Hai Tac or the Pirate Island can be described as follows: An archipelago of 16 islands inhabited by pirates till the 1990s. Hidden away gold is claimed to be buried around the island and several seekers come every year to try their luck. As a traveller it’s an island where no one speaks English, no electricity after 11pm, mobile network believes in Murphy’s Law, Wi-Fi is considered to be a farang with a backpack and unless you can digest quintessential Vietnamese Sea Food, hammocks to rest in and mosquitoes to fight. If you are still interested, welcome aboard traveller.
You are about to gain knowledge of an island unknown to most. Locals don’t care about it. Tourists don’t know about it. Travellers don’t bother going so far out. Not when Ho Chin Minh City is a night bus away.
I am drunk and high. Drunk on some locally manufactured whiskey stored in a Johnny Walker Red Label bottle offered to me by locals. High on the magnificence that is Hai Tac (Pirate Island).
The Journey To Pirate Island (Hai Tac)
The island is some 432gut-wrenching-kms away from the Vietnam mainland. You take a wooden ferry from Ha Tien’s harbour. The Ferry built in times prior to emergence of the concept of tourism. The ferry is green coloured, much like the undigested over food you will sprouting half way through your journey. As the water churns, so will your stomach. You will see someone else puke their intestines out and think
Ha. Puny beings. I had experiences far more crazy than a boat ride. I skydived from the moon without a chute and landed softly on my elbows which thank me for the experience. I ain’t puking tonight mofos.
I didn’t have any undigested food in me. Yet my journey to Nihilism was only a few minutes long. But you must endure this. For the sake of the flying Spaghetti Monster, you must visit this island not visited by most.
Don’t expect fancy washrooms at your disposal. Don’t expect makeshift wash-basins. Don’t expect paper bags to deposit your miserable self into. Plain old poly bags will come to aid. Once done, throw them right out into the sea, for some octopus to get entangled into; just another day at work for them.
Once you’ve emptied your guts in the sea, look forward to a nap. The sea lulls you into sleep; it knows your stomach can’t take more Let a few groans escape your lips as you cuddle your tummy and curse yourself for listening to a blogger online and taking this arduous journey.
The harbour should be close by now. Do a few countdowns from 100. Feel free to start again. As the ferry docks itself, muster courage to stand up, readying yourself for a crazy head spin.
As I got down, the beauty of the island escaped me. I was far too overwhelmed with the stress of where I would stay, what I would eat, how I would converse – Did I mention no one speaks English here? I must have also forgotten to mention that nobody, atleast not a foreigner, spends the night here. Not even electricity. It goes back to mainland at 11pm, only to make its way back a bit after sunrise.
Why must anyone wish to visit an island with such a grim outlook? Because it’s worth this, and more. The images don’t do justice.
What To Do At Hai Tac
A better part of my evening was spent with some local men who stopped my scooty. A better part of that meet went in understanding what they meant when they gestured at me three fingers on one hand and two on the other hand. Five men gestured five different combinations and pointed at me to make a similar gesture. We gave up and they offered me Guava and a locally brewed alcoholic drink. Their families were inside chatting and all men were catering to a foreigner (read me).
After a good amount of liquor and ample servings of guava I excused myself. Got on my scooty and took the only road the island offers. A circular road around a circular island providing a view of a never ending water filled horizon. Initially I was concerned about losing my way but except a lighthouse there’s not much on the island. The lighthouse also falls on the sole road so losing way was out of the question.
In the evening some univeristy students from Saigon who had come to the island for a night out invited me for dinner which they had cooked themselves. We had shrimps, noodles, rice and gulped it down with beer.
One entire round takes 7kms of riding and I did it 15 times. At some places you’d get to see tightly fit hammocks by the sea side, empty ports with fantastic views of the setting sun and ships far off in the distance.
There’s a lake at the centre of the island which is accessible if you trek a bit. The way is slush filled and the lake is crystal clear. Surrounded by tall trees and no other human, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic.
The island is so untouched that locals look at travellers with awe and invite them in. It is for this local Vietnamese experience that I fell for Hai Tac. There aren’t temples or pagodas, resorts or infinite pools. There is however a secluded beach, untouched forests, friendly locals and a road with a view to die for.
Hammocks are omnipresent just like sea food. A lazy afternoon can easily turn into a lazy day thanks to the blue sea and cool winds.
The lighthouse is situated at a height and offers an impeccable view of the sunrise and sunrise. Barely a couple of people work at the lighthouse so crickets and sea are the only things you’d hear.
Come to Hai Tac not for a place but to be transported back in time.
Where to Stay
There are not a lot of options. A cheap hammock can be rented for the night if super tight on budget or if you feel like sleeping by the sea is a must have experince. Homestays are the best (and only) option.
I stayed at Ngoc Nhanh. It’s a room inside a home with a bed and a mattress on the floor. You get the entire room. T: (0127) 4206 490; (098) 574 445. I paid $4 for my homestay and $5 for a scooty (fuel included). Accommodation is not a problem there if all you need is a bed to sleep.
How to Reach
From Ho Chi Minh: Reach Ha Tien (famous for the land border crossing to Cambodia).
From Phu Quoc: Take Ferry or Superdong to Ha Tien.
From Ha Tien the First ferry departs at 8:30 in the morning and makes its way back by returns by 3:30pm. Second ferry departs at 2:30pm, returns at 9:30am the following day. One-way ticket costs 40,000 dong, a motorbike 30,000 dong. The fare is collected on board or a ticket can alternatively be bought at the shop opposite the dock for the Hai Tac Ferry dock (adjacent to Superdong’s dock).
My Entire Vietnam Journey