Chong Beach, one of the white-sand, pristine beaches on Cu Lao Cham Island
Blue. A never-ending expanse of intense blue as the sky and the sea met and merged into each other.
For about 15 kilometers - that we covered in 20 minutes by a speed boat from the Cua Dai Quay - this immense blue surrounded us, shining brilliantly under the bright sun. The wind was blowing hard, but I barely noticed it, lost in the magnificence of my surroundings.
Once we reached Cu Lao Cham, our guide took us to Lang Beach, one of the three main beaches on Hon Lao, the biggest islet on the island. And there was more than the beach itself to enjoy there. At a small, local museum, we were able to learn a bit about the history and life on this island, and see many marine creatures exhibited there.
Cu Lao Cham covers an area of just over 15 square kilometers and is comprised of seven islets. With 1,549 hectares of natural forest and 6,716 hectares of open water, the island has a diverse ecosystem that hosts many kinds of plants and fish. Hon Lao Islet is also the most populated place on this island. Not surprisingly, locals mainly earn their living from fishing.
Leaving the museum, we took a stroll along a winding road to visit Au Thuyen, a storm shelter for boats, and then the Hai Tang Pagoda. Situated near a small green rice field, the church had an atmosphere that was very relaxing. A cup of special tea made with medicinal leaves found on the island added to the sense of well-being. The tea is very good for our digestive system, we were told.
Next, we followed our guide to a lively, bustling local market where we bought a lot of seafood. One of the most heartening parts of the visit here was the awareness of environmental protection and pollution among the locals here. All the roads were kept clean and the use of plastic bags avoided. The dried products sold were wrapped in paper and the fresh produce in straw or jute sacks.
Leaving this lovely islet, we boarded the speed boat again to get to another beach. Our guide informed us that the destination was Xep Beach and that we were to go snorkeling. He said Cu Lao Cham had some wonderful sites for snorkeling and exploring the coral reefs, including Xep Beach and the islets of Tai, Dai and Mo.
The best time to visit Cu Lao Cham is between March and September. Visitors can explore the island on their own by taking a speed boat or normal tourist boat that departs from Cua Dai Quay at 8 a.m. and returns at 2 p.m. everyday.
Or you can book a tour at Hoi An Travel, 10 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hoi An Town, tel: (0510) 3 910 444, Email: email@example.com.
Hai Tang Pagoda, built in 1753 on the western hillside of Hon Lao, is among the most visited sites in Cu Lao Cham
The water was so clear I could imagine that snorkeling would be a breeze here. I was right. For those who can't dive and have no snorkeling experience like me, our guide suggested that we wear our life-jackets and snorkel not too far away. The underwater world spread out like a vast, fancy aquarium. Everything looked sharp and clear. The colorful coral reefs undulated besides hundreds of beautiful fish and snails. I guessed this must beat an Imax movie experience.
I learnt that Cu Lao Cham was recently voted by many experts as a new paradise for snorkeling in Vietnam, adding to already well-known hot spots like Nha Trang, Phu Quoc and Con Dao. The island has also been recognized as a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
After exploring the underwater world for more than an hour, we felt rather tired. Our helpful guide promised a relaxing time ahead. He said we were going to Chong Beach, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in Cu Lao Cham, to have some lunch and relax.
It was close to noon when we landed on the beach and the sun was blazing down on the white sands. Several hammocks were slung under the shade of some coconut trees and we lay down in them while waiting for our lunch. It was the best possible relaxation, being lulled by the sea breeze and the clear waters.
It was obviously a great place to go swimming and sunbathing, but we were happy where we were. The waiting had sharpened our hunger a bit, so the fabulous lunch with all types of seafood dishes prepared at a small restaurant was just what the doctor ordered.
I could not recall enjoying a meal more. After filling our stomachs, we relaxed for a bit longer and returned to the mainland at 2 p.m. It was difficult to imagine we had been away only for a few hours. The trip was an experience that would entice us into repeating it as often as we could.