About Cham Islands (Cu Lao Cham)
Clearly visible from Hoi An’s Beaches, Cham Islands is an unspoiled, marine-protected island group. This idyllic enclave boasts beautiful golden sands, luscious azure waters, and a centuries’ old way-of-life.
The islands have an extensive cultural history, linked directly to the Cham people – Hindu traders, possibly from Borneo. The museum on the main island, Hon Lao, offers an introduction to Cham history, and more can be found at My Son and the Champa Museum in Da Nang.
Cu Lao Cham is a collection of eight islands. Only one – Hon Lao – is populated by humans. Hon Lao is the biggest and the main one that people visit when taking a tour. Hon Lao was initially settled by the Cham people around 3,000 years ago. The island can be explored with a motorbike tour or by strolling through the serene lanes, while several operators offer scuba diving, snorkeling, and trekking packages. A day trip is the most popular option but if you have the time, staying over is highly recommended. The homestays are very cheap and there is a lot to explore. How often do you visit paradise? … so take your time here and soak it up.
The only settled island in the Cham Islands group, Hon Lao, is around 15km from Cua Dai Wharf, on Hoi An’s coastline. The journey takes roughly an hour via a traditional Vietnamese sailing boat or 20 minutes by speedboat. The average price for a speedboat is 300,000 VND (13 USD) for a one-way trip. You can book this directly at Cua Dai Pier, but it’s likely to be cheaper when booking through your homestay or a travel agent.
A public ferry is the cheapest, albeit slowest, way to reach the island, taking up to an hour and a half. It travels there once a day and can be boarded from two locations, An Hoi island and Cua Dai pier. The ferry from An Hoi departs between 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and costs 150,000 VND (6.50 USD) per person. You can find it via the first tiny lane just after the Hoi An Silk Marina Resort and Spa. From Cua Dai pier, the ferry leaves between 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., costing 100,000 VND (4 USD). You can take your scooter or bicycle with you on either ferry for 50,000 VND (2 USD). An additional 70,000 VND (3 USD) is required for the entrance fee.
It’s a good idea to travel as part of a tour if you really want to make the most of what Cham Island has to offer. A good value tour should take you to multiple snorkeling spots with plenty of time for beach hopping. There’s a vast range of tours available. You’ll find them advertised at most hotels, hostels, restaurants, and shops across Hoi An, so look around to find one that suits you best.
If you’re looking to explore the island by yourself, you can book a boat to take you there. Hiring a private speed boat costs around 5,000,000 VND (215 USD) for five hours. You can usually arrange this with your hotel or a travel agent. But be sure to get a return trip sorted before you leave Hoi An.
Unless you’re fluent in Vietnamese, you may find it difficult to explore the island without a guide, so a tour is the best option for most visitors. Bear in mind that Cham Island also has a military base, so wandering off for miles by yourself is inadvisable.
Things to Do
Cham Island Tours
Tours typically include a boat trip (either fast or slow), snorkeling, a visit to the island’s museums or landmarks, a trip on the island’s roads, lunch, and beach time. Snorkeling is a popular choice as the island has the best coral in the Hoi An area. Boats leave the mainland from Cua Dai Wharf and tours often include a pick-up from your accommodation.
Tours run from March to October. It’s possible to visit the island outside of these months, but unpredictable weather often makes for unsuitable sailing conditions – people have been known to get stranded on the island for over a week. Boats start sailing again when the weather improves in February.
Day tours generally start at around 600,000 VND (26 USD). Song Hoi Tourist organizes various tours to Cham Island, including a day tour scheduled between 7:30 am to 2:30 pm for 600,000 VND (26 USD). Cham Island Diving offers day tours lasting from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm for 1,100,000 VND (47 USD), as well as multi-day trips and private, customized tours to suit your individual needs. There’s also Cham Island Tours, which offers single day, multi-day, and scuba diving tours, starting at 680,000 VND (29 USD).
Those intrigued by the underwater world can take a tour with Sea Trek. The company organizes a Walking Underwater Tour for non-divers to experience what it’s like to walk on the ocean floor, feeding the fish as you go. Sea Trek also run tours for snorkelers only. Both options include a boat ride, food and leisure time.
If you’re happy to splurge a little, Biriwa Cruise organizes one-day and overnight trips on a 21-metre traditional Turkish sailing yacht. You can enjoy Cham Island waters in style, with prices ranging from 2,200,000 VND (95 USD) to 25,000,000 VND (1,077 USD). Trips include meals, snacks, and any equipment you might need for your adventures.
Bai Lang is the main village of Hon Lao Island. In Bai Lang, you’ll find restaurants, cafes, homestays, souvenir shops, and even a tourist office providing free tourist maps in English and Vietnamese. There’s the beautiful Hai Tang Pagoda and a museum, plus Tan Hiep Market is close by. The tourist maps will guide you to the village’s numerous historical landmarks and viewpoints.
Most tours to the island start at Bai Lang. If you’re traveling under your own steam, you can hire a motorbike driver to take you on the island’s roads for 70,000 VND (3 USD) per person. Unless you’re highly proficient on a motorbike, it’s not worth risking the drive yourself – the roads on Cham Island are windy and best left to the experts.
You can get a boat to the nearby beach from Bai Lang’s ferry port. You can also catch a boat or motorbike to Cham Island’s second-largest village, Bai Huong, which is approximately 5km away along a beautiful coast-hugging road. This boat costs around 30,000 VND (1.30 USD) and the journey takes around 20 minutes.
Bai Huong Village
Bai Huong is a fishing village, and much quieter than Bai Lang. You’ll find a few places to eat, a pagoda to visit, a real sense of serenity, and some fabulous views. Bai Huong is close to Bai Chong beach, a short hike downhill.
The town is situated five kilometers southeast of the main port. You can reach it by road or a local ferry (after catching a larger ferry from Hoi An).
Despite being featured on some tours to the island, Bai Huong is largely unaffected by tourism, though, the beach can fill up on busy days. The beaches aren’t as pristine as those near Bai Lang, but the village makes for a peaceful and authentic destination to explore by foot, where you can catch a glimpse into local life.
Sunbathing & Swimming
Bai Lang and Bai Chong are the island’s main beaches. Here, you’ll find local eateries, loungers, deckchairs, hammocks, and golden sands. There’s a safe swimming area away from where the boats dock where you can go for a calming dip.
If you’re staying on the island, you might get a chance to explore some coastline by yourself. You’ll find lots of untouched places and photo opportunities to enjoy. For best results, ask your host at your homestay – local knowledge is always king!
The Cham archipelago is home to a rich variety of aquatic life, including turtles, ghost pipefish, eagle rays, whale sharks, and plenty more. Like Hoi An’s Ancient Town, this magical area is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Most day tours offer snorkeling and scuba diving as part of their packages, while several operators also offer diving experiences around the eight islands. One of the main companies in Hoi An is Cham Island Diving. Alongside beginner dives and overnight trips, you can choose from several PADI courses. Book online or visit the Dive Bar (88 Nguyen Thai Hoc) in Hoi An’s Ancient Town to select a course in person.
Blue Coral Diving offers a variety of ways to view and explore the reefs and sea creatures in Cham Island. You can choose from a scuba refresher, a diving experience, or one of PADI’s scuba diving courses.
A third fantastic option, SeaTrek, requires no diving experience at all. It’s an Underwater Walking Tour that will blow your mind. See Seatrek Vietnam: Underwater Walking Tour for more details and booking information.
Where to Stay
There are no luxury hotels on Cham – which is part of the island’s unique charm – but there are several homestays and guesthouses in both Bai Lang and Bai Huong. Accommodation starts at around 120,000 VND (5 USD) to 600,000 VND (26 USD) per night for a room. Many homestays offer mini-tours as part of their package.
Your homestay host will be able to recommend snorkelling and other activities for you. The reward of a solitary swim at sunset on a sandy deserted beach, a stroll along the harbour watching locals mend their nets, or swinging in a hammock as the sun goes down, makes an overnight stay a truly unforgettable experience.
Travelers can stay with local families in the village via an initiative called Homestay Bai Huong. Rooms are basic, consisting of a bed, mosquito net, fan, western-style toilet, and electricity. The family can provide home-cooked meals upon request. They’re also able to organize activities like snorkeling and trekking, which usually cost between 100,000 VND (4 USD) and 150,000 VND (6.50 USD).
If you’re seeking something a little more adventurous, camping on the beach is arranged by some tour operators, including Cu Lao Cham: Discovery Tours, which offers a two-day camping trip. There are toilets, showers, and restaurants just a stone’s throw away from the camping site. It’s usually a peaceful experience with unforgettable sunsets and sunrises, but the occasional tour-run karaoke party is not unheard of.
Here are some good homestay options in the standard style to check out and book: