Yen (swallow) Island in Nha Trang city is a secret to many people. The island is opened for only guards and workers who collect swallow nests.
The house of guards of Yen island.
There is a tour of Yen Island but visitors are only permitted to enter Hon Noi Island and from there, they can have a look at a swallow cave on near-by Hon Sam Island, where they can see tottery tents on mountain sides. These tents are the houses of guards.
The Khanh Hoa Bird’s Nest Company is harvesting bird’s nests on eight islands, namely Hon Ngoai, Hon Ho, Hon Cha La, Hon Dun, Hon Mun, Hon Ngoc and Hon Xa Cu. Hon Cha La and Hon Ngoai are the two remote islands, 27 miles from Nha Trang port.
These islands are home to around 500,000 swallows (Collocalia Fuciphaga Germani). Annually, workers come to these sites to collect bird’s nests twice. A kilo of bird’s nest is priced at VND60 million ($3,530), so bird’s nest is called “white gold”. These islands, therefore, need to be protected the whole year.
During the bird’s nest harvesting season, hundreds of guards are sent to the islands to ward off thieves. Guards have to live on islands so they must love their job, be willing to live far from home and have good health.
There is no fresh water or vegetables on the islands of swallows. Food, vegetables and water, thus are transported from the mainland. Excluding some small islands and Hon Noi, other islands don’t have mobile phone services. Communication is maintained thanks to radiotelegraphic systems.
The life on far islands is boring because there is no TV or newspapers. On near islands, guards are equipped with power, TV and books. Fishing becomes their favourite hobby during the day and when the sun goes down, they start their job.
Guards live in small tottery tents on mountain slopes, which are shaken by strong wind. Guards have to tie their legs to house columns to prevent themselves from falling into the sea at night.
A senior guard named Vo Van Cam said most guards on swallow islands are citizens of Vinh Truong commune and do this job from generation to generation. Strictly obeying the rules, loving the sea has become their major virtue.