2016 Dry Season Trip

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Standing with us on the tourist boat at the Củ Tron only pier before leaving for Hòn Dầu, the second place after the Củ Tron Island where back-pack tourists like us (my wife and me!) got our first sight of the Nam Du in our 2016 destination to avoid the terrible hot weather in the mainland, Anh Út said we will visit three places, Hòn Dầu first, then Hòn Mấu and would have our lunch here, then finally go to Hòn Bờ Đập to see the coral reef. We would have our sea urchin soup here before returning to Củ Tron to pass the night.

3 islands in a one day tour-  300,000 VND/person
I first heard of Hòn Dầu during my trip to this place. In my memory, I read many times this Dầu island, but my wife insisted that the name is Dâu, not Dầu. Nearly in all tourist writings I found that Dầu is the name for the place, so what's the correct name? Should I call Mr. Út, the guide of my trip there, to confirm the exact name?

More about the name of this island. On the Google Map, the name for this island is Hòn Trung. When I ask the guide about this name, he said no one here call it by this name (Hòn Trung) but Hòn Dầu!

Unfortunately, the tourist boat is not professionally staffed, for we were not informed the features or particulars of each place we visited even in the very short and precise introduction. They received the guests onboard, carried them to the place, and said, Here you are. That's all. So for fully enjoying of your trip, some pre-readings about these places are necessary (while my visit there was not well planned ahead).

Hòn Dầu has only some families, forest covers nearly most of this mountain. The beach where we landed was very calm with many coconut trees on the land, shallow shoal with lots of coral reef. The boat cannot reach the land, we had to use smaller boat to land at the fee of VND 10,000/ person. Even the boat is small, it has to use a circular track to avoid coral reefs to carry us to the wooden bridge to get on the land.

If we have time we can swim there, we can catch sea urchins, and to take pictures. Some tourists hire boat to go here, and landing with styrofoam raft. They can swim and catch sea urchins that there are a lot here.

The next place we visited is Hòn Mấu. Also first heard of this name. I imagined that there would be some relationship between Mấu and Máu. Mấu in Vietnamese is not a common word. It is usually used as an adjective to denote something important  (điểm mấu chốt). Out of this context,  mấu  is seldom used, then why the island's name is Mấu? Historically this seas full of pirates (Malay, Chinese, Cambodian pirates), and the battles between them and the prizes as well as between themselves could leave traces in geographical names… Bãi Chệt (Chệt Beach) is named after a certain battle in which so many Chinese deads at this place, as some stories explain the origin of the name...Could we trace of the name Mấu origin in similar manner?

Again we were not informed of any thing when we arrived at Hòn Mấu. We also landed by using a smaller boat, got on the island at the narrow land connecting two larger parts of this island. They showed us the shallow beach with rows of hammocks hung under mangrove-palm leaf roof huts. We were informed that we would have our lunch here, then stay at the beach to 3 pm. A lot of time for swimming if you like, but under the strongest sun in the noon time, nearly all of us would like to lie on the hammocks to look at the blue sea untill we leave at 3 pm.

Later on I know that there are some other beaches on this small island that you could swim at your will, and the most beautiful one is the beach we spent the noon and got our bad lunch of  not so fresh seafoods and poor food preparations although materials are so good around here at Bãi Chướng, its name. I took a walk to the end of the small fishermen's village here, with the population (I asked a local man near by my hut) of more than 100 families… When I asked about the fresh water he said there's one underground well with fresh water, but it's not enough for the people here, so they have to buy fresh water from supplying boats that get it from other islands. During my staying there, I saw a boat arriving to fill up some water tanks next to our place using a long tubes to pump up from the boat to the tank…

Our last place is to swim at a beach of Hòn Bờ Đập where we can see coral reefs. Nearly all of our tourist group, most of them are 1st year economic students of Can Tho University, to fling into the sea to have a look at the coral. I joined the group too: the oldest man in this young group. My wife joked latter: look at all the young people and see only me the oldest to swim! OK, ok, I would like to look at the coral, if I hesitated because of my age, how could I get it? I actively swam and looked into the sea bed, innumerable of coral reefs, looked like rock dunes with lots of fish and other living things in a vivid natural picture I ever saw the first time!

We were back to our rent room with some free time to take a bath, and then got the motobike to go to the seafood market at the pier to enjoy our second seafood meal (the first I got a day before here!). So fresh and tasty and wonderful seafoods I could never have in the mainland! I tried to remember the place that served us these seafoods, by reading the sign, “Năm Nướng” from our outdoor table next to the sea. My wife corrected me, “No. Năm Nương. I have read it carefully when I ordered our foods there”.   

No, we did not order our foods at Năm Nương. Because the way to enjoy seafood at Nam Du like this: You go to the seafood sellers at the pier, look closely at each seafood you like, choose the best ones, pay them.. Then you bring these to Năm Nương, ask them to prepare your favorite dishes (thank God, they know all dishes I like, and in my opinion, they are as skilled cookers as any wonderful cookers i have ever known! May be the fresh seafoods I got is the most important factor that make me enjoyed every things here to the last, at a reasonable price!)

Running on the island
On the first day, with my first observation, I thought that my running in the morning could hardly been done. But on the first morning, with further checking on the morning exercise, I found that very near to my hotel I could follow a tract to go up to the newly completed concrete cement road round the island. This is the best road for running: in the early morning, no one walk or ride on this road! I brought a camera with me in the first morning, and while running I looked for favorite sun rising scene to take some pictures. It's was a cloudy day, so I did not expect that I could have the best conditions to do this although I could take some.
The second morning I was ready for the morning exercise at 5 AM, a little later than I used to do it, because there no power and street lights here.
I was surprised when saw another man was walking as early as me (I always run for my morning exercise). I asked him if he the people on this island, and he confirmed. At first I thought perhaps he's the visitor to this island as me, but no, I got another man to do the morning exercise besides me!
I was running on a road at the height of about 10 to 20 meter above the sea level (I observed this when took the ride round the island on the first afternoon here), and like the first morning, I was also looking for good places to take some pictures of the seas or the sun rising scenes. The sky is not complete clear, some clouds were seen at the horizon, but I could take some better pictures than the first day while running about 5 km here.

Some facts...
I was told by Anh Út that this road was constructed by Hà Đô company, the road was funded by Central government at the cost of 1.8 VND billion a kilometer, with a total length of 20 km, and completed about a year ago. I do not know if this information is exact, but with this road, the chance for Củ Tron getting more visitors is better. On the morning I left this place, while waiting to board the Superdong to go back to Rach Gia, I was sitting in a coffee shop, looking at the arriving ship. When it stopped at the pier, more than a hundred more people to land and walk by us, and most of them are visitors like me, the back-pack tourists, or  in new Vietnamese slang, dân phượt.  They would experience the sense Nam Du can gives them, original, natural… but this will quickly disappear with no well-planned place as Nam Du. When I got my seafoods at Năm Nương restaurant, some table waiters poured all the garbage on the other tables such as paper, shrimp shell, oyster shell, .. into the ocean. The nylon garbage can be seen piled up at the seashore, and together with poor infrastructure as seen currently in this island, this trend is unavoidable. If Rach Gia government administration is good enough, it must see this a precious advantage it has as compare to other provinces in the Mekong Delta, then it should have appropriate policies to correct all the shortcomings to attract more visitors to it.

Not a third day!
My plan is a four day stay in the island, but after spending the 1st day there I quickly changed my decision after some talking to my guide, anh Út. He said that usually the tourists take a visit to some typical island here, similar to the tour we booked through him, and this will take one day. On the first day usually you arrive at noon (you leave Rach Gia in the morning, and it takes more than 2 hours to arrive at Củ Tron). After checking the staying place and having lunch, they have half a day to visit places in the  main island (Củ Tron), which may including a round-the-island riding by motobike to look the general scenes of the island, visit the lighthouse on the top of highest mount on the island (rather steep to ride there by motobike, be warned!), and swimming at the best beach of this island (bãi Mến).  This is enough for a half day tour. The second day is for the 3 island visit tour, as said. Then what for the third day if you want to stay here? At first I thought that I will spend a quiet day by a swimming in the morning, resting most of the day by reading some book, writing some thing about this trip on my tablet,  enjoying a second swimming in the afternoon, then for the evening why not enjoy a seafood meal again? When I was there, I know that the third day can hardly be a meaningful rest. There's no suitable quiet hotel with large enough yard and tree shade and lawn for you to enjoy reading or writing. Yes, you can find NO WHERE TO REST QUIETLY TO ENJOY extra free time here.

So I asked the guide to book my return ticket on the next day to go to Ha Tien for the weekend relax instead of Củ Tron. I asked him to absulutely book ticket of SUPERDONG high speed boat, for its better seats than that of Ngoc Thanh…

Again Hà Tiên
Ha Tien is not strange place to me. There is no thing of special, nothing as beautiful  as described by the Ha Tien ten famous scences nearly three hundreds of years ago (Hà Tiên Thập Vịnh by Mạc Thiên Tứ of Tao Đàn Chiêu Anh Các, 1736). Hà Tiên is expanding its area by filling up some shallow seas that I can watch from Pháo Đài Hotel. In the real estate rush, there's a lot of crazy rich people looking for more quick money by filling the sea for housing construction and sell it. Many got richer, but many lost too. To me the biggest lost is the environment, the nature… these I can see easily right in front of me: garbage every where, chaotic scenes, and uncompleted constructions. This makes Ha Tien look worse...