Comprising eight small, tropical islands within the Southeast Asia Sea, the Cham Islands lie just off the coast of Hoi An. They form part of the Cu Lao Cham Marine Park which has been recognised as a world Biosphere Reserve and are one of Vietnam’s most pristine destinations.
The idyllic white sandy beaches and warm waters are the main attraction of the Cham Islands, with snorkelling and scuba diving allowed within protected permit zones. There are around 135 species of coral found here, together with more than 200 fish species and around 80 different molluscs. The inland forests are home to wild monkeys, while two traditional villages, Bai Lang and Bai Huong, are found on the archipelago’s largest island. The Cham Islands are renowned for their resident swallows whose nests are a delicacy and used in making Chinese bird’s nest soup. Swallow nest harvesting has become an important industry on the islands, and nest harvesters can often be seen along the rugged hills. Rice farming and fishing are other major industries, with lobster, crabs and shrimp all caught here, together with the trade of pepper and cinnamon bark. In addition to soaking up the sun and exploring the abundant marine life, the Cham Islands are also home to sites of cultural significance, including the 18th century Hai Tuong Pagoda and 19th century Than Yen Sao Shrine.
Ferries depart daily from Hoi An to the Cham Islands, but only when weather permits and normally only outside of the monsoon months of September through to December. There are also daily speed boat tours offered by some travel agencies from May through to August.
Archaeological remains suggest that the Cham Islands were first settled around 3,000 years ago by the Cham people, although trade with the surrounding region was only initiated within the last 1,000 years. It is believed that their seafaring ancestors were attracted by the favourable anchorages near Bai Lang village, together with the availability of fresh water.