A visit to the rustic, peaceful Cham Island

A trip to Cham Island off Hoi An City, Quang Nam Province, may leave unforgettable memories of the beauty of an island in central Vietnam, both in its scenery and lifestyle

A visit to the rustic, peaceful Cham Island

A peaceful view on Cham Island

The high-speed boat departed Cua Dai Wharf for Cham Island. On the way, the fast-moving vessel kept breaking the in-coming waves to continue its course in the sea. Occasionally, the boat’s bow was lifted off the sea and then fell down making huge splashes.  But the sea ride which covered 17 nautical miles was only the first leg of my trip intended to explore Cham Island. Apparently, the boat seemed to sympathize with its passengers’ eagerness as it suddenly accelerated, trying to make shorter the excursion to the “green island” of central Vietnam.

Thiet, the owner of Cu Lao Sinh, as the speedboat is christened, said it took only 20 minutes to get to the island by high-speed boat and around 90 minutes by regular boat. The departure time was often at 7:30 a.m. Traveling by boat earns tourists pleasant experiences. Yet it may depend largely on the weather. During the trip, crew members always gave us smiles while telling us ways to explore the island. Their friendliness and hospitality greatly inspired us, who were first-timers to the island.

The beauty at dawn

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. No sooner had I stepped out of the door of my room overlooking the beach, than I heard the sound of boats docking and shrimps and fishes splashing coming from the wharf. In fact, the wharf was only a few meters away. The boats full of fish docking there had just returned after a night fishing trip. The wharf had then turned into a hectic fishing market with assorted kinds of fresh seafood. Some of the fish were still so strong that they could jump out of the baskets anytime.

The local fishing market is an interesting venue where tourists can explore the atmosphere of a fishing market hard to find in other locations. Much to my surprise, it took the dealer a short while to make a bargain, often less than a few minutes each. That was why a market day lasts only for less an hour when it was still somewhat dark. At that time, breakfast eateries featuring Hoi An’s specialties—such as Quang-style noodle soup, cao lau (Hoi An-style noodle soup), chicken rice, fish or oyster porridge—were ready to serve their first guests.

I had the feeling that Cham Island had become familiar to me for no reason even though I traveled alone. A local driver took me to some attractions on the island. Our bike ran on a winding road lined with houses and small paddy fields. Half hidden in forest at the foot of the mountain in the west was the ancient Hai Tang Pagoda which had been there for more than 250 years. From afar, the lock looked like a big pond, which made me find the island like a place in the peaceful countryside.

The road leading to the mountain I visited on that day was quite wide but it was winding with one side being cliff and abyss on the other. When knowing that I was nervous about the destination, my driver, also my tour guide, said I should stay calm because at the end of the journey would be a place where I would feel winds blowing and touch the red of dawn.

At 5:30 a.m., the sun gradually rose from the sea surface. This was the first time I admired the sunrise in a place “closest” to the sun.  How wonderful the experience was! The sunlight looked like a sparkling yellow silk that stretched over silent houses on the beach.

When getting higher, I heard more clearly the sound of streams flowing in the forest and sensed the smell of rocks and seawater penetrating my skin. I jumped up out of joy when standing in front of a primary forest with age-old trees. I saw firmiana simplex flowers in full bloom and monkeys and squirrels romping, and then embraced a six-century banyan tree. Enjoying the wonderful nature in such a short time was barely enough, but I had to end my mountain trek to save time for the spectacular morning market which hit its peak at 8 a.m. on the island.

 

A visit to an island market

That morning market on Cham Island was full of laughing. The small market was divided into two areas—one selling local cakes and dried fishes, and the other selling Cham Island’s distinctive seafood. The most interesting thing was I could choose fresh seafood which would be cooked right on the spot. There was a gallery inside the market displaying jewelry made of seashells and horns. A guest at the gallery would be given a free herbal drink.

After a stroll around the market, I stopped at a café and chit-chated with the café owner. She said the island received more tourists, and it gave locals a mixed feeling. Although there had been more jobs for the inhabitants, Cham Island’s “green lung” had been narrower. The local government had come up with some measures for protecting the island—setting a limit on the number of arrivals on the island, 3,000 per day, for instance. However, her worries persisted.

When I left her coffee shop the owner told me I should admire Cham Island at sunset. “The island is still itself then,” she said.

Comfort in tranquility

Cham Island at sunset fully exposed its beauty indeed, I reckoned. The island seemed to wear a new shirt of peacefulness. It was the best moment of the day to enjoy waves and white sand on Ong and Huong beaches.

Moonlight began to shine on boats and winds swept through coconut leaves. Seawater glittered while waves broke on the shore. Lights from squid hunting boats sparkled on the sea. Sometimes, I could hear the sound of a guitar playing. At that moment in time, I forgot all the burden of life to enjoy my absolute freedom. SGT

Phan Thi Thanh Ly

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