The purple islands seen from An Bang or Cua Dai beaches are the Cham Islands. It’s one of the kind in the region where God bless it with fabulous beautiful coral reefs with a diversity of marine life. In 2009, the government announced it as a national marine park, and ten years later, the Unesco approved adding it to the World Biosphere Reserve list. No surprise, this is one of the places that must be visited once in the lifetime for local snorkelers and divers. If lucky, you may make history when discovering a shipwreck with plenty of luxury porcelains. On the ground, sandy beaches with sunbeds under the coconut palms, historical sites and an authentic lifestyle of the islanders, definitely await visitors to come and explore. The best seafood dishes in Hoi An are sold along small roads in fisherman hamlets nearby.
This ultimate travel guide provides everything you need to know about Cham Island in Hoi An. All necessary information is outlined, for guided and self-guided travelers, and for every time of the year. Because the island is really nice to stay back, relax and discover, we made our own guide for Cham Island accommodation. It aims to inform the best villages, friendly host to lodge and what to see, do and eat for stayers. One of the most wonderful things is being away from crowds.
- Hoi An Old Town Travel Guide
- Beaches in Hoi An
- An Bang Beach Guide
- Cua Dai Beach
About Cham Island in Hoi An
What is Cham Island?
Cham Island (or Cu Lao Cham, Hon Lao) is the largest island of the Cham Islands, 16 km off the coast of Hoi An. It has an area of 15km2 and is home to 3,000 people who mainly live around the main harbour. Its coast is long, housing sandy beaches on the west side and rock cliffs with bird nest caves on the other. From the shore to the top of mountains, many rare animals are alive under the canopy of nearly primitive forests. Recently-built contour roads allow visitors to tour around and enjoy awe-inspiring viewpoints. Underwater world of the Cham Island is among the richest marine ecosystems in the country. In sunny months, there are more than 2,500 visitors coming to explore its gorgeous coral reefs and diversity of species. Interestingly, Hoi An’s signature noodle dish Cao lau can’t be authentic without wood ash from here.
*The Cham Islands comprises 8 islands and each has its own distinctions. There are Hon Lao (largest), Hon Tai (Ear island), Hon La (Leaf island), Hon Kho Me (Dry island “the mother”), Hon Kho Con (Dry island “the children”), Hon Mo (Tomb island), Hon Ong (Grandfather island).
Names of Cham Island
Cham Island simply means “the island of the Chams” because the people lived in it over centuries, before the Vietnamese arrived in 15th century. Chinese merchants mentioned “Chiem Bat Lao” in their diaries abroad. European geographers tagged Pulociam, Pulaocham or Polochiam Pello on their map after a trip around the world. At the present, the islands are called “Tan Hiep commune”. It was separated from the mainland on 25th July 1978 on the basis of Tan Hiep village that was established in 17th century. Above all, Cu Lao Cham is most popular. “Cu Lao” means island, is how Viet people spelled wrong a Cham’s word, Pulau. This phrase is only used in Central Vietnam and southwards.
Cu Lao Cham Marine Park
On October 2003, Cu Lao Cham Marine Park was established to preserve the richess of coastal and underwater biodiversity in the Cham Islands. All islands of the archipelago and surrounding waters are in its boundaries. In the latest survey, there are 1,309 marine species including nearly 300 coral, Red book and new species. These numbers make the park one of Vietnam’s hot spots. In 2009, the Unesco approved launching the Cu Lao Cham – Hoi An World Biosphere Reserve. Its designated zone is much larger than marine park’s, covering the entire administrative unit of Hoi An city. This international title aims to harmonious integration between people and nature for sustainable developments.
Local Culture in Cham Island
Cham Island is home to over 600 families with 3,000 inhabitants. Catching fish and producing fried seafood are the main earnings of the villagers traditionally. Therefore, villagers really believe in Buddha, worship the whale (God of the Sea) and have many childrens. 45% of the population is women who are responsible for looking after childrens and weaving fishing nets by parasol trees. After the Unesco biosphere reserve title, tourism became another important source of income. Many households open their own business in organizing tours, restaurants, hotels and café. Staying in a family-run homestay is the best way to better understand local daily life and culture.
Cham Island is the place where Vietnamese harvest edible bird’s nests earliest in the history. The work began in 15th century. Visitors can see the harvestor’s ancestor temple in Bai Huong village and visit the festival on the 10th day of 3rd lunar month.
The first regulation all travelers need to know before visiting, is not bringing plastic bags to Cham Island. This decision was made since the area became a World Biosphere Reserve. Secondly, touching, picking or breaking the corals are prohibited. Life vest is a must while on board, for safety reasons and passengers can’t smoke to prevent fire. Use of the drone should be outside of (or far) military bases and government offices.
History of Cham Island
Bai Ong (beach) archaeological site reveals the earliest presence of people in Cham Island and entire Hoi An, 3,100 BC. Archaeologists discovered fishing tools made by stone, pottery and traces of fire-wood kitchen. They said that these relics were left by inhabitants of Sa Huynh culture. If would like to know more about it, there is a museum within the Old town theme in it (near Japanese Bridge).
Questions about when the Chams came and how long they lived on the Island are still not clear yet. The strongest proof is the name of the archipelago, the Cham. Under the ground of the largest village today Bai Lang, archaeologists discovered artifacts related to the life of the people that dated back from 7th to 10th century. However, for them, the settlement time can be longer, from 2nd to 15th century.
During it, merchants from many countries in the world stopped here before going inland and trading in Champapura port (city of the Chams, currently Hoi An). Their main purposes were to buy food and freshwater. Arabian and Persian arrived first and found the right navigation to China later. Thanks to reuse by Viet people after being abandoned, Xom Cam well is the last standing remains from Cham’s period today. It features a circle mouth, stacked stone wall, ironwood and stone in the squared bottom. Water is still produced. Traces of a sophisticated irrigation network were seen in a close stream.
Hoi An Shipwreck
First Vietnamese families settled down on Cham Island in 16th century. For living, they planted rice in lowlands, catched fish and raised animals. Not long after their arrival, Hoi An town rose to become a major trading port in South-east Asia. It continued its leading role in maritime commerce till the early 19th century. Merchants from different continents came to it to seek silk, spices, prime porcelain and more. When moving across the sea near Cham Island, many boats crashed and sank.
In the 1990s, many high-quality pots were caught by local fisher’s nets and then they sold them in souvenir stores in the city center. More similar catches are seen shortly after, and a fever of antiquities occured. Knowing this, the police issued bans on the sale and researches soon were made on offshore waters of the Cham Island. Thanks to assistance from Oxford University and private enterprises, the first underwater excavation in history started.
From 1997 to 2000, 24,000 antiquities were carried ashore, including porcelain, ceramics, ironworks, stone sculptures and even human bones. Produced in kilns in North Vietnam by high techniques to export, all dated back from 15th and 16th centuries. Based on the teak wood, historians said that the boat was made in Thailand. Later, this huge collection was divided into smaller ones, and sent to large museums around the country. Visiting the Museum of Trade Ceramics if would like to see a portion.
Cham Island Weather & Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Cham Island is the dry season, from February to the end of August. In these months, bad weather (such as typhoons, rains) is the minimum that allows outdoor activities and transports to be arranged safely. It features lots of sun, clear sky and warm waters. All are ideal to sightsee historical buildings, have fun at the beach, photograph and start discoveries under the sea. Visitors should bring sun cream, sunglasses, swimsuit, phone cover and cash. The freshest and most diverse seafoods are also catched, just awaiting to savour. If liking to lodge and be away from noisy cities, some seaside hamlets (like Bai Huong) are perfect.
From September to January, rains occur frequently and a rain poncho is the item that visitors usually have to bring. Together with the cold winds blowing from the north, the temperature decreases significantly. Called by locals “the wet or rainy season”, but sunny days are still possible to hope for. Asking the advice from local tour operators is top tip this time, because they know best what’s going on. From October to December, the worst weather happens when typhoons hit the area one by one. Stormy sky, big waves and strong winds appear and therefore, tours to Cham Island are cancelled because very dangerous or impossible to get there.
Cham Island Entrance Fee and Ticket
Each visitor will pay 70,000 VND for entry to Cham Island. Moreover, an addition of 30,000 VND is also surcharged, to raise funds for activities towards conservation, sustainable development and local community. In guided tours, these fees are covered. If traveling by yourself, you need to come to counters in harbours.
Activities in Cham Island
Visiting Historical Places in Bai Lang
Near the main harbour, Bai Lang is the most populous village. Thanks to the best conditions for living in Cham Island, its history of human settlement is from 3,100 BC (the earliest ever known in Hoi An). Today, this area owns many historical sites and some of which are included in the guided day tours. From the coast, the Cham Island Museum is the first sight and then Xom Cam Well, the only Cham survival. Locals believe that if drinking tea made from tree leaves from nearby forest and water from here, the seasickness stops. The last attraction in the walking tour usually is 18th-century Hai Tang Temple. To build, fishers had to transport materials from the mainland. Interestingly, there are no Buddhist monks there. Around the village, self-guided visitors can find small Whale shrines, ancestor tombs or a large monastery next to Hai Tang temple.
Activities at Bai Ong Beach
A short boat ride or walk from Bai Lang, Bai Ong Beach houses most things to do in Cham Island’s coastline. This 500m-long stretch of fine sand is fringed by clear and shallow water, with safe swimming zones, floating playground and some water sports. About the adrenaline games, it’s possible to expect paragliding, jet skiing, banana boat, surfing and stand up paddle boarding. All are excluded in tour prices. Players may pay from 800,000 to 1 million VND for a 15-minutes ride if they like to fly with a parachute or skim across the waters. Rescuers are always at work around, to help swimmers in trouble.
In the back, there are folding beach chairs, hammocks under shaded coconut palms and rustic bamboo restaurants. Free fresh water is available here, to wash and take a shower after in the sea. Camping and bonfire party are often organized in Bai Ong by local visitors. Rental price of a tent ranges from 100,000 to 200,000 VND.
Cham Island Snorkeling
No visitors want to miss this fantastic underwater activity on their day trip to Cham Island. It’s an inclusion in guided tours but also easy to book for self-guided trippers. Lifevest, swimming skills and no heart or respiratory problems are requirements. In common, it ends before lunch and lasts from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the weather. After getting a swimsuit on, the boat will take snorkelers to legal coral reef spots inside the protection zone of the Cu Lao Cham Marine Park. There, just needing to wear the mask and jumping out, a rich and colorful world is shown before the eyes.
Cham Island offshore water is one of the most wealthy marine ecosystems in Vietnam. To discover more (and better) sites, travelers have to pay extra or book a tour specialized in snorkeling. The second option is available on the basis of one day or multiple days. Read our guide to Hoi An snorkeling for further details.
Visitors are not allowed to touch or pick up the corals, and smoke while being on board for safety reasons. Moreover, locals also advise to not swim near or stand on the oyster-covered rocks to minimize the injuries.
Cham Island Scuba Diving
Lots of visitors prefer snorkeling to diving in Cham Island day tours because it requires simpler skills and knowledge, and costs cheaper. Scuba diving gears and equipment are nearly always available in the boat but an announcement (booking) in advance should be made. If without, travelers need to let the guide know requirements soon, to arrange everything best possible. Remembering to make sense of the price before making the first discovery into Cham Island’s gorgeous coral gardens with an apparatus. However, local experts advise to buy a package in diving-specialized operators. Both day and multiple day trips are on offer. See the best time to dive in the year and the most reliable operators in our guide to Hoi An diving.
Cham Island Underwater Walking
There is only Sea Trek Vietnam organizing an underwater walk in the Cham Island today. This world’s largest organizer for the activity welcomes non-swimmers and no-divers from 8 to 80 years old. The shortest tour package lasts 7,5hrs from hotel pick up to drop off. The company recommends being in the lobby from 7:30 to 8 a.m and after meeting the guide, travelers are transported to Cua Dai harbour. A traditional wooden boat is chosen to get to Cham Island instead of a speed canoe. It takes one hour on the sea to get to the trekking area. There, the delight of the day, underwater walking experience begins. After additional swimming and snorkeling, the boat lands on a quiet beach where seafood lunch is served. Prior to returning to the mainland, travelers can relax on hammocks under the palms.
The price is 63 USD per person, around 1,450,000 VND. It covers all things mentioned in the itinerary, travel insurance and a GoPro to record fascinating walks under the sea. Parents will pay cheaper for little ones under 12 years old. A video about the whole trip is also sold with 250,000 VND. If staying in Da Nang, the bus picks up from 7 a.m. Browse seatrekvietnam.com for more details.
Touring the Island with a Motorbike
Travelers can pay 100,000 VND for a private ride on a motorcycle to tour around Cham Island. All riders are borned and live on the island, so they know their hometown well and highlights along the route. Scenic coast cruise, picture-perfect viewpoints, exotic landscape and seasonal flowers are what to expect. The price is fixed, regulated by the community. To start the drive, come to Tan Hiep market or ask your guide if joining an organized tour.
Buying Souvenirs & Fresh Seafoods
In the main harbour area, travelers can shop around to buy a souvenir to bring to the mainland. Shoppers have a variety of things to choose from, including accessories made by shells, dried seafoods, to local special products like partially dried squids, sweet cakes or forest leave tea. There are many seafood vendors on the side of the coastal road too, selling living fishes and shellfish only. For additional seafood dishes into the lunch meal, taking the favourites to any restaurant. Cooking fee is charged based on type and weight.
How to Get to Cham Island
Hoi An to Cham Island
Cham Island Speed Boat
Getting from Hoi An to Cham Island by speed boat is quickest. All boats dock, depart and return in Cua Dai tourist harbour, 9 km to the east of the city center. If staying overnight in Cua Dai Beach accommodations, the distance is much shorter. After boarding, it takes 20 to 30 minutes to arrive at Bai Lang harbour, depending on the weather. All organized tours cover a two-ways transport by a speed boat. Self-guided travelers will pay from 300,000 to 400,000 VND if returning on the same day, and from 400,000 to 500,000 VND if doing it later. It’s possible to book online via tour operators, hotels or directly in Cua Dai harbour. During the high season (summer), a reservation is really necessary to make.
Cham Island Ferry
Wooden boat ferry is the local option to get from Hoi An to Cham Island. In the morning, passengers can get on it in An Hoi Island between 7 and 7:30, or in Cua Dai tourist harbour between 8 and 8:30. The An Hoi’s harbour is at the end of a laneway next to the Hoi An Silk Marina Resort & Spa at 127 Nguyen Phuc Tan St. It’s easy to get from anywhere and any vehicle. The ferry cost is 150,000 VND and 100,000 VND respectively. If bringing your own bike to Cham Island, passengers will pay 50,000 VND extra. Travel time is around one hour. To return to the mainland, keep in mind to be in Bai Lang harbour between 11:30 and 12 p.m.
Besides ferry costs, tourists have to pay an admission fee for entry to the island. It’s 70,000 VND per person. Remember to prepare cash enough in the wallet.
Da Nang to Cham Island
Travelers staying in Da Nang prefer to get to Cham Island by speed boat because of the long distance to Hoi An’s harbours. Self-guided ones often book a taxi/car transfer from the hotel, costing around 250,000 VND (if departing from downtown) or ride an own motorcycle. The second vehicle requires a one day rental. It takes 40 minutes by car and around 1 hour by bike. The easiest road to get the speed boat harbour is the Coast Road Vo Nguyen Giap – Truong Sa. Following it until its end, the entrance and parking lots are to the right.
Because the boat returns in mid-afternoon, a basket boat ride in Hoi An Coconut Village or a walking tour around lantern quarters of the Old Town is the choice to continue the day of exploration. At night, the quickest route Lac Long Quan Rd has lights, so don’t worry about traffic safety after it’s dark. Hoi An’s ancient town is a paradise of street food and classy restaurants to dine out.
Both Da Nang- and Hoi An-based travel agencies arrange tours with a round trip transfer from hotel. Departure time is one hour earlier in Da Nang.
Cham Island Tour
Cham Island Tour from Hoi An
The most popular Cham Island tour from Hoi An is a day trip. It departs from Cua Dai harbour and then a speed boat will take travelers to Bai Lang, the largest village in the Island. There, a walking tour to historical places around it is the first activity. At each stop, the local guide introduces and explains different things. He/she may speak Vietnamese better than English, but can understand the traveler’s requirements. During the walk, there are many chances to buy souvenirs and living seafood.
After that, the canoe brings the group to a sandy beach, to get in a swimsuit prior to riding to the snorkeling spot. Masks are provided there. Travelers often have at least 40 minutes to see marine life. Lunch in a bamboo restaurant is served then, featuring a shared meal with steamed rice, seafoods and some island specialties. Before returning to the mainland (around 3 p.m), a free time is made to allow travelers to swim, sunbathe, join water sports or just relax on the chairs under the palms.
Note: Price of the itinerary described above costs 650,000 VND. This is the official one and is higher if including a two-ways transfer from the hotel. Picking up in Da Nang is easy to arrange for any operator.
Cham Island Snorkeling Tour
Snorkeling experience in common day tours is from 40 to 60 minutes, in a spot. Because it is visited by many people daily (up to some thousands in peak time), the marine life and coral reefs in this snorkeling place is quite disturbed. If it requires a trip which is longer, more sites and little spoiled, a snorkeling-specialized package is suitable. For those who love staying overnight in peaceful Cham Island at night, multi-day options are available. See the best organizers, their tours and more in our travel guide to Hoi An snorkeling.
Da Nang’s peninsula and island also house stunning snorkeling spots. See information about all of them and a comparison to Cham Island here.
Cham Island Diving Tour
Compared to a common day tour, a packaged trip with a focus on diving provides more dive sites and better experiences there. All necessary equipment and gears are available, to allow divers to have safe, fun and fascinating discoveries in nearly untouched coral gardens. Travelers can spend a few days in Cham Island to explore every side of it, from the undersea to the mountaintop. Read our guide about Hoi An diving to know the best operators, their tours, advice and tips.
Fishing Tour with Local Fisherman
Fishing tours are also available in Cham Island. If don’t stay overnight there, travelers can book a package departing from the city. To get to the most ideal spots to throw the rod, a local fisherman will propel his own wooden boat. A day tour aims to catch fishes, while in the evening one, squid is the focus (seasonal). See more information in our guide to Hoi An’s fishing tours.
Cham Island Restaurants
Cham Island Food Specialties
Cham Island is famous for many food specialties, and while visiting it, travelers can try some of them. In the set-menu lunch of beachfront restaurants, cellana (“lady chest snail” or oc vu vang), banh it la gai (ramie cake with a coconut filling) and forest vegetables are included. When walking near the harbour, it’s possible to see local women making muc mot nang (partially dried squids) on iron nets. If staying overnight, the host family may take the guests to streams where cua da (stone crabs) can be caught. Locals love to steam them with spices, and then eat with a black pepper salt. This species is not recommended to eat because it’s quite rare in the wild now. Last but not least, the edible bird’s nests are the most expensive. Locals harvest them in cliff caves in the southeasternmost tip of Hon Lao.
Restaurants in Cham Island
In Bai Ong, Bai Lang and Bai Chong, three touristy beaches, travelers can see restaurants and eateries to eat. Places in Bai Ong and Bai Chong are popular for day tours, so often open in the daytime only. Price of set menu meals there (for 4 people) is cheaper if booking via a company, ranging from 100,000 to 200,000 VND pp. Steamed rice, seafood, salad, soup, fresh fruit and local sweet cake as a dessert will come to the table. On the other hand, seafood lovers can buy fresh ingredients, bring them to kitchens and ask the cooks to make their favorite recipes. The preparation fee is counted based on type and weight. It’s possible to get there by walking or riding a motorcycle from the main village.
If staying overnight, travelers can go to Bai Lang seafront or enjoy a family dinner in the homestay. In the morning, authentic breakfast dishes are sold around Tan Hiep market (near main harbour), such as mi quang noodles, banh mi. We recommend “stayers” to read our guide for Cham Island accommodation to get details.
Cham Island Accommodation
Cham Island is an awesome place to stay in Hoi An, firstly, because of its isolation from the mainland. Thanks to that, travelers can enjoy a sense of serenity throughout the day, especially at night. Most options are within an authentic fisherman community that is next to the sandy beach where a killer sunset occurs daily, well-kept forests and historical sites. The guests only need a few minutes to get to scenic dive sites, to join Hoi An’s best underwater activities. Homestays are not hard to search and the owner families are willing to invite new friends to eat with all members. These are what travelers find in their escape from the hustle and bustle. Read our traveler guide to Cham Island Accommodation to know the best areas to book a room, and reasons to explain why.
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