One of my many highlights when backpacking in Vietnam was when I stayed camping at the beautiful Cham Island, close to the Ancient Town of Hoi An where I spent a few awesome days.
Cham Islands are actually a complex of 8 islands which are part of the Cu Lau Cham Biosphere Reserve which is recognised by Unesco and the boats will take you to the largest one which is Hon Lao at the village of Bai Lang.
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How to get there?
To go to Cham Island you have two options, to take a speed boat tour which can cost quite a bit or to take the slow wooden boat which is a provisions boat. If you take the latter, you know that you will stay at least one night in the island as there’s only one boat doing this route.
The speed boat price will start at 400-500k VND. The price for the slow boat should be 100k VND, as I arrived almost on departure time and there were already 3 other backpackers on the boat which had already paid 150k VND so I couldn’t bring this price down in front of everyone.Booking.com
The slow boat leaves from the ancient town at 8:00am and from the Cua Dai Pier about half an hour later. The journey will take about 2 hours so you have plenty of time to enjoy the views, take pictures and even a good nap. Not many people takes this boat so you will have plenty of space.
Ask in your hostel the exact location to get the wooden boat as there are no signs anywhere. The Ancient Town “pier” is just at the end of a dirt road in between the Hoi An Silk Marina Resort and the Riverlife Homestay.
As with all protected areas, there’s an entry fee for the Cu Lau Cham Biosphere Reserve, in Feb ’19 this was 70k VND (less than US $4). There will be someone at the Cua Dai Pier that will jump on the boat to sell the tickets. I really hope that money is being used for conservation purposes.
Arriving to Cham Island
In the village of Bai Lang you can find plenty of accommodation (not too expensive for island standards), feel free to go there without a booking so you can negotiate the price as there’s not many people staying overnight at the island.
There are also a few restaurants, do keep an eye on the menus as I found in one restaurant a menu with local prices and a different one with tourist prices, after a short discussion I payed the local prices.
There are a few shops to buy water and snacks but they don’t have much on offer so aim to bring your food and drinks from Hoi An where you will also pay lower prices. If you’d like some ideas for preparing meals when camping in Cham island take a look at my post about easy camping food ideas.
Upon arrival I started walking south as I saw some beaches when I was on the boat that were looking like awesome spots to spend the night camping.
Finding a beach to camp
After about 5 minutes walk from the pier you will already be leaving the village and a short but steep climb will take you to the “highway” there’s pretty much no traffic at all except for a few scooters so it’s completely safe to walk there.
Quickly I started finding beaches, but kept walking as I didn’t want to stay too close to the village. At 1.7Km from Bai Lang village I arrived to Chong Beach. There’s a short downhill trail to reach the beach and even that there are a few restaurants there to cater the day tours coming from Hoi An, I knew instantly this was the place that I wanted to set up my tent and spend the night there!
MY CAMPING ESSENTIALS
Chong Beach is an awesome beach to stay camping in Cham Island, with fine sand, long enough to go for a walk around, and with quite a bit of wood around to make a small fire in the evening! as it’s frequented by many tours there are toilets and showers which are free of charge.
As mentioned, the beach is a refreshment spot for the boat tours from Hoi An, the boats come for half an hour with about 20 people and then keep visiting the rest of the island, I may have counted about 10-15 of these tour boats, but then after 14:00 all of them were on their way back to Hoi An, only 4 people left at the beach which were staying at the hostels in Bai Lang, after sunset they left and I had the beach for myself…well almost!
I had this friendly visit!
This little doggy stayed with me all night long! after digging a hole to make a small fire and cooking dinner it was time to cover it up again with sand (please never leave an open fire when camping) and enjoy the view of the stars, got to love a starry night!
When I went to sleep in my tent the doggy stayed sleeping right outside it and didn’t move until I woke up!
Wandering around the island and back to Hoi An
Early on next morning, I packed my tent and started walking around the island as I had until 11:00 to discover a little bit more before taking the boat back to Hoi An.
I walked back to the village and then followed the road towards the other side of the island, this was all uphill but there were awesome views. At the top of the hill there’s a military post so I feared the military man was just going to send me back to town, I greeted him with a polite “Xin chào!” and made signs of walking a little bit more just to take a photo, he seemed to understand or simply saw no threat on a backpacker wandering around a peaceful island and let me continue.
The other side of the island (facing East, away from the mainland) was actually really pretty, but there were no beaches there, it’s mostly rugged rocky landscape with no clear ways to go down. As I was with my rucksack and with not much time before taking the boat I turned back to town after enjoying a bit the scenery. Back in town I still had time to walk to the beach of Bai Ong, this one is a bit more developed as there were more restaurants than in the beach I camped.
To go back to Hoi An, you can ignore the people in the village trying to sell speed boat tickets, just go to the pier at 11:00 for the slow boat. If you’re by the pier/beach you will see the boat slowly approaching in the distance at around 10:00. You don’t need to buy a ticket, just pay when getting on the boat.
Back into Hoi An, the boat will first stop by the Cua Dai Pier and then will continue towards the ancient town.
If you’re looking for camping adventures, Cham Island is fantastic! the natural beauty is wonderful and even that (as usual) some rubbish gets washed away by the shore, the island was relatively clean.
To have the beach for yourself is not something that happens very often when you’re so close to really touristy places such as Hoi An so this is an awesome spot to take a break from the crowds.
Feel free to drop a comment or question if you’re planning to go camping in Cham Island!
Check out the rest of my camping adventures around the world for more inspiration on your next backpacking trip!