If you are one of those selfish types who simply hate sharing your tropical paradise with the general public then get a move on and visit Cham Island, a lovely unspoiled, marine-protected island – one of the least developed islands in Vietnam and for now mostly a secret, but the hordes will descend. It’s more a matter of when, not if. Day-trippers already come in numbers on public holidays and weekends, but pick a weekday, especially out of peak season and you may just find just a handful of other Westerners scattered among the locals.
A day trip is the most popular option and there are a few operators who offer scuba diving, snorkeling and trekking packages at quite reasonable rates. Cham Island is just under 30 kms from Cua Dai Harbor in Hoi An (1 hour by local ferry; 20 mins by speedboat). June through to August is when diving/snorkeling visibility is at its best.
For the more intrepid there is the option of staying on the island overnight and taking part in the community-based homestay program. There are no hotels, luxury or otherwise, and that’s part of this island’s unique charm. When you share the home of a Cham Island family you are taking part in a way of life that has remained unchanged for centuries and it is a memorable experience. Accommodation is basic, but adequate. Western style toilets, cold water shower, mozzie nets … 24-hour electricity is a recent innovation!
Honestly though, the nylon sheets are the only truly scary aspect of the stay and the reward of a solitary swim at sunset on a sandy deserted beach, or a stroll along the harbor watching the locals mending their nets, or swinging in hammocks as the sun goes down, makes an overnight stay a truly unforgettable experience.
After arriving at Bai Lang, the main village, either by speedboat or ferry from Cua Dai Harbor, a small boat full of locals, poultry, sacks, and a pig or two transferred us to the homestay’s village, Bai Huong. Great fun. The local hosts spoke no English at all but Kim, the enthusiastic niece and ‘fixer’ acted as the go-between. Sign language and stick drawings worked adequately enough, and anyway, most details and prices were worked out beforehand to ensure no misunderstandings occurred. The prices were affordable enough for the most modest backpacker, at around 15 USD (350,000 VND) a night per room, 5 USD (115,000 VND) per meal and breakfast at 3 USD (69,000 VND). The snorkeling trip was 7 USD (160,000 VND) per person and the local ferry back was 5 USD (115,000 VND). The meals where truly generous sized portions of small fried fish, spring rolls, noodle salads, squid and other Cham Islands specialities.
Very Robinson Crusoe
After lunch we took a snorkeling trip, organised by our Homestay family. Though the coral and tropical fish were not particularly spectacular, the pristine environment and the incredible underwater visibility on the day made for a delightful experience.
Later that afternoon, armed with a simple map drawn up by our host, and impossible to comprehend, we thankfully stumbled upon a well-hidden roughly hewn track that led down through the forest to a gorgeous sandy beach. Very Robinson Crusoe – just us and our fellow homestayers and lovely unspoilt nature, something increasingly rare in South East Asia. Cham Island is one of the few places where a way of life centuries old is preserved and development has been kept at bay. Well worth a visit.
Revised August 2018