side.

Back on the road, a sandy path leads through a tightly knit graveyard of pastel coloured tombs to Duc Pagoda and its enormous white statue of Quan Am, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Stairs lead up to Gieng Tien crater, one of five peaks on the island, but the top of the stairs are fenced off with a sign warning against entry into military area, filming and photography. You can still get a photo (away from the gate) from the pagoda stairs and it’s quite an amazing view with the goddess serenely looking over the rocky west coast.

The spectacular Quan Am at Duc Pagoda. Photo taken in or around A day around Ly Son, Ly Son Island, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

The spectacular Quan Am at Duc Pagoda. Photo: Cindy Fan

The final tourist highlight is the Cave Pagoda (Chua Hang), a temple inside a cave facing the ocean. Located in the middle of the northern coast, to reach it you have to head inland to the middle of the island, then follow the road leading north. The road winds it’s way up. At the entrance follow stairs down to the beach. It’s flanked by ocean on either side; at low tide it’s possible to walk a bit along the coast and see the beautifully striated wall of rock.

Worked up an appetite? Time for a seafood feast. A small night market forms in town, with restaurants taking to the laneway, setting up wooden tables and chairs and all sorts of sea creatures are laid out and piled up in buckets. Hot pot is popular and we enjoyed one with a whole fish at Quan Long Hien which occupies one side of the laneway. Wash it down with a few cold cans of Dung Quat, Quang Ngai province’s signature beer.

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 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Ly Son Island.
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