Cu Lao Cham Island & Nature Reserve, Hoi An

Cu Lao Cham Island & Nature Reserve, Hoi An

The Beautiful Offshore Cham Islands near Hoi An, Vietnam

Linh Linh | Published Oct 30, 2019

The large island consists of 8 islets, 20 km off the coast from Hoi An Ancient Town in Quang Binh Province. Cu Lao Cham Island has wonderful sand beaches, forested hills, a nature reserve and the sea. With primitive landscapes, the island is ideal for camping, swimming and scuba diving to enjoy the corals and beautiful marine life.

Location: Tan Hiep, Hoi An, Quang Nam Province

I. History of Cu Lao Cham Islands

Cham islands are supposed to be the first place where Cham people landed, coming to Quang Nam Province from Indonesia (small monuments, dikes, and basin to grow rice on terraces are hidden in the forest, the 17th-century pagodas and small temples in the two villages). 

Beach at Cu Lao Cham Island

Therefore, being well-known since earlier Cham domination (from 4th to 14th century), the island became one of the main ports of Champa Kingdom. Situated some eight miles offshore Hoi An, it was also part of Hoi An historical international trading. From the 15th century till the beginning of 20th century, the old city was a meeting point for international vessels and junks.

According to archaeologists, Cu Lao Cham first settled there 3,000 years ago and established business contacts with external countries some 1,000 years ago. Up to now, Cu Lao Cham has preserved many architectural constructions which date back to the 18th and 20th century. They include the shrine dedicated to Than Yen Sao, built in 1843 at Bai Huong and Hai Tang Pagoda, built in 1753 on the western hillside of Hon Lao. 

Still, Cu Lao Cham has more to offer. After a three-hour canoe trip, one may hop over to the famed Well of the Cham people.

II. Topography of Cu Lao Cham Nature Reserve

Lang Beach at Cu Lao Cham
Lang Beach at Cu Lao Cham (@lee-hufl-19)

The topography of Cu Lao Cham Island is dominated by two peaks: a 517m peak in the centre of the island and a 326m peak at the western end. Natural forest here covers 532 ha of the nature reserve, equivalent to 35% of the total area, while plantation forest covers a further 30 ha.

Cham island comprises an archipelago of one large island and seven smaller islands: Hon Dai, Hon Lao, Hon Kho Me, Hon La, Hon Kho Con, Hon Ong, Hon Tai, Hon Mo. The largest island of them is Hon Lao, which covers 1,317 ha and has a circular shape at the height of 500m. There are nice beaches at Bim and Ong beach. 

  • Bai Bim: Nice beaches and rock reefs, free swimming and taking photographs
  • Bai Ong: White sandy stretch, beautiful view, clear water, lots of restaurants serving specialties of Cu Lao Cham, many entertaining services for Cu Lao Cham tour
  • Bai Lang: High population with amazing tourist destinations like Champa Kingdom, suitable for understanding more about the locals’ life.
  • Bai Bac: The northern beach, peaceful and isolated place that is used to make way for exorbitant resorts and villas in the future.
  • Bai Xep: beautiful and pristine with colorful coral reefs, great place for swimming and snorkeling.
  • Bai Chong: longer than Bai Ong, beautiful rock reefs and bridge for taking photographs, tranquil water to swim.  
  • Bai Huong: tasty seafood, lots of ships and boat docking, not for swimming

III. Biodiversity Values

The island is a place where shelter for value swallow birds. The natural vegetation of the islands is a lowland evergreen forest, that is natural with a lot of woods and rare animals.

Scientists report the occurrence of macaques Macaca sp., monitor lizards Varanus sp. and pythons Python sp. To date, 265 vascular plant species have been reported from Cu Lao Cham nature reserve. Furthermore, a species of swiftlet Collocalia sp. is reported to nest on Hon Kho within the nature reserve.

Cu Lao Cham is also home to salanganes, birds whose nests have long been considered a delicacy by aristocrats and the wealthy. The nests may cost as much as US $4,000 per kilogram. On a beautiful day, tourists are able to see cliffs where salanganes build their nests and talk with salangane-nest takers.

Grilled Nhum with strange flavor
Nhum (

Around the island has a lot of color corals under the water. Situated in a salty-water area, this square-bottom well, amazingly, provides clear freshwater all year round. Visiting Cu Lao Cham, tourists have a chance to view the sea swallows’ nests clinging to the towering cliffs. Cu Lao Cham wins kudos for its seafood and delicacies (octopuses, lobsters, fish’s fin, abalone, kaki, hind, cholonia’s eggs, bird’s nests) and fascinating souvenirs (pearls, conchs, tortoise-shells).

IV. What to See in Cu Lao Cham Nature Reserve?

Pagoda at Cu Lao Cham

1. Hai Tang Pagoda

Built in 1758, this pagoda worshipped Bodhisattva, Buddha, sea god and local god. In the past, there was a storm attacking the pagoda so in 1848, local people decided to reconstruct and redecorate it. Now, it is 200 m away from its original location. 

Hai Tang Pagoda lies on the foot of Hon Lao Island’s west mountain and is opposite a small valley in Cham Island. Hai means the sea and Tang means Tipitaka, which is a Buddhisst holy books containing Buddha’s words. 

Location: Hon Lao Island, Cham Island

Ancient well at Cham Island

2. Cham people’s Ancient Well

This well was dug 2 hundreds years ago by Cham people but until now, it still works well and the locals can use its fresh water. Its architecture is not different from other Cham wells with a pipe shape, annular bricks management, a square pillar, and a surrounding square base. Even during the dry season, people can still use water from this well for different purposes. 

Location: Xom Cam Village, Cham Island

3. Temple of Bird’s Nest Business Founders

Erected in the early 19th century, this temple is used to worship the bird’s nest business’s founders. The gods of the sea are also worshipped here, which is similar to Hai Tang Pagoda. Each year, following the Chinese calendar, on the 9th and 10th of March, local people often come here to pray for a new year with better harvests.

Location: Huong Beach, Cham Island

Biodiversity values of Cu Lao Cham

4. Cham Island Marine Museum

This museum gives you an insight of Cham’s history, traditions, customs, festivals as well as special sea creatures. In addition, you can also have a chance to know more about the lifestyle of people living on the island.

5. Tan Hiep Market

This local market is an ideal place for you to buy seafood and souvenirs. The most popular things that tourists often purchase is half-dried cuttlefish. It is because the seafood here is super cheap and fresh.

Location: Cham Island Pier

V. What to Do in Cu Lao Cham Island?

Camping at Cu Lao Cham

1. Camping 

With the variety of nature, Cham Island is a wonderful place to go camping. You just need to prepare everything well before going. The best choices for you are Bai Xep and Bai Bim where nature is wild and the spaces are open. Moreover, in Bai Huong and Bai Ong, you will be provided the necessary tools for an outside camp by local people. 

2. Sea trekking

This is a new type of entertainment here. You just need a functional hat and you can walk under the sea by yourself. This service is an interesting experience for every person, even those are at the age of 80. Let’s imagine yourself walking into the sea seeing beautiful schools of fish as well as coral reefs, what is better than this?

Snorkelling at Cham island

3. Snorkeling 

Another great activity that allows you to see the beauty of the sea is snorkeling. The price for a snorkeling ticket with a guide and full equipment is around 200,000 VND. But remember to protect the biodiversity of the sea when going snorkeling.

4. Swimming 

Cu Lao Cham has a lot of beautiful beaches that are suitable for swimming. Almost all of them are 20 m in width and 100 to 300 m in length. The waves are gentle and the water is clear and cool. So, you will definitely have a lot of fun here. 

VI. Best Time to Visit Cu Lao Cham Archipelago

The tropical monsoon climate put a huge impact on Cu Lao Cham’s weather.

So, the best time for you to visit Cu Lao Cham is between March and August.

This is the time when the weather is sunny and the water condition is great. In the remaining months, there will be heavy rain and sometimes even big storms. 

If you want to snorkel or dive, you should come in June, July and August. There are a wide range of tour companies and dive centers providing trips for you during this time.

Check out the seawater temperature in Cham Islands in months of the year in the table below:

Month Avg. Temp. Warmest Temp. Coldest Temp. Ideal Activity?
January 23.1°C/73.6°F 26°C/78.8°F 21°C/69.8°F x
February 22.8°C/73°F 25.1°C/77.2°F 20°C/68°F x
March 23.7°C/74.7°F 26.4°C/79.5°F 21°C/69.8°F x
April 24.8°C/76.6°F 27.1°C/80.8°F 22°C/71.6°F x
May 26.9°C/80.4°F 29°C/84.2°F 25°C/77°F x
June 28.4°C/83.1°F 30°C/86°F 26°C/78.8°F x
July 28.9°C/84°F 31°C/87.8°F 27°C/80.6°F x
August 29.4°C/84.9°F 31°C/87.8°F 28°C/82.4°F x
September 29.2°C/84.6°F 30.9°C/87.6°F 27°C/80.6°F x
October 27.8°C/82°F 30°C/86°F 26°C/78.8°F x
November 26.3°C/79.3°F 28.3°C/82.9°F 24.6°C/76.3°F x
December 24.6°C/76.3°F 27°C/80.6°F 22°C/71.6°F


VII. Where to Stay in Cham Islands?

On Cu Lao Cham, there aren’t any five-star hotels or resorts, you will only find homestays and hostels. But don’t worry, the service here is very good while the price is not expensive. Here are some suggested accommodations for you.

1. Tam Hien’s Homestay

Location: Bai Ong Beach, Cham Island

Tel: 0120 618 3516

2. Hiep’s Homestay

Location: Huong Beach, Cham Island

Tel: 0986 651 448

3. Thu Trang’s Homestay

Location: Lang Beach, Cham Island

Tel: 0985 237 941

VIII. How to Get to Cu Lao Cham Islands?

To get to Cu Lao Cham, you need to arrive in Hoi An, Da Nang first. There are numerous flights from big cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh to Da Nang. When you are here, you will have to choose 1 kind of transportation to get to Cham Island.

1. Private canoe

This is the quickest and most expensive way to get to Cham Island. The trip takes about 15 to 20 minutes. A private canoe can hold up to 35 people and the price varies from the size of the canoe. 

2. Standard canoe

This one is cheaper than the private canoe. The price is about 300,000 VND and you have to go with other strange people in the same canoe. You will not be able to travel freely because you need to follow the company’s route. 

3. Wooden Boat

The wooden boat is the cheapest way of transportation but the time you have to wait is also the longest. Normally, the boat leaves at 8 am and you will reach Cham Island at around 10 am. And you are recommended to stay one night on Cu Lao Cham if you choose this kind of traveling.

Once arriving in Cham Island, you can rent a motorbike to go to discover every corner of this place. Almost all homestays, hotels and hostels provide motorcycles for rent with a reasonable price so you do not need to worry about transportation on the island. 

Close to Hoi An town, Cu Lao Cham really cherishes high potential for tourism development. There is no reason for you to not experience the beauty of this beautiful offshore land.


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