Excellent snorkelling and diving
What we say:
Tours of Cham Island can be over-hyped if you are looking for anything more than stunning white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and some great snorkelling. Some tours talk about visiting pagodas and this and that, but here's the real deal: most of the island is controlled by the army and is still off limits. As of 2013 plans are afoot to open the island up for eco-tourism purposes and there are now tours that include a boat trip to the birds' nest caves, which were a complete no-go area before. There are two beaches with small wooden piers. The main beach is lined with seafood restaurants bursting at the seams with tour groups. The other beach is mainly used by Cham Island Divers and has just one restaurant to feed their customers.
The village is in between these beaches, but is more easily accessible from the main beach, where it's a five-minute walk up the hill. From Cham's beach it's a bit of a hike down the mountain (you are rewarded with some incredible views), unless you take the boat down the coast. It is possible to explore a little more of the island, but for that you will need a guide to make sure you stay on the right side of the army. These can be arranged through Cham Island Divers and Bai Huong Village Homestay, who also offer real home stay accommodation (as in a room in a family house) in the village.
If you're just after a basic tour, including transport, some beach time, snorkelling, a walk through some greenery and a visit to a village or two, then any agency in town will be able to help: expect to pay around US$25 for the fast boat and US$30 for the slow boat.
But the primary reason to go is for the coral reefs along the coast, so if this is what you're after it's worth looking at one of the companies that specialises in snorkelling and scuba diving. Blue Coral Diving and Cham Island Diving Centre all receive consistently positive feedback.
The coral is pretty good (by Vietnam standards) and it's all easily accessible by snorkelling, so don't spring for the diving if all you want to do is peek at the sea creatures. However, if you're a certified diver looking for action, both operators have a wide variety of dives on offer, including drift dives and night dives.
From early November to February the island is inaccessible due to high seas — and the weather starts getting dodgy in October so plan accordingly. During fair months, however, you have the option of a daytrip or an overnight stay in tents on the beach with a big bonfire at night (sounds fantastic to us).
Bai Huong Homestay booking office: Blue Coral Travel, 45 Le Loi, Hoi An. T: (0168) 670 1409. http://www.homestaybaihuong.com
Blue Coral Diving: 77 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An. T: (0510) 627 9297, (0935) 857 578. http://www.divehoian.com
Cham Island Diving Centre: 88 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An. T: (0510) 391 0782. http://www.chamislanddiving.com
More detailsHow to get there: The easiest way to get to the island is by one of the tourist boats that generally charge a package price of $25 per person including a guide, snorkelling equipment and lunch. If you are thinking of doing this you really are better off booking on a dive boat. There are speed boats, but they are not the safest and well maintained vehicles in which to safely transport you from A to B. All will ask you to wear a life jacket while you are in view of the coastguards. We'd recommend keeping it on for the entire journey.
A public boat leaves the dock between 08:00 and 08:30 daily (weather permitting); it takes just over one hour and costs 10,000 VND each way. The downside is that it sets off back to Hoi An at 11:30 which unless you are staying overnight gives you about an hour on the island.
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