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.
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).
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.
More details of Ông Trần and Long Son can be found here:
And there are more photos on my Flickr page