Ly Son is formerly known as Re Island, which means “the island of Re trees”. This is the only island district of Quang Ngai, is located in the north east and is 15 nautical miles offshore from the mainland.
1. When is the right time to visit Ly Son?
In the summer, during June to September, the weather is quite nice and sunny, which is suitable for sea travel.
The garlic season in Ly Son starts in September and they will be harvested in the beginning of December.
Le khao le the linh or the troop banquet ceremony of the Hoang Sa Flotilla will take place during 18-19-20 of March (lunar calendar)
2. Means of transportation to Ly Son
The closest airport from which you can travel to Sa Ky Port (where you’ll get to Ly Son Island using speedboat) is Chu Lai Airport of Quang Nam. There are 3 scheduled flights from Ha Noi each week with the price of 3 million for a roundtrip ticket. And from HCMC the price will be 3.5 million. If travelling by airplane, you should rent a bus to travel another 50km from the airport to Sa Ky Port.
b. High quality bus
Từ Hà Nội và Sài Gòn có rất nhiều hãng xe chất lượng cao đến Quảng Ngãi, các bạn có thể liên hệ các nhà xe để đặt vé trước (từ 2-5 ngày tùy vào thời điểm chuyến đi của bạn, vào những dịp nghỉ lễ thì cần đặt sớm nếu không sẽ không có vé)
There are many high quality buses from Ha Noi and HCMC to Quang Ngai. You should contact the bus companies to book the tickets in advance (2-5 days depending on the time of your trip, and you should book much sooner in holiday or festival season because of ticket scarcity)
There are 5 Thong Nhat north-south trains which depart from Ha Noi and Sai Gon each day. You can choose the suitable train depending on your travel time (the odd number trains departs from Ha Noi, and the even number trains depart from Sai Gon)
After reach Quang Ngai, if your group consists too many people, you should hire a taxi from Quang Ngai city’s centre to get to Sa Ky Port (20km distance) or use the bus of bus route 03 which runs from Quang Ngai bus station to Sa Ky Port. However, if travelling by bus, please note that you must you the earliest bus in 5am in order to get to the port soon enough so you won’t miss the speedboat (the bus travelling time is about 1 hour)
The management board of Sa Ky port : 055 3626 431 – Fax: 055 3626138
Mai Linh taxi in Quang Ngai : 055 3636363 – 055 3838383
There is one speedboat from Sa Ky Port to Ly Son Port and one vice versa each day which both leave at around 7.30 am to 8.00 am simultaneously. The ticket office opens daily at 6.30 am. Each person can buy 2 tickets and have to report their full names, dates of birth, addresses and ID numbers. For large group, you can prepare a list of the group (with all the information as above) together with the telephone number of the group’s representative, then fax to the port authorities no later than 3.30pm in the day before you go. And bring the original list when you buy tickets. For those who wish to buy the ticket a day before, the office is opened for you at 9am-11am and 1.30pm-3.30pm. You will have to inform the port’s authorities 2 hour in advance in case you can make it to the port, then you will either be refunded 80% of the ticket price or arranged to the next boat with an extra 20% charge.
Apart from speedboat, there is a daily transportation boat (timber boat) which carries cargo and passengers to Ly Son Island. But this boat takes longer to get to the island (3 hours) compare to speedboat (1 hour). The boat departs for Be Island from Lon Island at 8am and comeback to Lon Island at 2.30pm every day. Or you can contact with local people’s fishing boats to get to Be Island.
3. Accommodations in Ly Son
Since becoming a tourist attraction recently, Ly Son has been heavily invested in the accommodation service. Aside from Ly Son hotel which is the largest hotel in the island, there are also dozens of other motels. Another interesting option is to pitch a tent and spend the night by the beach. See the list of accommodations in Ly Son Island for the detail information.
4. Delicious dishes and specialties of Ly Son
It cake mixed with Gai leaves
‘It’ cake is especially loved by the local people of Ly Son. Because of this reason, the cakes made in this island have a delicious flavor that other products of its kind cannot compare with. Originally from Binh Dinh province, it has been more sublime since being brought to this island.
The recipe of this cake is very similar especially to housewives in the rural areas. The rice is soaked in water, then ground into flour and dried in a filter bag. The Gai leaves are washed, boiled, and ground in a stone mortar. The sugar is dissolved in water and then boiled down to make syrup. Then the three ingredients are mixed together to make the dough. Split the dough into even pieces. Laminate them and then put the filling in. The filling can be made from ground coconut or green bean for more refreshing flavor. If you want them to have beautiful little pyramid-shape, more hard work and skills is required in wrapping. Fresh banana leaves is dried in the sun or in the fire in order for them to not be broken. When the dough is finished baking, the baker apply a little oil on their hands so the cake will not stick while wrapping. The local people place the cakes on bamboo baskets, then steam them in the pots.
“If you want to eat banh it la gai
Get married to a island man to increase your life experience.”
It cake with Gai leaves is a combination of the refreshing flavor of sticky rice, Gai leaves with the sweet and rich taste of sugar, coconut and green bean filling and the fragrance of banana leaves and peanut oil which makes an unique and unforgettable taste.
Ly Son garlic
Garlic of Ly Son Island
Ly Son is an ancient volcanic island which is covered by volcanic soil over thousands of millions of years. But it’s not due to this type of soil that produces such a signature flavor of Ly Son garlic; it’s the local people’s hard work. They bring home sand bags from the beaches and cover the cultivated land with it. This is special sand with sea shells and snail shells disintegrated into it over hundreds of thousands of years. Garlic grown on this sand is not always fresh but also has a special flavor that no other garlic in the world can have.
Ly Son garlic has a gentle smell and mild hot taste that doesn’t leave the typical odor of garlic in your mouth after eating it. It has small but firm cloves. It is not only a top notch spice but also a precious medicine. The “one piece” garlic of Ly Son – which has only one clove – is the favorite of Quang Ngai residents. When soaked into wine, it becomes a remedy for high blood pressure and high blood fat level and also helps lowering the blood cholesterol level and enhances the body resistance.
Ly Son garlic salad
Garlic salad of Ly Son
The garlic has its roots cut. Peel off their skins, julienne the cloves, the leaves. Wash then steam them. The dish is mixed with sugar, pepper, MSG, roasted salt, lemon juice, roasted peanuts. This is a simple dish yet has a very nice smell and delicious flavor.
Tuong shellfish is a large sea shellfish which lives along the seashore of the island. They cling to the reefs in the deepest stratum and cling even tighter when smell enemies so catching these creatures are not an easy task. The best Tuong shellfish are the ones which are as big as a human’s hand, weigh about half a kilogram. They can be reserve by put them in the sea water ponds. Or eat right away by washing them using salt water or sea water then boil the whole one in the pot. When it is cooked, take it out and split the shell to have the meat. The shell’s meat has a white color and is transparent as squid meat. It tastes crispy as cartilage tendon.
Huynh De crab
Huynh De crab is as big as a human’s hand with its trunk bends round and looks like a big insect or a small turtle. It has a rosy read color with square-shape shell, short claws, long head with dozens of antennas. A Huynh De crab which dwells in a deep sea water can weigh up to 1 kg.
In the sea waters of Binh Dinh – Quang Ngai, this crab is considered the king of its kind. Its name originally was Hoang De crab (which means King crab). But afraid of getting punished by the Nguyen Dynasty (no one or thing can have the same name or title with the Royal families), the villagers changed it to Huynh De.
Ly Son grilled fish
The key factor to create a Ly Son signature grill fish is fresh fish which is not yet iced. As a result, only a limited amount of this specialty can be made when the villagers have fresh fish. If the fish is not fresh, the product won’t have a lovely white pink color with and delicious, rather tough taste.
The second decisive factor is the Ly Son garlic. The important principle of the grilled fish is to marinate it with Ly Son garlic. The flavor will come out differently if marinate with other kind of garlic.
Ta Ma fish
This is a sea fish, with black scales, flat body and has a similar but bigger appearance compare to fresh water tilapia. According to the villagers, the name of this fish is due to its characteristics, which is very quick-witted and hard-to-catch.
Depend on which season, Ta Ma fish can be cooked differently. In the winter, it is grilled. During the summer, people use it to make the broth, gruel, hotpot. The fish taste delicious and rather tough. Especially the fillet is the best with distinctive rich flavor.
Hac My Nhan watermelon
After harvested the garlic (during February of lunar calendar), the farmer will take advantage of the nutrition remain in the land to grow watermelon, or grow onion at the same time. The watermelon will be grown as the natural one. After it is fully grown, any ripen watermelon will be sell first. Each day, the farmers only sell several quintals to the traders. Ly Son watermelon is not very big, the biggest one is just around 3-4 kg. Yet, it has a special, sweet taste which makes it a unique product of its kind.
5. Tourist attractions in Ly Son
There are several interesting tourist attractions in this island district. Let’s review some the main attractions.
Am Linh Temple
Am Linh Temple (temple of the dead, temple of dead spirits…) is a typical structure in which can be seen in villages, communes across Vietnam.
This is the worship place of dead people whom no one recognized. They could be homeless people or people with no relatives. Or they could be someone who had families, relatives but encountered unexpected misfortune or illness while travelling trying to make a living and died in a strange place without any of their relatives informed, inadvertently became solitude spirits.
Am Linh Temple is also a worship place of numerous dead soldiers whose bodies couldn’t be found due to the war.
Ancient people called these fellow citizens “ten types of sentient beings” and have a great compassion for them. In accordance with the outlook of “you die as the way you live”, during holidays or festivals, in pagodas, temples or private houses, there are always offering trays for these unfortunate forsaken spirits.
Am Linh Tu of An Vinh village was built on a high mound in Tay hamlet An Vinh commune, about 500m in the west of Ly Son Port. The front of the temple overlooking the south, and in the front yard is the magnificent memorial monuments.
Unlike other Am Linh Temples elsewhere, Am Linh Temple of An Hai village has a roof and several orderly worshipping compartments and is the place that holds annual solemn ceremonials with the participation of majority of villagers. This is also where many valuable documents of Hoang Sa, Bac Hai Flotilla are being kept and preserved, and even those of numerous local people’s families.
According to the elders, in the beginning of 19th century, An Vinh and An Hai villages (now are An Vinh and An Hai communes) used to have communal house and “Nghia” Temple. However, during the 1950s, because the An Vinh communal house was damaged, the tablets of ancestors and the town god were moved to Am Linh Temple. As a result, the temple became the worshipping place of the locals and a number of traditional rituals, folk festivals were also been held here.
In particular, in Thanh Minh Festival, the villagers of An Hai hold the annual troop banquet ceremony for Hoang Sa Flotilla at Am Linh Tu. This is a special ceremonial aim to commemorate and pay tribute to the martyrs of Truong Sa Flotilla and the militias who had died while patrolling, stationing in the islands and fighting against the pirates to protect the villagers and the islands.
According to historical documents, under Nguyen Lords and Nguyen Dynasty, the Vietnamese government set up the Hoang Sa Flotilla with the missions of patrolling in the sea, collecting sea products and other products, measuring sea routes, planting landmarks and building sovereignty steles of these islands.
Documents, maps, and notes of Western merchants, missionaries, marines and explorers had helped to prove the regular present of Vietnamese militias and armed forces in Paracel Islands.
To those whose mission is patrolling the water around Hoang Sa Islands for 6 months along with the fishing boats and constantly faced the high waves, stormy winds; death, by any causes meant that the vast ocean would be their burial place.
In the baggage for long sea trip to Hoang Sa, Truong Sa, aside from essentials items, each soldier of Hoang Sa, Bac Hai Flotilla had to prepare two mats, 7 bamboo splints, 7 rattan ropes, a tag which was carved with his name, native village, number in the troop.
Other soldiers would wrap the dead soldier in the mats with his name tag, then bind the mat with 7 bamboo splints by the rattan ropes. After several simple rituals, the mat would be released into the ocean. The soldiers prayed that the bodies of the unfortunate would drift to the beach or be fished out from the sea by other boats and sent them home according to the address in their tags. Unfortunately, very few of the bodies were actually got to the mainland.
Am Linh Temple is also where fishermen come to before going to the sea or to another foreign regions to make a living in order to pray for safety and success. And after every safe and successful trip, they will come back with offerings to express their gratitude. Am Linh Temple has become a big temple not only thanks to the contributions of villagers but also due to the offerings of successful people of Ly Son. This is a good tradition which shows the affection and gratitude of the Ly Son people.
Since the An Hai communal house has been restored in 2010, the town god tablet, other ancestors’ tablets and the tablets of martyrs of Hoang Sa, Bac Hai Flotilla was moved to this house. But Am Linh Temple stills the worshipping place of the militias of Hoang Sa, Bac Hai.
Hoang Sa Flotilla cemetery
In Ly Son Island as well as other coastal areas of Quang Ngai and other provinces across Vietnam, there are numerous graves in which doesn’t have any body inside, and are called wind grave. The family of the unfortunate must ask for help from a shaman. After making ceremonial offerings, the shaman will climb to the crater of the volcano and bring back a piece of clay, then mix it with water and kapok and form a similar-size dummy of the dead according to the description of his relatives
The berry branches will be broken in even halves to form the ribs. The man dummy has 7 branches while the woman one has 9. The tendons are made from silk threads or berry tree’s skin threads. The backbone and limb bones are made from berry stems.
The dummy must have complete organs, even the genitals. The shaman must use all the clays he took from the crater, as it is believed that the clay symbolizes for the dead people’s flesh, which will cause them to miss some parts of their bodies in the afterworld if it doesn’t used up.
After done forming, the shaman will use the egg yolks to spread all over the dummy to look like human skin when it dries. Next, the relatives will put the clothes and the shrouds on the dummy, place the tablet on its face, and then move it to the coffin. An offering boat with offering trays consist of food, gold and silver will be brought out in the sea to be offered to the gods and call for the dead.
After the summoning rituals, the wandering spirit will enter the dummy and then his relatives will lower the coffin into the grave. If the day he died is not known, his relatives can use the date he went out to the sea as the death anniversary day. For many reasons, a large numbers of dummies in wind graves which had been buried hundreds years ago, still remain intact when dig up to move to another place.
It is said that the wind graves custom had started two centuries ago and among the very first win graves are of Commander Pham Quang Anh and 24 soldiers under his command. His screw was struck by a storm and lost in the sea.
To mount over these martyrs, the Royal court had held the summoning rituals for them. The task was assigned to a well-known shaman. He sent his men to Gieng Tien Mountain to take the clays, and then modeled all the 25 dead soldiers’ dummies by himself. He wouldn’t stop until the relatives were satisfied with his works.
After finishing modeling, the summoning rituals were held for many days to call for the dead spirits and put them into the dummies. Next, they could be lay to rest as normal people. Commander Pham Quang Anh was the first one to be buried, then his 24 soldiers, which form a row of 25 graves.
Apart from Pham Quang Anh, there are other commanders, chief officers which were honored by the Nguyen Dynasty such as Vo Van Khiet, Pham Huu Nhat… Yet, many graves were still unnamed. They are true martyrs who sacrificed their lives for their countries’ sake with no interest of going down in history.
To Vo Gate
Walking from the main quays to the welcome gate of Ly Son, turn left along the small route to Duc Temple, you will see a small rock-top close to the sea. This is one of the favorite destinations for young people who love photography. When visit Ly Son, you can come here with your friends and enjoy the spectacular view of the dawn and the sunset.
Duc Pagoda and Quan Am pedestal
Duc Pagoda lies in the midway of Gieng Tieng mountain side, a former volcano that has slept over thousands of years in the island. Visitors have to walk over 100 stair-steps along the mountain to get to the pagoda.
Right in the lobby of this landscape complex which leads to other ancient shrines covered by green moss inside the mountain is the 27m-high Avalokitesvara Buddha statue. Duc Pagoda is also called Khong Su Pagoda. It is said that Avalokitesvara Buddha used to stay here in the ancient time and protect to villagers from natural disasters.
Looking from the Alokitesvara Buddha statue direction, the ocean scene is picturesque. The most interesting thing is climb to the top of Liem Temple to watch the former crater now is a hollow-shaped meadow. The top of the mountain is an ideal place to enjoy the panorama view of Ly Son Island from above to see why this place is compared to a fairyland.
An Vinh communal temple
The temple was originally built of thatches, wood pillars and soil walls. In 1798, An Dinh communal temple was renovated. In 1842, it was burnt and destroyed by Chinese invaders.
In 1920, the temple was renovated on a large scale with the design of the Chinese character of three (三) which consisted of the upper part, the middle part and the bottom part. In 1922, An Vinh communal temple was once again heavily damaged by the storm.
In 1946, the temple was the base of Ly Son Resistance Administrative Committee. In 1953, it was bombed by the French which destroyed the front roof and burnt the title. In 1957, because it was heavily damaged, the villagers had the temple’s ancestor house restored.
In 2009, the communal temple was researched and renovated by the government, but its old vestige and valuable documents about the Hoang Sa Flotilla has been lost. Only the annual traditional requiem for the Hoang Sa troops in Thanh Minh Festival still remains.
The three parts of the temple is connected by long gutters. The framings are similar to those of Ruong house in central region. The temple is decorated with four sacred animals and five blessings pattern according to the yin yang conception to pray for peace.
Hoang Sa Flotilla monument
Situated in the heart of Ly Son, the Hoang Sa Flotilla monument and commemorative house complex stands with the sun and the sea wind as a symbol for the claim of sovereignty to the Paracel (Hoang Sa) Islands.
The main room, which is 150 m2 wide, is used for display. The item of the martyrs of Hoang Sa are formally put in glass cabinets or hang in the walls such as: 2 sedge mats, 7 rattan ropes, 7 bamboo splints, 7 bamboo tags, water jar, jute fibers and Dipterocarpus Alatus oil (used to repair the broken ships, of which the most impressive one is the basket boat which was restored by Artisan Vo Hien Dat). In the center of the room are ancestral tablets of progenitors who explored and reclaimed the land such as: Pham Quang Anh, Pham Hua Nhat, Vo Van Khiet…
Hang Temple leans against the mountain and faces the ocean
Hang Temple (also known as Thien Khong Thach Temple, which means natural-born stone temple) is situated in An Hai commune, Ly Son Island. It was found under King Le Kinh Tong’s reign by Tran Cong Thanh, one of the ancestors who explored and reclaimed the An Hai, An Vinh villages. It was named Hang Temple (hang means cave) because it lies in one of the largest cave in the Ly Son’s cave system which was created from Thoi Loi mountain range with lava color and 20m-high steep cliffs.
The temple courtyard is the cave’s mouth which overlooking the ocean. There’s a lotus pond with pagoda statue in the middle and dozens of thousand years old badamiers is surrounding it. The cave measures 24m long with a 3.2 m high ceiling and covers an area of 480 m2. In the middle are the Amida Buddha, Tathagata Buddha, Maitreya Buddha altars; the Bodhidharma Buddha altar is in the left side; 12 Kings of Hell, the 3 progenitors who served the temple (Tran Cong Thanh, Tran Cong Hien, Tran Cong Quan) and 7 ancestors of An Hai village. The altars consist of the foundation which was created from the natural stalactites of the cave and the rest were hand-made by the villagers.
Thoi Loi Peak
Ly Son looking from Thoi Loi Peak
This is an extinguished volcano, with the highest peak of the whole Ly Son Island (149m). In the top of the mountain is a fresh water lake with 30.000 m3 in volume which can provide fresh water for the entire Lon Island and Be Island.
Be Island or An Binh Island is true to its name, covers a rather small area (Be means little). However, it has a beautiful sandy beach surrounded with tall bow-shaped cliffs, and waves roaring day and night..
There is a boat from Lon Island to Be Island every day, which leaves in 8am and comeback in 2.30pm. If going in a large group, you can rent a private boat. This will enable you to travel as anytime you wish and during the night, you and your friends can pitch tents to sleep on the beach after partying and dancing.
Note: Due to the fact that there’s only one boat to Ly Son Island a day, if you can’t make it to the Sa Ky Port in time (before 7am), you should try to visit several destinations in Quang Ngai while waiting for the next boat. You should get to Quang Ngai in the morning or noon in the next day no matter what transportation you use.