Off the coast of Son Tra Peninsula at the foot of the Hai Van Mountain Range, the Ngoc (Pearl) Islet boasts pristine, untouched water perfect for adventurers exploring the area around Da Nang.
The 1.5sq.km islet used to border Dai Viet (Great Viet Nam) and the Champa Kingdom in previous centuries, but now it’s a summer getaway for adventurous tourists.
A local captain and guide, Dao Dang Cong Trung, drove me and my friends in his two-engine speed boat from DHC Wharf on the east side of the Han River, below the three biggest bridges spanning the river, and arrived at Sung Co Beach.
“It’s a very new tourist spot for exploring rocks, pristine beaches and water off the coast of Son Tra Peninsula,” said Trung, 36. “Sung Co Beach, at the foot of Hai Van Mountain, is a focal point of our tour, where chefs prepare seafood lunches or dinners for those staying overnight.”
Our boat glided over waves for 10 minutes before anchoring on some rocks near the islet. The guide told us boats often docked far away to avoid coral reefs near the coast.
We splashed down into the water to snorkel around and watch colourful fishes among the coral reefs.
Trung took a javelin and a knife to show us how to hunt for fish, snails and sea urchins for a barbeque lunch party later.
“Hold your breath, and look for fish through your goggles. Shoot with accuracy and you’ll get your lunch,” Trung tipped. “Be careful of sea urchins. If one of them stings you it’ll shock you and you’ll need slaked lime to ease the pain and get the urchin’s spiny tip out of your finger.”
He said urchin could be used for sashimi or grilled on a charcoal stove for a quick meal.
“It was very hard for me when I had to hold my breath to dive 2m deep to hunt the fish. I just picked up some snails, which move more slowly,” said Vu Ngoc Long, a tourist in Da Nang.
“However, I enjoyed seeing the coral reefs and the little fish that swam through them.
“Swimming in the water felt very safe because the waves weren’t too strong and it was so sunny. I could climb up onto the rocks to sunbathe, though I had some trouble with the shipworms on the rocks.”
Coral reefs and rocks in the 2m deep water around the islet is home to fishes, urchins, squids, and a favourite site for snorkeling.
The guide finished his 30-minute hunt, having caught fish, urchin and snails for lunch.
We returned to Sung Co Beach after two hours swimming and snorkeling on the rocky islet.
Feast at the beach
The tour organisers and tourists sat together for a barbeque party on the beach.
We sat on big wooden slabs, which could be used for eating lunch or sleeping at night. Tourists can also book tents to sleep on the beach. Visitors could also stay in rooms near the beach, but there were only two.
Having swam for hours, the tourists were starving, smelling all the food grilling. The first dish, tiger prawns, was finished very quickly.The chef grilled fresh pork chops, tiger prawns, fish, urchins and snails on a charcoal stove. He also reserved some urchins sashimi-style.
Trung said the islet limited how many tourists could visit the area, because it wanted to preserve the environment. Too much fishing or too many crowds could harm the ecosystem.
“I really found the islet a tranquil place to leave my stress and the noisy downtown behind,” said Tran Quach Bao Tran, a traveller. “Only sun and sand. I swam almost all day at Ngoc Islet and Sung Co Beach.”
The guide said tourists could trek from the beach to Hai Van Pass, but the path crossed a railroad.
Our team took a rest before swimming again and being taken onboard the boat.
It’s a bit difficult for us when Trung warned us a whirlwind coming.
Trung warned us a whirlwind was coming. And true to his word, big waves rocked our two speed boats, slowing them down and splashing us endlessly. But we made it back to the Han estuary safe and sound.
“We get whirlwinds sometimes during heat waves, but they blow over quickly,” Trung said.
He said the tour group has six speed boats to carry visitors to the islet, with options during the day and at night.
A package tour to the islet costs between VND550,000 and VND750,000 for one night.