Introducing Cham Islands
A breathtaking cluster of granite islands, set in aquamarine seas, around 15km directly offshore from Hoi An, the Cham Islands make a wonderful excursion. Until very recently they were closed to visitors and under close military supervision, but it’s now possible to visit as a day trip, dive or snorkel the reefs, or stay overnight.
In the last year or two the serenity of the islands has been compromised (on weekends and Vietnamese holidays) by boatloads of day tripping tourists from the mainland, so try to plan your visit accordingly if you can. It'll have to be between March to September, as the ocean is usually too rough at other times.
Only the main island, Hon Lao, is inhabited – the other seven Chams are tiny, rocky specks, covered in dense bush. Dip beneath the ocean and you’ll find a rich underwater environment, with 135 species of soft and hard coral and varied macrolife. The islands are officially protected as a marine park. Fishing and the collection of birds' nests (for soup) are the two key industries here.
Bai Lang, Hon Lao’s little port, is the main village (aside from two remote hamlets). A pretty, very relaxed place, its leeward location has long offered protection for mariners from the rough waters of the South China Sea. You’ll find its lanes are a delight to explore – the laid-back ambience and slow pace of life here are a real tonic for road-weary travellers.
Tiny Bai Huong, a fishing village 5km southeast of Bai Lang, is an idyllic but isolated spot where an excellent new homestay initiative has been set up.