Cu Lao Cham Island: A Jewel in Vietnam’s Central Coast

Cu Lao Cham Island

Cu Lao Cham Island, a UNESCO-recognized biosphere reserve, is a breathtaking archipelago situated off the coast of Hoi An, a charming ancient town in central Vietnam. This pristine island group offers visitors a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the mainland and immerse themselves in nature’s untamed beauty, rich cultural heritage, and a wealth of outdoor adventures.

Location of Cu Lao Cham Island

Geographical Position

Cu Lao Cham Island is located approximately 20 kilometers (12 miles) off the coast of Hoi An, in the East Sea (South China Sea). The archipelago comprises eight islands, with Cu Lao Cham being the largest and most populated.

Nearby Cities and Attractions

  • Hoi An Ancient Town: A well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site, just a short boat ride away from the islands, known for its colorful lanterns, ancient architecture, and vibrant culture.
  • Da Nang City: A bustling coastal city with stunning beaches, impressive bridges, and a thriving culinary scene, approximately 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Cu Lao Cham Island.
  • My Son Sanctuary: An ancient Hindu temple complex and UNESCO World Heritage Site, located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the island.

History of Cu Lao Cham Island

Ancient Settlements

The islands have been inhabited for centuries, with evidence of human settlements dating back to the Cham Kingdom, which ruled parts of central and southern Vietnam from the 2nd to the 17th century.

Maritime Trade Hub

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Cu Lao Cham Island served as a vital maritime trade hub, attracting merchants from various parts of Asia and Europe. This rich history has left behind numerous archaeological sites and cultural relics.

Wartime Refuge

During the Vietnam War, the islands provided a safe haven for many families fleeing the conflict on the mainland. Today, several war remnants, including tunnels and bunkers, can still be found on the islands.

Biodiversity on Cu Lao Cham Island

Diverse Ecosystems

Cu Lao Cham Island boasts a remarkable diversity of ecosystems, including lush tropical forests, pristine beaches, coral reefs, and mangrove swamps, making it a haven for various plant and animal species.

Flora and Fauna

The islands are home to over 500 species of plants, including rare and endemic varieties. The surrounding waters are teeming with vibrant marine life, such as colorful coral reefs, sea turtles, and a wide variety of fish species.

Protected Areas

In recognition of its ecological significance, Cu Lao Cham Island was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2009, ensuring the protection and preservation of its unique biodiversity.

Activities on Cu Lao Cham Island

Snorkeling and Diving in Cu Lao Cham Island

Snorkeling and Diving

The crystal-clear waters and vibrant coral reefs surrounding Cu Lao Cham Island offer exceptional snorkeling and diving opportunities, allowing visitors to explore the rich marine life up close.

Hiking and Trekking

The islands feature several hiking trails that wind through lush forests, offering stunning vistas and the chance to spot various bird species and wildlife.

Water Sports

Visitors can indulge in a range of water sports, such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and swimming in secluded coves and pristine beaches.

Cultural Exploration

Exploring the ancient Cham ruins, visiting traditional fishing villages, and learning about the island’s rich cultural heritage are popular activities for those seeking a deeper understanding of the local way of life.

How to Get to Cu Lao Cham Island

By Boat

The only way to reach Cu Lao Cham Island is by boat. Visitors can take a ferry or hire a private boat from Hoi An or nearby coastal towns.

  • Ferry Service: Regular ferry services operate from Cua Dai Pier in Hoi An to Cu Lao Cham Island, with multiple departures throughout the day.
  • Private Boat Hire: For a more personalized experience, visitors can hire private boats from local operators, offering flexibility in departure times and the option to customize their itinerary.

Travel Time

The boat ride from Hoi An to Cu Lao Cham Island typically takes around 1-1.5 hours, depending on weather conditions and the type of vessel.

Accommodation Options on Cu Lao Cham Island

Eco-Resorts and Bungalows

In keeping with the island’s focus on sustainable tourism, several eco-friendly resorts and bungalows offer comfortable accommodations while minimizing their environmental impact.

  • Bamboo Cottages: These rustic yet charming cottages, built using traditional bamboo construction techniques, provide a unique and authentic island experience.
  • Overwater Bungalows: For a truly memorable stay, some resorts offer overwater bungalows, allowing guests to wake up to stunning ocean views and the gentle lapping of waves.

Homestays and Local Guesthouses

For a more immersive cultural experience, visitors can opt to stay in traditional homestays or local guesthouses, where they can connect with the island’s warm and welcoming community.

Best Time to Visit Cu Lao Cham Island

Dry Season (March to August)

The dry season, which typically lasts from March to August, offers the most favorable weather conditions for visiting Cu Lao Cham Island. During this period, visitors can expect clear skies, warm temperatures, and calm seas, making it ideal for outdoor activities and beach days.

Green Season (September to February)

While the green season, from September to February, brings more rainfall, it also offers its own unique charm. The lush landscapes are at their most vibrant, and the beaches are less crowded, providing a more serene and tranquil experience.

Local Culture and Traditions on Cu Lao Cham Island

Traditional Fishing Village Life

Cu Lao Cham Island is home to several traditional fishing villages, where visitors can witness the age-old practices and customs of the local community.

  • Basket Boat Building: The islanders are renowned for their skilled craftsmanship in building traditional basket boats, a unique form of fishing vessel made from woven bamboo and rattan.
  • Fish Sauce Production: The island is famous for its traditional fish sauce production, which follows century-old recipes and techniques passed down through generations.

Cham Cultural Influences

The islands bear the cultural influence of the ancient Cham Kingdom, evident in the remaining archaeological sites, architecture, and local traditions.

  • Cham Towers and Ruins: Visitors can explore the remnants of ancient Cham towers and temples, providing insights into the rich cultural heritage of the region.
  • Traditional Festivals: Several festivals and celebrations, such as the Cham Boat Racing Festival and the Kate Festival, are held throughout the year, offering a glimpse into the island’s vibrant cultural tapestry.

Conservation Efforts on Cu Lao Cham Island

Sustainable Tourism Initiatives

To protect the island’s delicate ecosystems and cultural heritage, various sustainable tourism initiatives have been implemented, including:

  • Visitor Limits: Strict regulations are in place to limit the number of visitors and ensure responsible tourism practices.
  • Eco-friendly Accommodations: Many resorts and bungalows prioritize sustainable practices, such as solar power, rainwater harvesting, and waste management systems.
  • Community-based Conservation: Local communities are actively involved in conservation efforts, promoting environmental awareness and preserving traditional livelihoods.

Marine Protected Areas

Several marine protected areas have been established around Cu Lao Cham Island to safeguard the rich diversity of coral reefs, fish populations, and other marine life.

Reforestation and Wildlife Conservation

Ongoing reforestation efforts and wildlife conservation programs aim to restore and protect the island’s terrestrial ecosystems, ensuring a healthy and balanced environment for both flora and fauna.

Popular Attractions on Cu Lao Cham Island

Bai Xep Beach in Cu Lao Cham Island

Bai Xep Beach in Cu Lao Cham Island

Bai Xep Beach

Renowned for its soft, golden sands and crystal-clear waters, Bai Xep Beach is a true paradise for beach lovers. Visitors can relax under swaying palm trees, go swimming, or indulge in various water sports.

Cu Lao Cham Underwater Museum

Established in 2020, the Cu Lao Cham Underwater Museum is a unique attraction that showcases various sculptures and installations submerged beneath the sea, creating an artificial reef that promotes marine life and raises awareness about ocean conservation.

Hon Lao (Pearl Island)

This picturesque island, known for its pristine beaches and lush vegetation, offers excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities, with vibrant coral reefs teeming with marine life.

Hai Tang Pagoda

Perched atthe highest point on Cu Lao Cham Island, Hai Tang Pagoda is a sacred Buddhist temple that offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes. Visitors can explore the ornate architecture, intricate carvings, and serene atmosphere of this spiritual site.

Tan Hiep Market

For a taste of local life and a vibrant shopping experience, Tan Hiep Market is a must-visit destination on Cu Lao Cham Island. Here, visitors can browse through stalls selling fresh produce, handicrafts, souvenirs, and traditional snacks, immersing themselves in the bustling atmosphere of a typical Vietnamese market.

Water Sports


Exploring the crystal-clear waters and hidden coves of Cu Lao Cham Island by kayak is a popular activity for adventure enthusiasts. Paddling along the coastline, visitors can discover secluded beaches, limestone cliffs, and thriving marine ecosystems up close.

Stand-Up Paddleboarding

For a more leisurely water sport experience, stand-up paddleboarding allows visitors to glide across the calm seas surrounding Cu Lao Cham Island. Whether practicing yoga on a paddleboard or simply enjoying the tranquility of the ocean, this activity offers a unique perspective of the island’s natural beauty.

Swimming and Snorkeling

With its pristine beaches and clear waters, Cu Lao Cham Island is an ideal destination for swimming and snorkeling. Visitors can cool off in the refreshing sea, observe colorful fish and coral reefs, and marvel at the underwater wonders of this marine paradise.

Cultural Exploration

Ancient Cham Ruins

Exploring the ancient Cham ruins scattered across Cu Lao Cham Island provides insight into the island’s rich history and cultural heritage. From intricately carved stone structures to mysterious temples, these archaeological sites offer a glimpse into the past glory of the Cham civilization.

Traditional Fishing Villages

Visiting the traditional fishing villages on Cu Lao Cham Island allows visitors to witness the daily life and customs of the local community. From observing fishermen at work to learning about traditional boat-building techniques, this cultural exploration offers a deeper appreciation for the island’s maritime heritage.

Local Handicraft Workshops

Engaging in hands-on experiences at local handicraft workshops enables visitors to learn traditional skills and crafts practiced on Cu Lao Cham Island. From weaving baskets to making pottery, these immersive activities provide a unique opportunity to connect with the island’s artisanal traditions.


Cu Lao Cham Island, with its rich history, diverse biodiversity, and vibrant culture, offers a unique and unforgettable travel experience for visitors. From exploring ancient ruins to engaging in water sports, there is something for everyone on this enchanting island. By promoting sustainable tourism practices and conservation efforts, Cu Lao Cham strives to preserve its natural beauty and cultural heritage for future generations to enjoy. Whether seeking relaxation on pristine beaches or adventure in the great outdoors, Cu Lao Cham Island beckons travelers to discover its hidden treasures and immerse themselves in its timeless charm.

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