Legends of pirates and buried treasure lure tourists to Southwest archipelago

Legends of pirates and buried treasure lure tourists to Southwest archipelago
Border landmark: Visitors at the border marker between Viet Nam and Cambodia on Doc Island in the "Pirate" Archipelago.

KIEN GIANG - The sun lit up To Chau Mountain and the Dong Ho River, shining through my hotel window in Ha Tien township in the southwestern province of Kien Giang.

As I awoke in my room, I could see the harbour on the other side of the river, where I would soon take a journey to an island in the Hai Tac (Pirate) Archipelago.

The distance from the mainland to the island was only about 30km, but when we boarded the boat later that morning, we discovered that it would take more than one hour to reach Tre Lon Island in the archipelago, which contains a total of 14 islands where 2,000 people live.

Because of the beautiful views and landscape, some people call it "Ha Long Bay of the South". On the way, we could see boats and rafts used by local islanders to raise fish.

Of our group of 40, several people had never visited the islands, and we were eager to hear about the rumours of pirates who had once lived in the area.

Our boat berthed at the harbour of Tre Lon Island, also called Doc Island, where most of the residents live. The rain had stopped and it was a peaceful morning on the island, not much different from a village on the mainland. There were schools and a healthcare centre.

We left the harbour and took a brisk walk on the ring road to reach the border marker erected in 1958 by the US-backed Sai Gon administration, which marks the boundary with Cambodia.

Even though several decades had passed, writing on the border pole could clearly be seen.

The archipelago is attractive not only because of its beautiful landscapes and untouched nature, but because of stories related to pirates and treasures buried on the islands.

According to local people, the area was notorious for pirates, especially during the period when Viet Nam was colonised by the French.

They were once the "hunting grounds" and "headquarters" of pirates from various countries in the region, the story goes.

The pirates allegedly owned a boat called the Canh Buom Den (Black Sail), on which they hung a broom, implying that they would sweep away all boats in their way.

The stories about the islands include rumours about a hidden treasure on Doc Island.

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