A biosphere reserve in the central Vietnam East Sea, Cham island should not be missed if you’ll be in the area. Islands with wild beauty, friendly citizens, and interesting underwater activities will mark a colorful page in your journey diary.
Cham island is a cluster of eight islands off the Hoi An coast, belonging to Tan Hiep Commune, Hoi An city, Quang Nam Province. From Cua Dai Beach of Hoi An city, you need to travel by boat for about 18 kilometers to reach the clusters of Cham island.
In Vietnamese, we call this cluster Cu Lao Cham. Cu Lao means an island built up by the deposits of soil and rocks from the river or the sea flows. People have inhabited Cham island for about 2,500 years. On Cham island, there are many artifacts proving the existence of the Cham civilization and the Vietnamese people in the past. You can easily encounter buildings that are hundreds of years old. Cham island possesses a large biodiverse area with many flora, fauna, and a rich marine ecology. In 2009, Cham Island Biosphere Reserve was recognized by UNESCO.
The eight islands of Cham island are: Hon Lao, Hon Dai, Hon Mo, Hon Kho Me, Hon Kho Con, Hon La, Hon Tai, and Hon Ong. Hon Lao is the main and the largest island, which also makes it the most populated and the most active. In Hon Lao, there are seven beaches:
- Bai Bac: the northern beach, lots of natural caves, not many people
- Bai Ong: next to the pier, many restaurants, very crowded during lunch time
- Bai Lang: not for swimming, but for fishing
- Bai Xep: deserted and tranquil
- Bai Chong: a beautiful beach, fee is 15 VND for swimming, can use fresh water and changing rooms
- Bai Bim: swimming is free, good place for taking photos
- Bai Huong: many boats and ships docking, delicious seafood
Cham island is recognized as the second marine park of Vietnam and is the incorporation between the Vietnamese Government and Danish Government (the first is in Nha Trang city, Khanh Hoa Province). The Cham Island Marine Park consists of eight islands and 5,175 hectares of water surface with 165 hectares of coral reef, and 500 hectares of seaweed and seagrass beds, in which hundreds of sea creatures reside.
Best Time to Visit
Located in the central Vietnam East Sea, Cham island is affected by the tropical monsoon climate, which means the best time to visit is from March to August. In March, the climate becomes humid but sunny, and the sea is tranquil, until August. In other months, it begins to rain heavily, the island is frequently attacked by storms.
You should notice these special occasions when you enjoy traditional festivals of the locals:
On the 14th and 15th of each lunar calendar month, Hoi An citizens light up the night with a tremendous amount of lanterns. Hoi An city at night becomes more wrinkled as the lanterns throw lights and colorful shades to add dimension to this already beautiful city.
Pro tip: The night of the 14th shimmers and shines more than the 15th because some lanterns are taken down the second day.
- Cau Ngu Festival on the third and the fourth of April in the lunar calendar honors the fishermen and the island citizens so they are protected and well fed by the sea.
- On the ninth and tenth of March in the lunar calendar, Cham island people celebrate the festival to show their gratefulness to the founder of the bird’s nest business for teaching them a local economy.
To reach Cham island, you first need to arrive in Hoi An city. However, Hoi An doesn’t have an airport within the city. Though Hoi An is in Quang Nam Province and there is an airport in Tam Ky City of Quang Nam, the nearest airport to Hoi An is in Da Nang city. We already have an article that details this thoroughly: how to get to Hoi An from Da Nang. It is very easy to travel to Da Nang Airport from Hanoi city, Ho Chi Minh City, or anywhere with an airport, because Da Nang is a big city, there’s always flights to Da Nang.
From Hoi An city, there are three ways to get to Cham island:
- Hire a private canoe: this is the fastest but most expensive way to go and it takes around 15 to 20 minutes to reach Cham island. From Cua Dai Pier, Cua Dai Ward, Hoi An city, go to the ticket room and ask to hire a private canoe. You can go with your group of 25 to 35 people and freely visit the island on your own. Hence, the price is quite high, and it varies from eight to 12 million Vietnamese Dong depending on the size of the canoe.
- Buy a canoe ticket: You can also travel by canoe, but you have to go with others. There are many tourist companies who sell tickets to reach Cham island. Just go to the ticket room of Cua Dai Pier and you can choose a company. This method doesn’t let you freely travel, because you must follow the route of the company. The price is around 300,000 VND.
- Traveling by wooden boat: This boat is called tau cho, which means boat to the market. Buy the ticket of about 50,000 VND at Cua Dai Pier, the boat leaves at 8 AM. This big wooden boat takes more than 90 minutes to reach Cham island, which means you will arrive at about 10 AM. At 11 AM, the boat will turn back to Hoi An city. Each day, there is only one boat traveling, so if you choose this option, you have to stay at least one night on Cham island.
Once you step foot on Cham island, you can hire a motorbike to get around. Mostly in any hostel and homestay, you can find motorbikes for rent with the price of around 200,000 VND per day. The roads in Cham island are very steep and narrow, if you don’t know how to ride a motorbike well, do not try, for safety’s sake!
Cham island doesn’t have any resorts or five-star hotels. The main accommodation options here are hostels and homestays. This just goes to show that Cham island hasn’t been exploited for tourism, it still retains its untouched beauty. The price varies from around 50,000 to 100,000 VND per person, or 150,000 to 200,000 VND per double room.
I recommend these accommodations:
- Address: Bai Lang Market, Cu Lao Cham, Hoi An
- Link Booking: Agoda
Tam Hien’s Homestay
- Address: Bai Ong Beach, Cham island
- Contact: (+84) 120 618 3516
Bich Van’s Homestay
- Address: Ong Beach (Bai Ong), Cham island
- Contact: (+84) 169 500 7779
Huynh Van Tri’s Homestay
- Address: Lang Beach (Bai Lang), Cham island
- Contact: (+84) 974 994 189
Thu Trang’s Homestay
- Address: Lang Beach (Bai Lang), Cham island
- Contact: (+84) 985 237 941
- Address: Huong Beach (Bai Huong), Cham island
- Contact: (+84) 510 386 3822
- Address: Huong Beach (Bai Huong), Cham island
- Contact: (+84) 986 651 448
What to See
Cham Island Marine Museum
This museum is the first place you see once you set foot on Cham island. You will learn about the history of the island’s establishment, the traditions and customs of the locals, the festivals, and special sea creatures of this land.
Address: Ong Beach (Bai Ong), Cham island
Cham people’s Ancient Well
The Cham people dug this well about 200 years ago and it still provides fresh water. The architecture of this well is similar to other Cham wells in Hoi An city, which have a pipe shape, a surrounding square base, a square pillar marking each of the four corners, and annular arrangement of bricks. Though it’s been 200 years, this well has never been dry, even in the driest season, say the locals.
It is also named Xom Cam Well (the well of the forbidden village) because it is located in Xom Cam.
Address: Xom Cam Village, Cham island
Hai Tang Pagoda
Hai Tang Pagoda is used to worship the Buddha, Bodhisattva, local god, and sea god in order for the residents to practice Buddhism and pray for their safety and prosperity. It was first built in 1758, 200 meters away from its present location. Due to a destructive storm, in 1848 locals moved it, rebuilt it, and redecorated. Hai Tang Pagoda is at the foot of the west mountain of Hon Lao island, facing a small valley, the only paddy field of Cham island.
Legend has it that a ship carrying many wooden pillars from the north to the south of Vietnam stopped at Cham island but it couldn’t move anymore because of the strong storm. Then, a person entered Cham island to pray, and the God of the Sea told him that the wooden pillars should be used to construct a pagoda on this island. Thus, the crew and locals together built the pagoda and named it Hai Tang Pagoda. Hai means the sea, Tang means Tipitaka, the Buddhist holy books storing words of the Buddha. The name Hai Tang means this pagoda possesses the teaching of Buddha as much as the sea.
Address: Hon Lao Island, Cham island
Tan Hiep Market
Locals usually call this market Cu Lao Cham Market. It’s right next to the pier. You can buy seafood, wild animal meat, and souvenirs. Travelers often buy half-dried cuttlefish to bring back home. Because seafood is fished near the island, it’s very fresh and cheap.
Address: Cham Island Pier
Temple of Bird’s Nest Business Founders
This temple was constructed in the early 19th century to worship the founders of the bird’s nest business and to protect the god of this business. It also worships the gods of the sea, just like Hai Tang Pagoda.
Every year on the ninth and tenth of March in the lunar calendar, locals celebrate to pray for a new harvest of bird’s nest.
Address: Huong Beach (Bai Huong), Cham island
What to Do
Camping on Cham Island
In addition to hostels and homestays, you can go camping on your own to enjoy the wild environment of this island. I recommend going with a group of friends and being well-prepared before camping.
In Bai Ong and Bai Huong you can use the services offered by locals. Otherwise, Bai Bim and Bai Xep are the best choices for those travelers who love enjoying open spaces and wild nature.
You don’t have to know how to swim or dive to take a sea trekking tour! All you need to do is wear a functional hat and walk to the sea. Sea Trek Vietnam offers this service. This service is for people ages eight to 80. You also don’t have to practice before walking five meters under water. The beauty of schools of fish and the coral reefs will surprise you immediately.
Sea Trek Vietnam
- Address: 160A Nguyen Duy Hieu Street, Hoi An city (you have to contact them before going to Cham island.)
- Contact: (+84) 905 958 528 or (+84) 979 637 651
Snorkeling gives you the chance to observe the colorful coral reefs of Cham Island Biosphere Reserve. Most of the tours to Cham island offer snorkeling, but you can also go by yourself easily. At the island pier, you can buy a ticket to go snorkeling with full equipment and also a guide. The price is about 200,000 VND.
Every year, more and more people visit to go snorkeling and destroy the coral reefs, diminishing the biodiversity of Cham island. Therefore, you should not do any harm to the coral reefs and refrain from touching the beautiful corals to protect the biodiversity. In fact, this is also against the law!
Getting around on boat
As I mentioned above, Hon Lao is the main island of the Cham cluster, in which almost all activities happen. Around Hon Lao, the other seven islands are just as beautiful as Hon Lao. To travel from Hon Lao to other islands, you need to hire a boat. Normally, a boat can carry up to ten people and the owner will drive you to visit Hon Ba, Dao Yen (salangane island), and Bai Bim.
I already mentioned the seven beaches of Hon Lao island and each beach’s characteristics. In a nutshell, you can enjoy the sea water in Bai Xep, Bai Chong, and Bai Bim. All of them are approximately 20 meters wide, and 100 to 300 meters long. You can comfortably immerse yourself in the immensity of the sea and have fun with the cool sea water.
I hope this article will help you discover the wild beauty of Cham island. I wish you an interesting time of exploring the sea and all it has to offer!
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