Most people won’t turn down a island getaway, right? Especially when visiting such an affordable country, like Vietnam. Enter Ly Son Island, off the coast of Quang Ngai Province, in the central area of the country. Ly Son, also known as Cu Lao Re, is just a boat ride away and has somehow eluded the foreign travelers radar. Imagine cruising through sandy paths to reach beautiful beaches, revving up a mountain to see 360° views of an island, or maneuvering through the seaside to catch a glimpse of a stunning volcanic rock formation. Can you picture it? I’m guessing not. These unique scenarios and adventures are what Ly Son Island offers. Let me introduce you.
To reach the secluded Cau Cave, a beach cove created beneath a volcanic crater, you have to cruise alongside a mountain through fields and fields of garlic – the key produce Ly Son is known for. This spot and journey there were by far my favorite the island has to offer. The fields are nothing like produce fields I have seen before and you catch a glimpse of locals caring deeply for the products they’ve grown. The sandy paths through the fields lead you directly to the beach where you are greeted by a make shift market and a few local ladies offering you to park under their tarps. Advice – park under the tarps so your scooter seat is not burning your tush after scorching in the sun while you visit the beach. The ladies will not charge you for parking, but you should purchase something, like a refreshing coconut, to thank them for their their hospitality and help support their small business. For most of these women the few items they sell – fresh coconuts, bags of chips, popsicles, etc – while sitting out in the heat all day is their primary source of income.
Cau Cave is uniquely stunning and the most adventurous place to visit on the island. Local vendors offering snorkeling, traditional boat rides, kayaks, and jet ski rentals are staggered along the curve of the mountain wall leading to the cave. As you make the curve you are greeted by a massive wall of volcanic mountain with a narrow cave tucked deep in the back. The beach will be lined with a few wooden loungers to relax on, very light waves crashing on volcanic rock staggered throughout the shore, and a flat sea that stretches on endlessly. Noted – it is not a very swimmable beach spot without walking out over the rocks or paying a local to take you out on a round boat. I chose to pay for a snorkel boat ride due to being told they have beautiful coral reefs to view. There are defiantly coral reefs to explore, but like many all over the earth they are dying and slowly diminishing to green/brown/grey/white coral with little marine life. Still beautiful and worth doing, in my opinion.
Scurry over to the complete other side of the island to visit the photo famous To Vo Gate, Duc Temple, and Guanyin Statue. Follow the one and only “main” road literally through the entire island, a leisurely and enjoyable fifteen minute scooter ride. Seriously. Let down your hair, let the wind gently stroke your face, inhale the aromatic fresh air, and just soak up all the culture and natural beauty the island has to offer. You will pass by just about every neighborhood and local business the island has to offer, pass through the port, all the local fisherman out on the boats in the endless sea, and curve back around the mountain to an alluring site.
To Vo Gate will be the first location to pop up on this path, but be careful not to pass it by. Although stunning in photographs and a wonder of geology, it is much smaller in stature than it appears. Tip – as the cement road comes to an end there will be more small beachside restaurants, they will also offer you to park under their tarps. I highly suggest the first place on the right and trying one of the famous local dishes, Cha Ca . You can do this before To Vo Gate, before heading for a larger view of the statue, or before leaving this area. Scamper down the sanded and rock covered path by the restaurants and you will be among To Vo Gate and other seaside volcanic rock features.
Visible in the near distance will be the Guanyin Statue. You can stroll down the beach to get a closer glimpse, or ride your scooter down a sandy pathway to get an up close and personal view. If you pay close attention the statue is among colorful tombstones. I have been toldthat is part of why the statue is placed there, and locals do not find it offensive to visit. I believe what I heard due to vendors selling souvenirs, beach side trinkets, and large conch shells.Supposedly you can find the Duc Temple near the statue, but we were running out of time. Additionally, I like to respect those that have found a higher place and their families.
Thoi Loi mountain is the volcanic crater above Cau Cave and offers stunning 360° views of the island and sea. You take a slightly different path than going to the cave by turning on a uphill road to reach the top of the mountain. Sadly, we did not get to experience this due to some unexpected occurrences. That just gives me an excuse to visit again though, right? The receptionist at our hotel said one of the best views is where the flag pole is. You can spot the Vietnam flag in my picture below. We were also told Hang Temple can be visited on the top of the mountain and that you can look into the crater of the volcano. Another mentioned site seeing option nearby was a smaller island Mu Cu and/or Be Island; which also had snorkeling of coral reefs available.
Muong Thanh Ly Son is where we stayed and I highly recommend it. From what I could tell it was the nicest place on the island. With a grandiose entrance it is very inviting and the staff was helpful. They offered us an island map and with highlighted places to visit. The room was modern, had a nice view, clean, and extremely spacious (i.e. western size spacious). We booked our room through Agoda (my favorite place to book while overseas). The island offers many homestay, hostels, and I think two other hotels. However, most of these have to be found on Vietnamese websites or I was told you can just arrive and easily find a place to stay and pay cash. You can search AirBnB, but make sure that it is truly on the island and not in Quang Nghai.
The island is known for amazing seafood, so definitely indulge in some. There is supposed to be a neat evening seafood market near the port. However, we sadly got too much sun and didn’t make it in time. Thus leaving us having to eat dinner at our hotel. It was difficult for us to find lunch one day because apparently most restaurants and street vendors shut down from around noon to five. We were lucky to find a street vendor on the way to the cave that was still serving one of my favorite snail dishes, Oc Len Xao Bua. You will also not find food available late in the evening. Another great spot we ate fresh seafood at is next to the black and white lighthouse, off the concrete seaside road past the port. Lastly, you must seriously try the Cha Ca <pictured below> that is a dish the island is known for. We had it spring roll style served with Ram.
While on the island the easiest way to get around is on scooters. You may have difficulty finding a place that speaks english, but people tend to approach you as you arrive in port and should still be able to rent it to you by just discussing the price. I have read online that many of the hotels, homestay, and hostels also provide rentals or can assist you. Note, in our experience most rentals will only have manual scooters available. Tip – If you do not feel completely comfortable with this and most importantly with the crazy way Vietnamese drive, then I suggest walking or renting a bicycle. This is for your safety. I was told some lodgings may offer bicycles to use or have rentals available. Walking is also doable due to the island not being that large, but may take much longer to get around. Burn those calories, baby!
The only way to get to the island is from Sa Ky Port, in Quang Ngai. You will need your passport and will need to purchase the tickets in advance or arrive early in the morning. When we visited departure times were 7:30, 9:30, 11:30, and 3:30. Boat rides fill up quickly due to limited space. Disclaimer – you may need the assistance of a local who speaks English and Vietnamese to help you purchase the tickets or try using Google Translate. The boat ride is roughly one hour. The boat does have A/C and a few TV’s – playing Vietnamese music videos on my ride. Full disclosure – a surprising amount of people may get seasick during the ride. I luckily do not get seasick, but they do provide you bags. However, if a lot of people get sick around you, you may need to step out on deck for some fresh air. At the port we were informed they had newer speed boats that would be available soon due to the rise in visitors and Ly Son building a second port just for tourists. The current port was originally just for import and export of goods and transportation to the mainland for islanders, but the island is slowly becoming a new local hot spot for vacationing. When we arrived at our hotel we found out the new tourist port was being built right before/beside it, convenient for them. Departing the island we were greeted at the port by a glistening brand new speed boat. Pleasantly to our surprise we were told we were getting to take the maiden voyage on the new beauty. This ride was much quicker, roughly thirty minutes, and the interior was even nicer than our first boat.
For what Ly Son lacks in stereotypical island vibes, it makes up for in uniqueness, relaxation and culture.
English = none. Native language = Vietnamese. Everyone I encountered were very friendly and helpful. They will help you find your way around.
It is a quaint and charming island that can easily be visited in a two to three day time frame.
I always book my flights through Skyscanner. By far the best prices, options, & ease of use.