A refreshing summer hideout

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  A bird's eye view of Binh Ba Island, which is nearly 20 kilometers to the east of Cam Ranh Town, the central province of Khanh Hoa
PHOTO: HIEU LAM

As Ho Chi Minh City was burned under the scorching summer sun a few weeks ago, I decided to head for a not-so-well-known beach destination I'd heard about.

The Binh Ba Island is located nearly 20 kilometers to the east of Cam Ranh Town in Khanh Hoa Province.

Arriving at Cam Ranh, which is famous for the deep-water bay of the same name, I got to Ba Ngoi Port, from where I got on a local boat headed for Binh Ba.

Boats that set off from Ba Ngoi three times a day to transport commodities to the islanders are the only means to get to Binh Ba. So, visitors have no choice, but to ask captains for a seat there and pay around VND25,000 (US$1.16) per trip.

Tam, a local fisherman who sat next to me on the ship, told me that Binh Ba used to be a deserted island before some fishermen from the nearby provinces of Binh Dinh and Phu Yen settle down there around 200 years ago. He said they discovered the island when they were seeking shelter from big waves and storms.

Now, the 300-hectare island is home to nearly 5,000 people and divided into four hamlets, the fisherman said.

Around an hour and 15 minutes later, our boat arrived at Cang Lon, the only wharf on Binh Ba, where numerous big and small fishing boats had gathered.

Almost as soon as I saw the island for the first time, it struck me that most of its population seemed to live around the wharf. 

I learnt that the island is situated right in front of the entrance to Cam Ranh Bay, so for centuries, it has acted as a brave protector, stopping or weakening fierce storms and winds from the East Sea. On that vulnerable island, Cang Lon and its surrounding area are well hidden from the sea attacks, thus they are most populated.

Since it was late in the evening when I reached the island, the only thing I could do was visit a local market that is organized every night at a court in front of Binh Ba's communal house.

The market's main attraction is that it sells a wide array of foods including bún thịt nem (rice vermicelli used with grilled pork, both sliced and ground finely), bánh xèo má»±c (rice pancake stuffed with squids, hulled mung beans, and bean sprouts), clams and snails.

Each dish is priced around VND15,000 ($0.69).

Wandering around the market, I came upon a performance of traditional songs going on at the communal house. A local said this happened only on special occasions or holidays, and that the one I was seeing was the first one after more than two years. I could not find more details about the performance and its rarity. 

Later, I walked to the Nom Beach, which is situated at the back of the residential area. Several groups of visitors were having fun around campfires.

As there are no hotels on the island, the beach has become a favorite campsite among visitors, especially those who travel in groups. Meanwhile, others like me preferred to get accommodation at local people's houses for around VND50,000 ($2.32) per night.

Like most other remote areas in Vietnam, Binh Ba calls it a day very early. At 10 p.m., the whole island seemed to have gone to sleep. Of course, this also meant that the day began very early, before daybreak.

Before the sun was up, many people had already gathered at the wharf to buy commodities transported by ships from the mainland.

The wharf also became another seafood marketplace as people sold seafood caught during the night or early morning fishing trips. Fishermen in small groups were taking clams from their shells, and then cutting them into pieces to feed shrimp.

After the daily market that ended around 10 a.m., I rented a motorbike to go around the island. The ride was easy because local authorities had recently asphalted coastal and mountainous roads.

I visited the Chuong Beach, which is the first place on the island to welcome the sun every day. Since the water at the beach was crystal clear and quite shallow, I could spot coral reels and colorful fish.

People said with such clear waters, it was quite easy to catch seafood like sea urchins, sea cucumbers and lots of clams and snails at the beach.

However, I gave that a pass and left for the Nha Cu Beach, which also has clean and clear waters, quite happy to take more photographs.

Later, from atop a mountain, I spent time enjoying a bird's eye view of Binh Ba, glad to be among people who live in harmony and peace with nature.

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