Cu Lao Cham – Cham Island

Cu Lao Cham – Cham Island travel guide

Cu Lao Cham – Cham Island: Vietnam paradise islands with coral reefs & quiet sandy bays, similar to Thailand thirty years ago”. It’s 20km from Hoi An: we had to check it out! 

Getting there

Cu Lao Cham – Cham Island Diving Center: minibus collection & a 45min boat ride Cham. Stay in the guest-house or camping on the beach. Scuba diving & snorkeling adventure tours, lunch on the beach. PADI center.

Rainbow Divers: 30 min fast boat. Scuba diving & snorkeling day trips, lunch on boat. PADI center. Local Ferry runs daily to Cham. Only for day trips: there aren’t any hotels on Cu Lao Cham yet.

Facts about Cham

Cu Lao Cham is a group of 8 islands. The largest island, Hon Lao, is inhabited. Hon Lao has 8 bays & secluded beaches on the west shore, cliffs & caves on the east. The highest point is approx 450m.

Two villages on Hon Lao: Tan Hiep – 2400 people & a small village in Bay Huong – 450. Local economy is fishing, making fishing nets & birds nest exports.

Today, Cham is undiscovered, but not for long: Cham is earmarked for eco-tourist developments. Cham is the second area in Vietnam to be given MPA status. This Marine Protected Area was set up to protect the corals from blast fishing and tourism.

Restricted Areas

The shoreline of Cham Island is most welcoming, the high ground however, is occupied by the army. We were told: “If you get too close; you risk being arrested or shot at.” The jungle should put you off. If you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone. 

Four islands have caves. These caves are used by a state owned company to farm bird’s nests for export to China for soup. This is serious business & the same rule applies: let sleeping dogs lie.

Cham Island Diving Center – Vietnam scuba diving trips – Cu Lao Cham: 8 islands 20km from Hoi An

  • Cham Island Diving Center offers Vietnam scuba diving trips & snorkeling vacations to Cham Island. On beach camping overnight at the guesthouse in Tan Hiep Village.
  • Our first trip: on beach camping, scuba diving & snorkeling trip. Biography & photos of Cham Island. Return to Cham: 1 night at the Tan Hiep guesthouse & 2 days snorkeling the beautiful corals of Cu Lao Cham
  • Travel Guide: 8 small islands in the South China Sea, Central Vietnam. Getting there, facts & restricted areas. Read all about Cham Island & lots of photos
  • History: First inhabited 3000 years ago by the Champas. From Cham, they colonized Central Vietnam until the 15th century when the Viet Nam moved south
  • Cham Folklore: oldwives tales, beliefs & customs of Cu Lao Cham. Strange but true and possibly shocking. A glimpse into Cu Lao Cham.

Scuba diving & beach camping: Cu Lao Cham, Vietnam

PADI scuba diving trip from Cham Island Diving Center 25.08.06. $90 pp. Included: 2 open water dives, 3 meals, minibus collection, on beach camping, facilities, & tour guide. $50 two day snorkeling tour staying in Tan Hiep village on Cu Lao Cham, Vietnam. Saw much of the island & nice coral. Snorkeling tours start from $25. 

Day One

  • 8am minibus to dock. dive boat to 1st dive site.
  • Dive 1: 1hr, depth 20m, visibility 20m. Great fun, dive: through an underwater archway & around the island’s tip.
  • Dive boat landed at Chong beach for a tasty lunch: spring rolls, grilled fish, squid, spinach & rice.
  • Dive 2: 1 hr, depth 25m, visibility 15m. Open water reef diving: nice coral, blue starfish, & sea snake.
  • 4.30pm most divers returned to Hoi An. We stayed the night: Sara, I, Costanza, Alex & our tour guide Ivan.
  • We played volleyball, swimming in sea between games. showered before dark, had drinks & ate.
  • Large beer less than $1. We took our own bottle of Mount Gay Rum. This went down well around the campfire. Tip: flatten the sand under the tent.

Day Two

  • 6:00am swim in the sea washed out the cobwebs from the night before. Vacated the tent, had a cup of tea & waited for the supply boat with breakfast.
  • 9:30am caught a water taxi to Bay Sap & walked to Tam Hiep fishing village, through a paddy to a Buddhist Temple: nice one, the monks were cool.
  • We walked around the town with Ivan, meeting locals & visited the only guesthouse in Tan Hiep: double beds looked great after a night in the tent.
  • Returned to Chong beach for lunch with the divers. Swimming, sunbathing & snorkeling afterwards.
  • Great snorkel action at both ends of Chong Beach. Best snorkeling is at the end with the restaurant. 
  • 5.00 dive boat back. Minibus dropped us home at 6.30pm. After 1 night camping in tents, we were exhausted! Pizza for tea then passed out happy!
  • This adventure travel experience is one of the best Vietnam Tours we’ve been on. Cham Island rocks!

Beach party: Cu Lao Cham Islands, Vietnam

Day One

  • 8.00am met up with 30 party-goers outside Good Morning Vietnam. Minibuses took us to the port where we caught the dive boat to Cu Lao Cham.
  • The boat landed on the beach in Bay Bim. It was going to be a hot one, not a cloud in the sky! The scuba divers went out & we went snorkeling.
  • By 1pm we were on the free rum punch, then had a fine seafood lunch. After a nap in the hammock, we canoed to the small village in the next bay.
  • In Bay Huong, we were met by the local kids, who stole our canoe once out of sight. You won’t find this adventure vacation in Lonely planet Vietnam.
  • Once it was dark they returned the canoe. On the way back, we heard music: the party had started!
  • Dinner was a fine seafood banquet: spring rolls, grilled squid, tiger prawns, fish & veg. The free punch lasted till midnight. Asleep in tents by 3am.

Day Two

  • 7.30am woke groggy. Felt better after swimming in the sea. The supply boat turned up with bread and omelets. The hammocks filled & divers went out.
  • We canoed back to Huong village. Women were repairing fishing nets, the men were horizontal. We explored for a few hours & then paddled back.
  • Back in Bay Bim, the bar was dry, so we moved to Bay Chong for lunch. The divers reported that the sea was very clear: visibility up to 25 meters. 
  • Spent the afternoon snorkeling, swimming & relaxing. On the dive boat home we planned a pizza. The minibus delivered us back by 6.30pm.

Scuba Diving: Cu Lao Cham Islands, Vietnam

The diving experience off Cham Island offers many caves and swim throughs over rocky reefs whilst in shallow depths there are abundant colours with hard and tropical corals swarming with small reef fish.

Marine Life

Large amounts of phytoplankton drifts to the western shore of Cham Island as runoff from Hoi An & Nha Trang’s estuaries.  A recent study found 180 species of hard coral “in generally good condition”. There are 202 species of fish. Some species are unique to this region of the South China Sea.

Popular sightings: Sea stars, trigger fish, baracuda, sea snakes, ribbon eels, rock fish, nudibrachs & many kinds of brightly coloured reef fish.

Conditions

Visibility ranges up to 30 meters, depending on the weather. Experts, first time divers and snorkelers are all safe to dive here. The best time to dive off Cham is from February to September during the week before full moon.

Cu Lao Cham Islands – Legends & Traditions

Temples for those who die young: many homes have a shrine to worship miscarried babies or children who died young. The belief is: young souls have great superpowers & get angry, unless worshiped by the family. If they aren’t honored: the family will suffer illness & bad luck in business. On a girl’s shrine you might see a hand mirror and comb, for boys, perhaps: a bow, arrows and toys. These small temples are built in a high place facing a direction as decided by the village sorcerer or witchdoctor.

Forsaken spirits: On the 1st,13th & 14th days of the lunar calendar & on the full moon, they prepare offerings for the dead. They place fruit, flowers, tea, wine & burning incense at the ancestors shrine. They prepare a separate sacrifice, in front of the house to ask the forsaken spirits to allow the souls of their family to enter the house and receive their offerings. Several temples on Cham have been built to satisfy an angry soul who requires worship. If not solemnly worshiped, an angry spirit could become dangerous to the living.

Legend of Ba Hong Temple: Mrs Hong was a beautiful woman with the longest hair in the village. The other women were envious & gossiped about her fidelity: her husband, beat from the jealousy it caused. Eventually, she ended her life by jumping off a cliff into the sea. Her body drifted to shore & her spirit (via the sorcerer), forbade the villagers to build a temple, but it was built regardless. Since then any woman with long hair, or wearing a new hat is scolded by whoever passes by.

Why they don’t shoot monkeys: Cham is covered with jungle where monkeys thrive. Legend has it: one day, a man who shot monkeys, accidentally shot a baby monkey in the leg & the mother monkey carried the baby away. That night he found the baby monkey in his yard, bandaged but dead. Later, the man’s wife gave birth to a boy with a crippled leg. Cham folk believe that shooting monkeys brings bad luck. They believe: monkeys are humans who committed a sin in a past life. The punishment being to live in the body of an animal.

Traditions when giving birth: If a mother faces difficulties in labor, the father pours a basin of water on the roof of the house to pray to heaven for luck & help avoid disaster. As soon as the baby is born: the midwife pokes the mother in the back to allow bloodshed. Then the new mother drinks the urine of 5-6 year boys who just woke up, mixed with turmeric flour. For fifteen days, the mother must stay in bed, & she must stay in her mother’s parent’s home for 3 months after giving birth. This practice still exists in rural Vietnam.

A brief history of Vietnam from Cu Lao Cham

3000 years ago Cu Lao Cham was first inhabited by the Champa people. From Cham the Champas colonized Central Vietnam. They were the first to discover & export swallow’s nests (salagne). They dug wells & terraces which are still used today. In the 15th Century the Vietnamese; retreating south from the Chinese, moved into Central Vietnam. This marked the end of the Champa kingdom. Bt the 17th century Hoi An was a successful port on the ‘silk route’. 

From the 18th to 20th centuries Cu Lao Cham continued to thrive as an important sea port. Trade ships from the pacific would anchor on the leeward side to: make repairs, stock up on water, wood, & to trade; Aloe, camphor, vegetable oil, basil & swallow’s nests. Cu Lao Cham was given a strong Vietnamese identity. Most temples, pagodas and shrines were built by Vietnamese during the 18th – 20th centuries to reflect a strong sense of culture & nationality.

During & after the Vietnam War (1960-75) Cu Lao Cham became a place of refuge for Vietnamese families in the central region who wanted to escape the draft. Ironically, today, the hill top areas of Cu Lau Cham are controlled by the military & most of the homes on Cu Lao Cham have a shrine dedicated to family members who died in the war. These are different to ancestral shrines on the mainland because they include a portrait photographs of dead relatives.

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