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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.