A simple life on an island

A forty-minute motorbike ride from Vung Tau brings you to Long Son island, a world away from the busy seaside city.

Among the salt fields, oyster and shrimp farms, you will see buffalo and goats being shepherded and egrets gliding over rice fields. Schoolchildren on bicycles wave and call as you pass by, and old men tending family graves pause, look up and catch your eye.

It’s a fitting place for a simple religion whose founder’s only message was to live peacefully in harmony with nature, take only enough to survive, and help those less-fortunate. The idea was “not to become Gods but become humans”.

There are no holy manuscripts, no prayers, no superstitions and no idols.

Le Van Muu, or “Ông Trần” as he became known, settled here in 1900. He was a Daoist and well-known healer, and people he had cured were only too eager to follow him.

The island was remote and wild, and he established a commune which was built from 1909 – 1929 and became known as  The Big House (Nhà Lớn). It contained a market, school, guesthouses, kitchens and graveyard and the main complex was built using traditional materials and according to Feng Shui  principles in order to bring all who visited feelings of peace and harmony.wooden shutters & Chinese script

Everyone who took refuge on the island were given shelter, and also tools to make rice or salt fields. A portion of their produce was given to the Big House to help others and to pay taxes, and boats were used to transport rice to poorer parts of Southern Vietnam.

More and more people moved to the island, both to make a living and to learn more about the curious blend of Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism & Humanism of Ông Trần.

There are still many followers living on Long Son  – they gather in the Big House every day, dressed in their traditional black costumes, bare-footed  and wearing their hair in buns (even the men).

Vietnamese man eating a baguette

They believe everyone is equal in death, so there are no fancy funerals held on the island: all corpses are buried not in a coffin but covered by a simple cloth – and coffins for the journey to the grave can be borrowed from The Big House.

The hospitality, friendliness and serenity found on the island is something to be treasured. Since Ông Trần’s death in 1935 it has become almost a place of pilgrimage, and is growing in popularity among tourists who are seeking a little more than just sun and sea.

A follower of Ông Trần

More details of Ông Trần and Long Son can be found here:



And there are more photos on my Flickr page

The shining levels

Trees and mist

The Celts, who knew and loved natural beauty, sang of a land of breath-taking loveliness where souls go after they have left the mortal body. A land where everything is fair, and there is no unhappiness, and no-one ever grows old. Only the dead may see it, but it is just possible – just possible – for it to be seen by some mortals. Perhaps some spirit may lead them there. And provided they are content to gaze and take nothing from it, they can return to mortality, to try to tell what is beyond all telling.

Go up into the fells early on a fine autumn morning and you can be one of the fortunates. Climb above the grey mists and onto the sunlit slopes and look down. The mist now lies like a great golden sea. Then wait. The veil dissolves and the colours begin to filter through. Then at some mysterious bidding, the mists clear; and it is there below you, the radiant steeps tumbling down to the incandescent plain and the shining levels of water. . . . . So beautiful that the mortal eye cannot take it all in. So beautiful that the greatest poet that ever lived could never capture one fragment of it. It would flow away through the gaps and holes and mesh of mere words like water through a net.

Stay and look. Be still. Let there be no conversation. No sound to spoil the muted music which you will surely hear. Let there be no selfish thought. No thought of yesterday or tomorrow, or the last instant or the next. Live in this moment. Rest easy in it. For you will be the fortunate; glimpsing immortality.

John Wyatt – The Shining Levels

A pre-dawn start, two hour drive, and a short steep early morning hike through grey mist. But all worth it to get this view from the top of Loughrigg Fell near Grasmere.

Naked tree

Tree silhouetted against a cloudy sunset

Have you ever noticed a tree standing naked against the sky, how beautiful it is? All its branches are outlined, and in its nakedness there is a poem, there is a song. Every leaf is gone and it is waiting for the spring. When the spring comes it again fills the tree with the music of many leaves, which in due season fall and are blown away. And that is the way of life. 

Jiddu Krishnamurti: Think on these things