Travellers to Hoi An looking for a little beach time typically end up on the same kilometre of nearby coast: Cua Dai, with those in-the-know tracking down the not-so-secret An Bang beach. Those curious enough to enquire about a trip to the Cham islands are given a choice between dive and snorkelling boat trips. But what about staying overnight there? You can do it!
From April through till late September though, a supply boat leaves the Cua Dai harbour daily. It’s not a pre-bookable service but you can pretty much be guaranteed a place onboard for the bargain price of 20,000 VND if you arrive at around 08:00. The journey takes about an hour, with the boat leaving once it’s full. Permits to the island are issued at the office on the jetty — take your passport. The return boat leaves at around 11:00 from the same island drop-off point.
If you don’t want to travel with a boat filled with livestock, 50 metres to the right on Cua Dai harbour you can pick up a speed boat for the one way price of 200,000 VND, cutting the journey down by half an hour. We did both, and our experience on the over-packed speedboat was nerve wracking. The boats are designed for the river, and although life jackets are supplied, they would not save you if the boat was to flip. For safety: save your money and do the supply boat.
Both supply and speed boats drop you off at the main harbour. To the left is a ‘tourist’ market teeming with tour groups and to the right it’s fishing village proper: brightly painted island houses and industrious fishing families going about their daily chores under shady trellises of bougainvillea, each looking out on row upon row of moored wooden fishing boats.
Follow the colourful alleys inland and you’ll get a glimpse of rural island Vietnam. You’ll see tiny mi quang stalls under the shade of giant jackfruit trees, a huge farm-cum-football pitch and an inlet where villagers tie up their boats when the typhoon season strikes between October and December. Here and there are numerous temples, most of which make tour leader favourite, the ‘whale worshipping temple’, pale into insignificance.
Once you’ve had your fill of village, check out the small indoor market opposite and slightly to the right of the boat dock, where you can stock up on basic picnic supplies. About 30 metres to the right is the only bahn mi stall on the island which sits next to a popular little pho kitchen. Beachside dining is tour group territory where pre-ordered set menus are the norm — turn up independently and you will struggle. You’ll eat far better and for less in the village.
If you are up for a bit of a mountain trek, head north up the coastal mountain path from the village until you hit a series of tiny bays accessible by steep jungle paths winding off the main track. The bays are almost always deserted, leaving you to enjoy a shipwrecked afternoon floating in the bay before scrambling on top of the skirting rocky outcrops to watch the sunset.
Accommodation is in short supply on the island, although this is set to change in the next few years, with big plans to promote this area as an eco Phu Quoc; huge land plots are being earmarked for development. Of the two guesthouses in the village we recommend the $15 a night Nha Nghi Thur Trang Homestay located opposite the whale temple. Upstairs rooms are breezy and spacious, with a shared bathroom and wraparound balcony overlooking the harbour.
If you’d prefer a budget beachside dorm for the night, the $1.50 Ecological Garden Hills Resort is very hard to beat.
Chong Beach, Cham Island
T: (0169) 753 7712 / (0962) 258 407
Nha Nghi Homestay
Bai Lang, Cu Lao Cham
T: (0510) 3930007
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 12th December, 2014.