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A Travel Guide to Cham Islands, Hoi An

Cham Islands

If you look for a twinkle in someone’s eyes when they describe their favorite destination in Vietnam, Hoi An is probably among one of their first picks. But don’t you know Cham Islands or Cu Lao Cham is also worth a visit while you are around the Central Vietnam?

Cham Islands is located 15km away to the East of Cua Dai Beach, Hoi An and has been recognized as the World Biosphere Reverse (Cu Lao Cham Marine Park) by UNESCO. It is one of the most beautiful hidden gems in Vietnam that is famous for its beautiful beaches with crystal clear water, protected marine habitats, tasty seafood and hospitable locals. There are artifacts that prove the existence of the Cham civilization and Vietnamese people a long time ago. Cham Islands consist of eight granite islands including Hon Lao, Hon Dai, Hon Mo, Hon Kho Me, Hon Kho Con, Hon La, Hon Tai and Hon Ong.

Must-see attractions

The main and only inhabited island is Hon Lao with two main towns are Bai Lang and Bai Huong villages. Bai Lang has the island’s main port, restaurants, homestays, shops and Bai Ong Beach.  To the southeast of the main port is Bai Huong, a small fishing village where you easily see familiar scenes of local fisherman repairing their fishing nets or boats. In addition, you can visit historical landmarks and viewpoints around Hon Lao Island.

• Cham Island Marine Museum
You can visit the museum for an introduction to history, culture, customs as well as the special creatures of the islands.
Address: Ong Beach (Bai Ong), Cham Island

• Tan Hiep Market
Also called Cham Island Market, it is the main market on the island that sells fresh and cheap seafood and souvenirs. Dried seafood is also favorable and purchased as a local specialty to bring home and gift for friends and family.

Address: Cham Island Pier

• Temple of Bird’s Nest
The temple was built in the early 19th century to worship the business of bird’s nest and its protective gods. Harvesting swallow bird nests is one of the main local economies, which bring locals a good income.  On the 10th of March lunar calendar annually, the locals come here to pray for a better harvest year.

Address: Huong Beach (Bai Huong), Cham Island

• Hai Tang Pagoda

The pagoda was built in 1758 at the foot of a mountain western Hon Lao Island. The locals usually come here to practice Buddhism and pray for their safety and prosperity.

Address: Hon Lao Island, Cham Island

• Cham’s people Ancient Well

It’s located not too far from Hai Tang Pagoda. The old well is said to be dug by the Cham people from 200 years ago but still supply freshwater for many residents nowadays.

Address: Xom Cam Village, Cham Island

Things to do in Cham Islands

Thanks to its plentiful white sand, turquoise water and diverse marine life, you will have the opportunity to admire the unspoiled beautiful sea, experience water sports such as snorkeling, diving and fishing. Also, if you are into learning about the locals, you can stroll through the fishing villages, simply say hello to friendly villagers and watch their daily life. 

•  Swimming
Visitors to Cham Islands will enjoy swimming at the pristine beaches such as Bai Chong, Bai Xep and Bai Bim. These beaches are nice and water is cool to swim in. View of mountains and beaches surrounding also a plus for photography.

•  Snorkeling

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Cham island is the best place for snorkeling in Hoi An. You will definitely want to take this chance to observe the attractive coral reefs and sea creatures while exploring the islands. Most of the day tours include this activity with a guide and equipment.

• Diving

The islands offer 10 unique dive sites with each site featuring countless sea creatures such as clownfish, lionfish, barracuda, shellfish, corals, etc. The shallow dive sites from 6 to 30 meters are suitable for experienced divers as well as beginners. Local dive shops also offer a variety of training courses for all levels.

•  Sea Trekking

This activity is designed for everyone even if you can’t swim. You will be equipped with a functional helmet which makes your walking underwater possible. You can observe hundreds of species of fish and colorful corals through the hat transparent shield.

• Camping

Camping on the beach is never an old idea especially on peaceful beaches where you can immerse yourself in nature, enjoy the fresh air and feel the gentle breeze. What more is that you can contemplate a starry sky at night and welcome the first sunlight of the day. Bai Ong and Bai Huong are great options for your camping trip where locals will provide you necessary camping tools. Bai Xep and Bai Bim with open space and wild nature but you have to prepare facilities on your own.

• Riding around

Besides the attractive beaches, Cham Islands mainland is also scenic along the way. You can rent a motorbike and ride around by yourself if you are confident enough with your riding skill. However, the narrow road on the island is quite dangerous; you can book a bike with a rider guide to accompany your trip exploring the dry land.

Best time to visit Cham Islands

Summer months from May to September are the best time to visit Cham Islands as this is the dry season, the sea is calmer, which is suitable for sightseeing and  water sports. However, this is high season for tourism, you will expect to join with crowded groups of other tourists.

From December to August, the area is pretty quiet as the sea is rough, which is inconvenient and dangerous for transport; therefore, visiting the islands during this time is limited.

Your trip is more memorable if you combine it with a visit to Hoi An on the 14th and 15th of lunar calendar month when the moon is full and Hoi An ancient town lights up the night with colorful lanterns, which create magnificent scenery.

» See more on A Traveler’s Guide to Weather and Climate in Vietnam

Best way to get to Cham Islands 

If you stay in Da Nang, first you should come to Hoi An. There are public buses, taxis, motorbikes which are easy to arrange. From Hoi An to Cham Islands, you can only travel by boat; however, there are multiple options for you to choose from.

• Public Ferry

This is a wooden vessel used for both locals and tourists with lots of spaces for goods as well. The ferry departs around 7:30 am from An Hoi Pier and  8:30 am from Cua Dai Pier. The journey takes around 2 hours to arrive at Cham Islands so if you only have one day to visit the islands, this is not a good choice.

• Speedboat

This is the fastest way to reach the islands within 20-30 minutes. You can book directly with the captains at Cua Dai Pier or through hotel or travel agents. You can arrange your return by travel agents on  Bai Lang. The price is different depending on time and boat size. Remember to check in advance to plan your trip accordingly.

• Private Boat
If you travel with a group and prefer a customised trip with a flexible schedule, you can book a private boat. For this option time and price can be negotiated so you can check with several agents to make the best choice.

• Organised Tours

Tour operators in Hoi An offer daily tours and multi-day tours to Cham Islands including different activities such as visiting beaches, snorkeling, diving, overnight stay. If you like to have everything planned in advance, this is a suitable option.

» See more on Getting around Vietnam: Easy Ways to Travel within Vietnam 

Where to stay in Cham Islands

Although you can’t find luxury resorts on the islands, there are nice guesthouses and homestays at Hon Lao Island with standard facilities priced from 5 USD/person to 26 USD/room. 

Recommended accommodations:

  • Tam Hien’s Homestay – Bai Ong, Cham Island
  • Bich Van’s Homestay – Bai Ong, Cham Island
  • Lan’s Homestay – Bai Huong, Cham Island
  • Thu Trang’s Homestay – Bai Lang, Cham Island
  • Hiep’s Homestay – Bai Huong, Cham Island

If you like to experience something different, you can spend a night camping on the beach and relax in this cool atmosphere. 

» Know before you go

  • Bring your light coat, sunglasses, sun cream to protect you from the hot and sunny weather of central Vietnam.
  • You don’t want to miss the great shot of ocean life so an underwater camera must be ready in your bag.
  • Snorkel equipment is included in your tour, however, if you have your own mask just bring it with you so it fits perfectly.

© Maika Tours

Written by Tuyen Vo

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