Cham island: Old Vs New
Three years ago, not long after I started with Khiri Travel, we took the entire team to Hoi An to officially open our new office there and celebrate. On the second day, we took the ferry over to Cham Island and it was a disaster. Hundreds of tourists every day had caused havoc with the shoreline. The beaches were dirty and restaurants dumping plastic everywhere. We went snorkeling and although we were the first boat to the area, we were soon followed by 20 other boats, all idling with their engines on while we swam. Riding the boat back, I turned to my colleague “If someone had come here 10 years ago and taught them how to run this island sustainably, it would be a gem of a location”
Three years on and with some trepidation, I ventured back. Thankfully, this time I was inspecting a fledgling tour that is much more “Khiri”. Local, immersive and away from the tourist trap, on paper it looked great.
We left the harbor in Hoi An on a local speedboat ferry at 1pm. Super smooth ride and arrived 25 minutes later where we were met by the father and son of the local family we were staying with. Vietnam has certainly seen a resurgence of domestic travel of late and Cham is no different. Day trips run all day from Hoi An but very few stay overnight. Once we hopped on the scooters and left the “main village”, we were alone, driving along a stunning coastline. Dipping and rising as it followed the contours of the island. Arriving at Mr. Lau’s home/homestay, it was like stepping into a Greek village with it’s white and sky blue walls. Mr Lau is a fisherman, he heads out every morning at 4:30am to catch fish to sell to wholesalers who come over from Hoi An.
After dropping our bags off and taking a quick walk (there are only 97 houses in the village) to acclimatize, we threw on our swimmers and headed off for a quick snorkel. Mr Lau had borrowed a rubber dingy, so there was my friend, Trung ( Mr Lau’s son) and myself in the dingy, being pulled along by Lau in his fishing boat! Trung, the son, is a delight. He loves swimming and knows all the best spots to explore. He has also taken it upon himself to dive down and take out any trash you find and cut free any old fishing nets stuck in the coral. My new hero! I have to admit, I wasn’t holding out much hope for the snorkeling after the last visit but I was amazed. Clown fish, puffer fish, angel fish, pipefish, moray eels as well as schools of sardines engulfing you and loads of coral that lit up as the sun set…couldn’t quite believe it.
We finished the snorkeling with a cold beer on a deserted little stretch of beach before heading back to the house. As I got back, dinner was already being prepared on the bbq, but we weren’t done. Hopping back on the bikes, we took the coastal road again and circumnavigated the entire island in less than 30 mins, watching the sunset dip below the horizon.
Dinner was on the communal boardwalk, a private table set up amongst the locals having their evening chats. More than I could eat but so much great, fresh, seafood! Sitting with a beer on the homestay rooftop, seeing a sky full of stars (which I never seen in Saigon), I couldn’t quite believe I was on the same island from three years before.
Unsurprisingly, I was out like a light. The next morning we had a good stodgy pancake with fresh bananas before heading off more the highlight of the tour, a few hours snorkeling around a protected marine reserve. The small island to the south of Cham is home to 4-5 soldiers and a some birds. Not only is it 200km west of the contested Spratly islands, the bird’s nests that are collected by the soldiers go for a handsome fee. The waters around it however were amazing. Huge coral gardens and much more marine life, it was so lovely to lazily float around for a couple of hours, stopping at three different areas to swim. Fresh cold water supplied in sustainable bottles and more trash collection from the water, they’re really doing a great job in trying to be a sustainable example to the other islanders.
Before heading back to the mainland, lunch was served, and again we couldn’t eat it all! Freshly caught crabs and huge prawns, soo good!
I have to say, I wasn’t expecting to be this excited after the trip, but it’s truly an amazing way to spend 24 hours. I think it would be great for example to fly down from the chaos of Hanoi in the morning, head straight to the pier and get over to the island for a night and then head to Hoi An to stay somewhere a little nicer. Not that the homestay was in any way uncomfortable!
An amazing experience that we are excited to start sending your guests on, for more information on this tour and others, please contact [email protected].