Located in Binh Thuan province (Southern Vietnam), visitors can opt to set a course for Cu Lao Cau from either: Phuoc, Lien Huong or Ca Na (you can reach these ports from HCMC via bus, taxi, train, car or motorbike). Since there is no proper “docking” on the island, commuter boats anchor nearby as adventurers are loaded into coracles—small, round fishing boats, popular amongst Vietnamese seafarers for ages (there is more information about getting to the island later in this article).
Cu Lao Cau is a trekker’s delight, a snorkeler’s paradise. Sandy white beaches, crystal clear waters, limestone rocks of many hues and shapes and inspiring caves to explore. There is also a massive coral reef with hundreds of coral varieties. Bottom-line: while Cu Lao Cau may not be for everybody, intrepid travelers will find it a fascinating, nature lovers wonderland.
The island offers plenty of beaches and at low-tide the shore is awash in exposed seashells—a kaleidoscope of color. And you’ll note, that as the sun changes position in the sky, the island’s tones change right along with it, providing mystifying visuals.
The island has electricity from solar energy only, no hotels (you can pitch a tent), and only a single fresh-water well, named Gia Long Well. There are tours (fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, hiking) and even a couple of eateries (if you aren’t into cooking your own fresh catch). Cu Lao Cau is most certainly a place for roughing it, for enthusiasts who wish to get back to nature. Day trips are advisable, though the adventurous can campout overnight.
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The island is also home to an annual primitive celebration, well worth considering. Each year, during April’s full moon, fishermen gather at the sacred temple of the Nam Hai god. Here, the people pray to “Ong Fish” (the God of their seas), for calm waters, a bounty of fish and the safety of the sailors. This festival truly celebrates the spiritual life of the sea. If you can’t make the festival, the temple is well-worth experiencing.
There’s also the opportunity to enroll in a program which trains visitors in sea turtle rescue skills. Cu Lao Cau takes the protection of this endangered species quite seriously (as they do the entire ecosystem of their precious island). This is an opportunity for visitors to have an interactive experience with the island’s people and its wildlife.
Visitors can feast on seafood, as Cu Lao Cau serves up myriad fresh-catch, as well as their own signature dishes. One of the most unique is a mollusk called: “Ốc Vú Nàng (Cellana)” Obviously, not shaped like the traditional snail, this delicacy is used in quite a few dishes. There are only a few places in all of Vietnam (or the world, for that matter) where this snail is found.
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Moon Crab is an off-the-beaten-path crustacean. It’s not common and is difficult to catch, but it’s an island staple. Cui So is another specialty. This scallop dish is prepared with crushed peanuts and special island seasonings. Grilled oysters are popular (actually many of the dishes are prepared barbeque-pit style). The delectables are decidedly diverse and all come fresh from the surrounding waters. Visitors are also encouraged to fish for their own food. Fishing gear and bait are readily available.
It’s important to know that Cu Lao Cau is not a year-round getaway. Obviously, weather conditions play a big role in the island’s accessibility. February through July is the optimum window for visiting—the weather is ideal, the surf pandering and island activities are in full-swing. Pass by in mid-May to enjoy the Nam Hai God Festival.
To access the island, you’ll need to travel from Ho Chi Minh City to the Binh Thuan province. From HCMC multiple forms of transportation can get you to one of the three access points.
Ca Na Fishing Port: It takes a little over an hour via boat to get from the port to Cu Lao Cau Island.
Lien Huong Wharf: Fishing boats, canoes or speedboats are the means of transport from here. Departures originate from the Marine Conservation Center (well worth a gander). The trip takes about forty-five minutes.
Phuoc The Fishing Port: Only thirty-minutes out, fishing boats are at the ready to take you to the Island paradise. The other option is to “stow-away” on one of the boats delivering food, water and supplies to the island.
Cu Lao Cau is an unspoiled paradise. Locals and the government have been keen to see to its protection and to maintain its natural integrity. Cu Lao Cau is truly the spot for nature-loving, adventurous travelers.