A traveler’s guide to the best of the Cham Islands

There’s something special about finding your spot in the sun. And on the beautiful Cham Islands, you have lots of spots to choose from.
Although this archipelago is just 22 kilometers across the water from Hoi An, its coastline and scenery are strikingly different. Instead of facing east to the open sea, the bays and beaches of the Cham Islands face west, and are sheltered from winds and storms by rocky boulders and the solid height of Hon Bien Mountain. In this protected space, nature has a chance to thrive. Waves filter into clear sandy beaches, rainforests rise from the mountain slopes, and under the sea, the richest marine life in Vietnam flourishes.
Apart from its rare natural beauty, the Cham Islands are blessed with serenity. Close enough to reach easily, yet far enough to feel a world away, this is a place where you can walk barefoot on the sand, dive deep under the waves, and lose track of time. It’s no wonder that many travelers are delighted to discover the Cham Islands. Here’s a guide to seeing the best of the Cham Islands yourself.

Hoi An Cham Island Ferry
Bai Lang is the biggest village on the Cham Islands.

History of the Cham Islands

For centuries, merchants and mariners have stopped at the Cham Islands, drawing water from its wells and food and firewood from its forests. As far as we know, the Sa Huynh were the first people to settle on the islands. Digs on the beaches of Bai Lang and Bai Ong unearthed Sa Huynh burial jars, prehistoric tools, and jewelry, as well as artifacts from the 7th to 10th centuries, showing trade with China, India, and countries in Southeast Asia.

Cham Islands' Best Beaches - Best things to do on Cham Islands
Lesser-known beaches like Bai Nan are still undeveloped.

During the Cham and Dai Viet eras, the Cham Islands were used as anchorage for merchant vessels. Ships would anchor in the harbor of Hon Lao, while their products were taken by smaller boats to the trading port in Hoi An. The Cham Islands were also famed for edible swiftlet nests, a favorite regional delicacy. The Nguyen Kings set up a dedicated team of harvesters – their descendants still scale the cliffs twice a year to gather the prized nests.

Eventually, the Cham Islands fell under the radar when the river to Hoi An silted up and Vietnam’s main international port was moved to Da Nang. The archipelago held its quiet fishing roots for decades, but when UNESCO listed the area as a World Biosphere Reserve in 2009, the islands again caught the attention of travelers from across the seas.

Things to do on the Cham Islands

Diving in Cham Islands Hoi An - Best things to do on Cham Islands
The Cham Island Diving Center offers beginner dives, fun dives, and dive courses.
Cham Islands diving tour - Cham Islands' best activities
More than 10 diving and snorkeling sites can be found around the Cham archipelago.
Diving in Cham Islands Hoi An - Top things to do on Cham Islands
The months from March to September are the best time for tours to the islands.

Get up close with the coral reefs

By far the most popular thing to do on the Cham Islands is to get in the water. Some 947 marine creatures –  including endangered fish, and a wide array of corals, seaweed, shellfish and crustaceans – live around the eight islands in the Cham archipelago. You’ll find some of the best snorkeling and SCUBA diving opportunities in Vietnam sprinkled around a dozen sites off the coast. Be sure to go with a trusted tour company to enjoy safe and guided excursions of these marvelous underwater worlds.

Cham Islands’ gorgeous beaches - A guide to Cham Islands
Some of the beaches on the Cham islands can only be reached by basket boat or kayak.

Relax and unwind on the sand

Whether or not you’re a diver, anyone can enjoy the Cham Islands’ gorgeous beaches. Bai Ong, Bai Chong and Bai Xep are a few of the best beaches for swimming and relaxation. You can also rent a wooden boat or pay a motorcycle driver to take you to lesser-known beaches, where you’re likely to have a pristine stretch of sand all to yourself. If you want to camp out, ask your tour company for help to arrange a tent and supplies, and spend a whole magical night under the stars.

Cham Islands' Fishing Villages - Cham Islands Guide
Bai Huong fishing village is the second largest settlement on Hon Lao.
Cham Islands' Locals - A guide to Cham Islands
Forest leaves from the Cham Islands are used to make a famous medicinal tea.
Cham Islands' Fishing Villages - A guide to Cham Islands
The ancestral temple of the nest gatherers is located in Bai Huong village.

Explore local life in the fishing villages

Wandering around Hon Lao’s fishing villages is one of the joys of visiting the Cham Islands. Bai Lang is the biggest settlement on the island. In the port, bright red flags flutter from the countless basket boats and fishing boats bobbing in the water. The town’s quiet streets are shaded by fruit trees, and ancient pagodas nestle in the shadow of forest-clad hills.

Bai Huong is another even smaller village, with charming scenes of local life. Along the narrow lanes, fishing nets sparkle in the sun, locals chop forest leaves into medicinal tea, and monkeys clamber atop the roofs.

TIP: Visit the nest-gatherers’ ancestral temple in Bai Huong Village for a brief encounter with this piece of the islands’ history.

Just click on the image to start the tour.

Paddle your way around the coast

The western coast of Hon Lao is perfect for standup paddleboarding and kayaking. Soak in views of white-sand beaches lined with coconut palms, hilltops covered with lush rainforest, and humble fishing villages from out on the water.

The calm early mornings are the best time to push off. Ngo Khanh Homestay offers SUP and kayak tours in one of the prettiest parts of the island. From Bai Huong, it’s a short paddle to two deserted beaches where you can reward yourself with a picnic on the beach.

Eating seafood on the Cham Islands Hoi An - Cham Islands' best things to do
Dining on fresh seafood is one of the most popular things to do on the Cham Islands.

Dine on freshly caught seafood

Of course, one of the top reasons why visitors love the Cham Islands is its abundance of tasty seafood. The morning market at dawn is a great place to catch a glimpse of the day’s catch as it arrives off the fishing boats. The restaurants in town list a wide variety of seafood, cooked in even more tempting ways.

If you have the chance, go for a seafood lunch on one of the beaches. Sitting with your toes in the sand, roll hot grilled fish with greens and aromatic herbs, dip morsels of lobster and crab meat in lime, seasalt, and chili, crack plump prawns open with your fingers, suck scallops and abalone from their shells, and wash it all back with a cold drink for a memorably delicious moment.

Cham Island Museum - Best things to do on Cham Islands Hoi An
Hai Tang Pagoda is more than 300 years old.
Cham Island Museum - Best things to do on Cham Islands Hoi An
Merchants came here to pray for safe voyages and calm seas.
Temple visit - Best things to do on Cham Islands Hoi An
The pagoda is free to visit, and tended by an elderly couple.

Learn about the island’s history and culture

The Cham Island Museum is a great place to get your bearings and learn about the islands’ long history. Check out the displays of artifacts from archaeological sites, and read about the rainforest ecosystems, marine life, and national treasures sprinkled throughout the eight islands. You might like to make the short walk to the well-preserved Hai Tang Pagoda. Built in 1848, the pagoda was where ancient mariners used to worship before embarking on their next voyage.

Planning your trip

Weather on the Cham Islands

The wet season in Quang Nam lasts from October to February. During these months, and sometimes the months before and after depending on the weather, tours and speedboats to Cham Islands are rare. Plan your visit between March and September to enjoy the best weather and a smoother ride. April and May are excellent months to visit. From June to August, the weather is generally good, but expect some rain showers and thunderstorms in the afternoons.

Boats from Hoi An to Cham Islands
Sheltered anchorages in the islands have been in use for centuries.

Getting to the Cham Islands

Getting to the Cham Islands is easier than you may think. Choose between public speedboats, the local ferry, and the tour boats. If you plan to go diving or snorkeling, a dive or tour company can guide you to the best spots and help you arrange an overnight visit. If you prefer to see the Cham Islands on your own, the public speedboats are the fastest option (ask your hotel in Hoi An to secure roundtrip tickets for you.) If you have lots of time to spare, you can opt for the ferry.

Speedboat to the Cham Islands

Speedboats leave from the Cua Dai Wharf for the Cham Islands at about 8:30am each morning, and return at about 1pm, or when the boat is full. The ride lasts only 20 minutes, but can be a bit bumpy on windy days. Round-trip tickets start at 350,000 VND including 70,000 VND for the marine conservation fee and 20,000 VND for the environmental cleaning fee. You can take a taxi or Grabcar from your hotel in Hoi An to the wharf, about 20 minutes from the Ancient Town.

Getting around Cham Islands Hoi An
Getting around the Cham Islands is easy when you have a local motorcycle driver.

Getting around the Cham Islands

Once on Hon Lao, there’s a lot you can see on foot, however we recommend hiring a motorbike with a local driver for exploring. The roads on the island can be steep and winding. Having a local driver is a safer choice, and also brings income to the community. Your homestay will be happy to arrange a driver for you.

You can also create your own snorkeling tour by renting a wooden boat for a few hours. These colorful boats are captained by local fishermen and are a wonderful way to get around. As a plus, you can try fishing on board, and stop by quiet beaches and coves. Ask your homestay for help if you want to arrange a tour by wooden boat.

Cham Islands' Best Beaches - Best things to do on Cham Islands Hoi An
Bai Chong is where many daytrip tours stop for lunch and snorkeling.

Tours to the Cham Islands

Most tour companies in Hoi An offer day trips to the Cham Islands, and some can also arrange overnight stays for guests, with a return trip the following day. Day tours usually depart around 8am and return at 1pm., and include snorkeling at two underwater sites, time on the beaches, and lunch on the island. Some tours also include historic stops in the main village of Bai Lang.

TIP: Cham Island Diving Center has a reputation for its professional and friendly team who have more than 20 years of experience diving on Cham Islands. Tours with Cham Island Diving Center also offer a little extra time on the islands, as they leave for Hoi An at around 3:30pm.

Cham Islands Homestay - Top accommodations on Cham Islands Hoi An
Hammock Homestay is one of several family-run accommodations on the islands.
Cham Islands' Locals - A guide to Cham Islands Hoi An
Local hosts on the Cham Islands can help you with everything from arranging tours to dining suggestions.
Cham Islands' Homestay - Top accommodations on Cham Islands Hoi An
Simple but clean homestays give travelers a chance to stay close to the local community.

Where to stay on the Cham Islands

While there are currently no boutique hotels or five-star resorts on the Cham Islands, the undeveloped beauty of the coast and humble hospitality of the people is a big part of the islands’ charm. Guest houses with modern beds and showers, some with great views of the forest or port, are available for just 300,000 VND a night (13 USD).

If you want an immersive experience of the local culture, choose one of the rustic homestays in Bai Huong. Families and groups of friends can book Crest House Homestay, a three-bedroom villa with a kitchen and outdoor grill, just a few steps from a lovely beach. Wherever you choose, your local hosts will go out of their way to ensure you are safe and comfortable.

Where to stay on Cham Islands - Top accommodations on Cham Islands Hoi An
Monkey Homestay in Bai Lang offers views of the port and fishing boats.

Monkey Homestay, Hammock Homestay, and Sunbay Homestay in Bai Lang, and Ngo Khanh Homestay and Island Smiles Homestay in Bai Huong are top choices for accommodation in the Cham Islands. You can contact them via Facebook, or book online in advance on Booking.com.

Cham Islands' sandy beaches - Best things to do on Cham Islands
Bai Ong is one of the best beaches for swimmers on the Cham Islands.

Notes for travelers

No plastic policy – The community on the Cham Islands is making an admirable effort to reduce plastic waste. Locals will give you your purchases in small sacks or wrapped in leaves. If you have to bring any plastic with you to the islands, be sure to remove it when you leave as well.

Money and ATMs – There are currently no ATMs or banks on the Cham Islands, and cash or online bank transfers are used for all transactions. Be sure to withdraw all the cash you think you need for your visit before leaving the mainland.

Environmental fees – Every visitor to the Cham Islands is asked to pay a one-time marine conservation fee of 70,000 VND and an environmental cleaning fee of 20,000 VND. The fees are used to fund rehabilitation projects and management of the natural sites and resources.

Read more: A Cham Islands guide for sustainable travelers

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