Tale of in-between two cities

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 Thuyền thúng (coracles) at Cam Binh Beach, about five kilometers from La Gi Commune, the central province of Binh Thuan / PHOTO COURTESY OF SGTT

When I first visited La Gi about five years ago, it was a sleeping beauty. The commune, which is some 68 kilometers to the north of Phan Thiet, hosted a 28-kilometer coast, sandy hills, numerous rocks, and forests of casuarina. All were wildly beautiful.

Things, however, have changed recently, and La Gi is now a popular destination for short and cheap tours, especially during weekends, from Ho Chi Minh City.

So, what does the commune have to offer to tourists?

There are beaches where you can buy sea food and have it cooked or grill them with rented charcoal ovens on site. Local specialties are má»±c trứng or má»±c cơm (literally translated as egg/rice squid) that is best steamed with ginger, and cá Ä‘ục vàng a species of gudgeon. It is best grilled on charcoals after being seasoned with salt and chili.

The two famous beaches are Doi Duong, which can be reached after a seven-minute motorbike ride from central La Gi, and Cam Binh, about five kilometers away.

There is also Van Phuoc Loc Temple, where 120 whale skeletons are worshipped. The 300-year-old temple is said to host Vietnam's biggest collection of frames of the giant mammal which is considered a god by Vietnamese fishermen. Locals claim that the eldest skeleton there is some 200 years old.

Meanwhile, Hon Ba, a 2.8-hectare island, is an ideal destination for adventurers. Located some two kilometers from Doi Duong Beach, the wild island was not opened to tourism until in May this year.

Its highest point is some 40 meters above sea level, and can be reached by hundreds of stone steps that are shaded by canopies of trees. Strange and beautiful rocks are found all over the island.

The most popular attraction on the island is a temple where Thien Y A Na, or Lady Po Nagar, a Cham goddess, is worshipped. Her statue is made from stone and faces the sea.

A traveler hailing from the central province of Binh Dinh once told me he could never forget the feeling of spending a night on the island.

It was a full moon night, he said, and he was sitting, observing the moon. His companion was the temple's old guard who was also the only resident there. The old man told lots of folktales about the island. Surrounding the stories were the sounds of wind blowing through tree Heliotropes, and waves hitting rocks at the island's foot.

Getting there

La Gi is about 175-190 kilometers from HCMC.

Buses start at the Mien Dong (eastern region) Bus Station, HCMC. Fare is VND60,000 (US$2.8) per one-way ticket. Or, you can choose private transport companies with advantages like pick-up services, but they charge higher, around VND100,000 ($4.7) a person.

For those who want to go there by themselves, there are two routes from HCMC:

n Travel north on National Road 1A and past the Z30D prison in Ham Tan District, Binh Thuan Province. At the T-junction No. 46, around 46 kilometers from Phan Thiet, turn to National Road 55. Go along the road for 18 kilometers to reach La Gi.

n Head to Ba Ria Town in Ba Ria- Vung Tau Province and take National Road 55 from there to reach Ba To Town, Xuyen Moc District. Then, turn to a coastal road that runs past the resort towns of Ho Tram and Ho Coc to reach La Gi.

In La Gi, do not rely on taxis as your mean of transportation, especially on weekends or holidays, as currently only seven taxis operate there. Meanwhile, motorbike rental services are not yet available.

So, the best way is to travel there by car or motorbike and then use them as your means of transportation while in La Gi. Or, get on a xe om (motorbike taxi).

Before heading to La Gi, especially during peak times, you must not forget to book hotel rooms in advance.

Resorts like Dat Lanh, Ba That, and Mom Da Chim are ideal places if you prefer quiet.

However, if you love spending time with local people and do not mind noise, hotels at the commune's center some 11 kilometers from the beaches are a better choice. Rooms are available at VND180,000-380,000 ($8.4-17.8) per night.

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