An island waiting to be discovered

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Dawn on Cau Islet. Photo: otosaigon.vn

Tired of Phan Thiet? There is an untouched stretch of beach just 110 kilometers away.

Cau Islet is around 10 kilometers from the coast of Binh Thuan Province, and the only way to reach it is by coracle from Phuoc The Commune, Tuy Phong District, and then a 40-minute trip on a fisherman's boat.

Shaped like a giant warship of more than 1.5 kilometers length the islet is a marine reserve and almost completely uninhabited. Its only occupants are members of the Tuy Phong District military unit, and two people running a food shop each.

Tu Huu, one of the two, said there had been an abundance of fish around the islet when he was young.

People just had to drop a line in the water and the fish would bite, hence the islet's name of "Cau," meaning fishing with rods, he said.

The islet benefits from oceanic upwelling, a phenomenon that causes cool, nutrient-rich water to rise to the surface and increases fish numbers.

Visitors to the islet can swim with fish and see beautiful coral reefs deep under the water. They are allowed to catch snails and shells.

The islet has several beaches, all clean and green. The major one has sand littered with coral reef pieces and small shells, naturally massaging the feet.

The best time to go is between the fourth and eighth lunar months, or during the summer and early fall, when the water is calmer.

People looking for some adventure can choose other times when strong winds make it tough to reach the islet and the journey from shore can take an hour.

Like in most other places in Binh Thuan and neighboring provinces, the islet is breezy and sunny throughout the year.

Iguanas and snakes are common here. Some of the snakes are venomous and tourists are told to wear shoes and keep them fully covered when walking on the beach.

There's a cave called "yen" (bird's nest) where hundreds of birds build nests on the islet that are protected by the soldiers stationed there.

Due to low rainfall, few large trees except for some poplars exist on the islet. But there are a large number of weeds and bushes, some of them flowering plants that can survive without rain for more than six months.

During the monsoon, the weeds create a large green panorama that contrasts brilliantly with the deep blue of the sea just meters away.

The islet also has rocks of all shapes and sizes which give it its average height of seven meters.

There are some shaped like goats, whales, dolphins, sea lions, turtles, hippos, earning the islet the tag of "rock zoo."

In 1997 Ho Chi Minh City's Lua Viet Tourism Company brought the first tourists to the islet, 36 adults and children.

But it was not without its share of problems.

The company had to bring life buoys from the city and to register the visitors with the border guards.

The biggest problem was finding a boat to carry the tourist to the islet since fishermen had never engaged with the tourism industry before.

They were not willing to allow strangers, especially women, to step on their boats fearing it would bring bad luck.

The company had to persuade a government official in Phuoc The Commune to lend his boat.

Gradually, fishermen came around and began to hire out their boats, though the coracles remain the only way to reach the boats.

People have to put their mobile phones and other devices in plastic bags while in the coracle since they can get wet.

Back then, there was just one small shop on the island where Huu sold ice and instant noodles to fishing boats. There were no toilets and the call of nature meant just that.

There are toilets now and wells so that visitors no longer have to limit their use of water.

The two shops function both as restaurants and hotels, albeit rough ones.

They serve freshly caught fish, squid, and snails, and accommodate visitors in tents.

But the seafood is so fresh that it needs no seasoning.

When there are large tour groups, the shops have to be informed in advance so that their owners can go shopping for more food and tents.

Tour operators can also contact local authorities to use the district's military unit for lodging.

Holy island

The first source of fresh water on the island was Gia Long well named after the first king of the Nguyen Dynasty, Vietnam's last feudal rulers.

Legend has it that the king often stopped here and had people dig the islet's first well.

There's a temple to the Cham goddess Po Ino Nagar (Yang Pu Nagara) and another for whales, a creature revered by Vietnamese fishermen as the god of the sea. Locals come to the temples every year on full moon day in the fourth lunar month, organizing rituals to pray for gentle weather, singing folk songs, and playing traditional games.

Many Japanese pass by the islet every year to drop wreaths in the water to commemorate their ancestors who were attacked by pirates here during the second World War.

By Nguyen Van My

Nguyen Van My is the director of Lua Viet Tours based in Ho Chi Minh City.

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