4. Diving in Vietnam Part 1 – Cham Island

27.07.2015 – 28.07.2015

When I planned my trip to Vietnam I considered straight away to go diving. When I spent time at the Dive bar during my last stay I couldn’t stop the video they played from their dive trips. It just looked great.
So I have done some work back home before the trip and did my Open Water Dive qualification so I could do the proper dive there, and not just try dives.

The dive base located at the Dive Bar is Cham Island divers, and they offer several options – single dives, two dives, or 4 dives including staying overnight on one of the beaches of Cham Island. Staying overnight on the beach sounded good, so I pre-booked it from home (deposit of 20% paid via PayPal, including a fee). The price of $175 included equipment, 4 dives, 2 lunch, breakfast and dinner.

So on Monday morning I got picked up just after 8am (thankfully I was able to finish my Cao Lau first). I was the first one the bus and the collection process started. We arrived at the port around 9:30. It was already very busy there with groups arriving all over the place for various boat trips.
Cham Island divers had two boats leaving that day – one for divers and one for snorkelers. The boat had a decent size with enough space. On the top deck were comfortable sun loungers (with roof of our head), while downstairs were wooden benches, the equipment as well as free water, tea coffee and some cakes & bananas. The weather was not perfect, bit cloudy but it was dry.

Soon we were on our way towards the group of islands we could see in the distance. After being able to relax a bit the preparation started soon enough. Sizes had to be confirmed (was surprised when I was told I need a smaller sized wetsuit – happy days… ), and we were introduced to our OWD groups. I was in a group with Lynn, a Vietnamese girl from Hanoi, and a Danish couple, and our dive master was Ian. During the briefing we compared our experience, buddy teams were allocated (Lynn was my buddy for the day), and were advised how deep we were going (up to 18m), what to expect to see, and going through the important signals. I must admit the excitement for the dive grew quite a bit during the briefing.

Soon enough we arrived at our first dive stop near a little island – Hon Tai South. All items were fitting perfectly, my tank had 200 bar, and I was glad that I had my own mask (having a mask not fitting perfectly is annoying) and my dive computer – this was the only equipment they didn’t provide. I also realised that I didn’t have a stick for my GoPro, so it put it into the pocket of my jacket and prayed that I didn’t loose it during the dive.
Then it was time for my first dive in the sea. Jumping into the water I realised how much nicer it is to be in 29 degree warm water, and not below 20 degrees in a German lake back. We all were ready to go down, but I was only a meter down when Ian indicated to go up straight away. I was the lucky one to get a damaged jacket – air bubbles came out of my jacket. No problem, just had to swim back to the boat, and get a new jacket and tank. It was good to see that the dive guides check the equipment in the water as well.
So we tried it again, and this time we managed to get down – some slower than others. Apparently using the same amount of weight in salt water than in fresh water doesn’t work – I was too light with 6kg. But soon enough all five of us were down at 12m, and the dive started.

I heard that diving in Vietnam is not as exciting as in other places like Egypt, as the corals or fish are not as colourful. But I didn’t care – it was amazing. Visibility was great – around 15 metres, and I was able to enjoy the pure beauty of the underwater world. Fish were left right above and under us. We went down to 18 metres to follow the ground along coral reefs, rock formation. Floating around was great – even though I had to ensure not going up to easily. My first dive took 35 minutes until I had 50 bar left in my tank.

After a short while, which was used to share our dive tales, we were at the second dive site – Ranh Man, and we were back in the water.

The second dive was great as well. There were less corals, but the rock formations on the ground were more interesting, at some point were swimming to some impressive canyons. Looking up to see how the blue colour of the water got lighter and seeing so many fish swimming above us, it hit me how strange and wonderful it was to be 15m down, enjoying the view in an area I actually didn’t belong to – it felt amazing and peaceful (considering the only sound I could hear was my breathing through the regulator. After 40 minutes we surfaced, and thankfully it was a shortish swim to the boat.

As this was the last dive of the day it was time to get out of the wet suit, relax and talk about the second dive while the boat headed to Cham island. When we arrived near a beach, and some little boats picked everyone up to get to the beach – where lunch was served.

The beach itself was beautiful. There were several loungers and hammocks along the beach, a beach volleyball field, as well as several food places. This was clearly a popular stop for day trippers.

The lunch was served at the food place at the end of the beach. It consisted of a wide range of dishes, including meat, fish, seafood, vegetables, rice and noodles. And it was plentiful and delicious. It was also another good opportunity to catch up with the other divers and dive guides, sharing advise about Vietnam, and also learn more about the other dive sites in Vietnam (it was where I was told by the guides that Con Dao was the best dive site in Vietnam – and put the idea into my head to go there…).
After lunch there was an hour free time on the beach before the boat headed back to Hoi An. In addition of swimming I relaxed on the beach – cursing me that I didn’t bring a book along.
At 15:30 the day trippers were collected for the return trip. The ones who stayed behind had a choice – either stay on the beach or get a boat ride to the main village of the island.

I was the only one opting for the boat ride, and after dropping the others off at the main boat I was on my way to Bai Lang village, the main village of the island The ride took about 15 minutes and gave a good impression of the coast line and the jungle covering the hills on the island. The village itself is set in a beautiful setting in a bay, a beach and the sea on one side, and the jungle and hills surrounding the rest of the village.

From the pier It was nice to see the houses dotting along the beach. It had such a peaceful feel. I saw quite a few Vietnam tourists there, but it seems I was the only Westerner there – and was instantly approached by some locals to talk to me, or offering me a ride back to the beach (I declined as I wanted to walk). I took a little stroll around the village, saw the local foodball pitch (as well maintained as the others I have seen in the rural area – the ones I have been on in Scotland looked like perfectly maintained!!!).
Walking along the beach I could watch men working on their boats, collecting mussels and kids playing in the water. I also saw several coffee and food places as well as some guesthouses. So it is possible to stay here in the village. Actually, I think it would be a great place to stay for a couple of nights to enjoy the local life there.

But I didn’t get out that quickly. At a little roundabout I saw two boys playing football, and instead of just watching I was suddenly in the mid of it, keeping the ball up between the three of us in the middle of the road. Whenever one of us (all of us, not just I) miss-hit the ball some running was involved to the beach. We only stopped when the older guy was called towards the beach to help the other men carrying out a boat.
Being hot and sweaty I decided to head off to the walk to the beach. As Cham Island is still a military base I was advised not to leave the path – but I wouldn’t even know how you could leave the path. On the right side it went down to the beach, and to your left is the jungle. Being lucky as usual I managed to hurt myself. I thought I just kicked a small wooden stick – but it was actually hanging out of my toe. This is why I had open sandals!!! Thankfully it wasn’t bleeding to bad, so I could continue to walk – even though it was hot. And there was nothing on the path. A sign announced a café – and the though of a cold drink gave me new energy.

I finally spotted the Ecological Garden Hill up a hill on the left hand side, and I walked up the stairs to the café.

It is actually the home of a man who has added a few benches and table with a stunning view towards the ocean. He only serves a few drinks and doesn’t speak English. However his son-in-law was there, and his English was pretty good. So I enjoyed the fantastic Ca Fe Sua Da (the best I had so far during the trip), and listen to some stories. When I asked for a napkin to stop clean the blood of my toe the owner jumped up, and brought a first aid kit and started to clean the wound. I didn’t want to make a fuss about it, but he was happy to help.


Before I left I also got a tour of the farm, which involved walking up the hill, passing a plantation of various fruits, herbs and coffee. I realised that I got the freshest mint tea you could get – he grows his own mint plants. From the well you had an even better view of the surrounding area – it really was just beautiful.
I had a lovely hour there with the warm welcome offered. In addition of drinks he also offers accommodation – tents that are put up in one area of his farm. I hope that more tourists walk up from the beach to that café. It definitely is worth the effort.

Arriving at the beach before it got dark our tents were put up already. My reward of being away was that I go the smallest tent. Great.

Dinner was served at the same place as lunch, and it was very good once again with a good mix of meat, fish and vegetables again. After dinner a bonfire was set up on the beach to enjoy the evening with a beer and sitting back to watch the clear sky after electricity was switched off – the only light coming from the fire and the lights of the boats lining up at the horizon fishing for squids. Thankfully the toilet was closer (though I tried to avoid them as it wasn’t cleaned after someone was sick in the urinal).
Unfortunately the night in the tent was not very comfortable. It was far too hot, despite having part of the roof and door only covered by a mosquito net. I had much better nights I must (especially when it started to rain, and as the ten was open above I got a bit wet!!!). Maybe I should have followed the example of the two Americans who slept on the loungers, using a blanket and mosquito spray as protection!!!

Next morning a simple breakfast of baguette and egg was served – and to my delight they even served Ca Fe Sua Da. A good start into the day.
The little boats brought us then through the choppy sea (the weather was worse than the day before – wet and windy) to the same first dive site as yesterday – Hon Tai South.
After a short wait the boat arrived, and the same procedure as the day before happened – Getting to know my new dive group (it was a group of 5 plus Ian as the guide again), a briefing (this time we went a different direction, 18m down again), and getting our equipment up.

And off we went down. Due to the weather visibility was not as good – just over 10 metres. But the dive was once enjoyable. At one point Ian made it quite clear to stop immediately, and took us a wider way around a rock. I was distracted by a colourful fish that I didn’t see the trigger fish which was the reason for our detour. If protecting their nest they can be aggressive towards divers. At least I saw more colourful fish. And I lasted 41 minutes. I was happy about gaining more experience, improving a little bit, and enjoying this relaxing atmosphere under water.

The second dive site of the day was Sien Vien. Knowing it was my last dive in this area I enjoyed very single minute of the 46 minutes under water down to 17,6m (some suggestions from Ian really helped me to relax more and to use less air to stay down longer). Again visibility was not perfect, but nonetheless it was very enjoyable. I must admit I was disappointed when the dive was over I would have loved to dive more. I think it was the start of an addiction that had caught me…

 

We returned to beach on Cham Island for lunch – food was again delicious. After lunch I took the chance for a nap on the beach (lack of sleep, two dives and a full belly made me very sleepy), and soon enough I was back on the boat to return to Hoi An. Getting the paperwork with the Dive logs out of the way I was able to make myself comfortable and enjoy the journey towards Hoi An. An interesting and very enjoyable trip came to an end.

Overall I had a great time. I had 6 logged dives before the trip, a complete beginner, so I loved every minute of the dives. But even the more expeirenced divers had a great time. People will say that other countries have much better dive sites, that Vietnam is not famous for diving, that the area is impacted by over-fishing etc. Still, for me it was a great experience – all four dives. Fully enjoyed it.
Cham Island itself looks very nice as well. Bai Lang village is located in a beautiful setting, and I am sure a stay there is nice. And the main beach is stunning, great place to relax and to enjoy a swim. Food was fantastic there.

 

So for both divers and non divers – Cham island is a good place to visit.

Accommodation:
Sleeping in a tent on the beach is not the most comfortable combination due to the heat. So maybe staying in the village might be a better option. Though the evening on the beach with the bonfire was very nice,

Recommendation:
For divers I would highly recommend Cham Island Divers. Boat is nice (water, tea and coffee as well as cakes and bananas were free), equipment looked good (though they do not provide dive computers), and the guides were very good (I was impressed that Ian checked our equipment under water, He also provided some great feedback which helped me straight away during the next dive). So I cannot fault them with anything.
When staying on the beach head to the café located at the path towards the village above the beach. The owner is a very friendly guy, and the view offered is stunning.

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