Ô Loan Lagoon has much more to offer tourists than its well-known delicious seafood and wonderful scenes at sunrise and sunset. It has another “specialty”: the generosity of its people.
The hotel receptionist in Tuy Hòa City of Phú Yên Province told me that the best time to visit Ô Loan Lagoon was about 5 am, when the sun rises and local residents go fishing, an ideal moment to capture landscape photos. He added that besides, Ô Loan has nothing more for tourists. Just a lagoon where locals breed seafood. But he was wrong.
Heavy rain in the early morning prevented us from starting our journey as early as we had expected to contemplate wonderful scenes at sun rise. After driving 20 kms from Tuy Hòa centre, braving rain and wind, we arrived at Ô Loan Lagoon at 9. No sun rise but a picturesque scene of this immense brackish water lagoon surrounded by yellow rice paddies and small hills.
Seen from Quán Cau Pass, the 1,200ha lagoon looks like a phoenix spreading its wings. Given its beautiful landscape, Ô Loan Lagoon has inspired many poets and was recognised as a national beauty spot in 1996.
We passed through small roads lined with little houses nestled in groves of coconut trees, and approached the lagoon. We saw beautifully-shaped wooden fishing boats bobbing on the water, swayed by a gentle wind.
Excited to immortalise this visit, my friend quickly tried to jump into one of the boats and asked me to take a picture of her. Not a good idea. The boat was so light that it almost tipped over. My friend lost her balance and screamed that she didn’t know how to swim.
We were embarrassed but then we heard a man laughing behind us and asking us where we are from. He was preparing to go out to fish and we asked whether we could go out on his boat for a short time to explore the lagoon. He agreed with a smile.
Nguyễn Văn Châu has fished at this lagoon over the last 20 years and is an excellent boatman. He kept the boat evenly balanced with three people on board during our 30-minute journey. It was such a great feeling being in the middle of the water.
Châu spread his net and quickly pulled up a basket of fish. Some naughty ones even jumped out of the water. “Sometimes, fish even jump into my boat,” Chau said, laughing.
Like other local residents of Đá Village in An Cư Commune, Châu lives on fishing and farm work. Life is not always easy as he has three little children. But he has never wanted to leave this region where he was born.
Lunch with locals
Lunchtime arrived, and he invited us to enjoy the fish he had caught. This local dish of grilled fish was delicious, with a very agreeable scent and sweet taste. “Next time, you should try tasting seafood here like oyster and blood cockle. They are very tasty and are local specialities,” Châu said proudly as he showed us a group of women sitting next to his house separating oysters from the fishing net.
It is said that many feudal mandarins came to this lagoon to enjoy its scenery and shellfish dishes whenever they arrived in central Phú Yên Province. Deeply touched by his generosity, we proposed to pay him for the boat tour and the lunch, but Châu refused. “Send me the photos of me and of my children that you took, it will make us happy,” he said.
Our hotel receptionist may think that when traveling, I am only looking for gorgeous landscapes and comfort. But what deeply allure me often is the simple beauty and the kindness of people who welcome me. Sure, I’ll send Châu the photos as promised. And I’ll tell him that I’ll come back.
And if you come here one day, try not to miss the seafood, jump into a boat to cruise the lagoon, and chat with local people.