The Cham Islands is one of Vietnam’s best-kept secrets. Not many travelers know that 22 kilometers from Hoi An is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with fascinating history, serene beaches, and delightful fishing culture. The local people on the Cham Islands are proud of their beautiful island home and have a long tradition of welcoming visitors. Here are seven great reasons to include the Cham Islands in your Hoi An itinerary.

Incredible marine life

The Cham Islands boast the most diverse underwater ecosystems in Vietnam, with a protected marine area that covers more than 33,000 hectares. For travelers, this means snorkeling and diving among striking coral reefs, swimming with schools of fish, and exploring the many varieties of crustaceans, mollusks, and pelagics that make their home in these waters. If you’re interested to know more about the flora and fauna of the Cham Archipelago, check out the exhibits at the Cu lao Cham Marine Preservation Area in Bai Lang.

Rich island heritage

For a small group of eight rocky outcrops, the Cham Islands have seen a lot of history. Artifacts dug up on the islands tell a story about the Sa Huynh people who once settled on the beaches of Hon Lao. Later, Hon Lao was known for centuries as a place for merchant ships from East Asia, India, and the Middle East to trade, shelter, and restock. Uncover the historic roots of the islands by visiting Ba Bach Temple, Hai Tang Pagoda, Ong Ngu Temple, the Nest Gatherers’ Ancestral Temple, and the Cu lao Cham History and Culture Exhibition Room.

Untouched beaches

The search for your favorite beach in Vietnam might come to an end on one of the Cham Islands’ peaceful shores. Seven undeveloped beaches with clear, warm water and soft sand are sprinkled along the southwest of Hon Lao. Other smaller beaches can also be accessed by standup paddleboard or kayak. Bai Chong is popular for lunch and swimming, Bai Ong offers snorkeling spots and rows of coconut palms, and Bai Xep is a virgin beach ideal for soaking up the sun in peace.

TIP: If you’re staying overnight on the Cham Islands, don’t miss the chance to try SUP at sunrise. Paddling between fishing boats and seeing the morning light pour over pagodas and rainforests is a memorable experience.

Colorful fishing culture

How often do you get the chance to immerse yourself in a real Vietnamese fishing village? Book a simple homestay and you’re sure to meet some of the gentle locals who live here, most of whom make a living from fishing. Poke around the morning fish market, and take a walk around Bai Huong village to see how much fishing plays a role in daily life. Everywhere you go, you will come upon islanders mending nets, repairing and painting boats, and drying their catch in the sun.

Natural scenery

More than 90% of the islands in the Cham Archipelago are covered by verdant tropical rainforest, home to several rare species. The massive rock boulders that border the islands, together with lush forest-covered hills and white-sand beaches create a stunning scene from the water or the land. Explore the beauty of the islands by wooden boat, or take a motorcycle along the coastal road, which winds past towering trees and over sparkling blue bays.

Delicious fresh seafood

The Cham Islands offer foodies several one-of-a-kind specialties such as forest tea, sticky steamed cakes, and rare seaweed, but nothing comes close to its glorious seafood. Snapper, grouper, and squid are line caught by expert fishermen, while enormous scampi, clams, and sea urchins are traded in buckets in the market. Feast on the islands’ mouthwatering fresh seafood grilled simply over the fire or prepared in delicate Vietnamese dishes.

Plastic-free commitment

Since it was recognized by UNESCO in 2009, the people of the Cham Islands have made a consistent effort to preserve their natural environment. The islands are the first destination in Vietnam to enforce a plastic-free policy among visitors and ban nonbiodegradable waste. In the Tan Hiep Market and around the island, businesses use banana leafs, reusable sacks and other bags instead of single-use plastic, and bamboo or paper instead of plastic cups and straws. As a result the Cham Islands’ beaches and reefs are clean and pristine for everyone to enjoy.

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