Cham Islands or Ly Son - where should you spend a weekend trip?

By Darren Barnard   May 3, 2024 | 06:27 pm PT
Off the coast of central Vietnam there are two popular destinations that both international and domestic travelers enjoy spending a weekend at, but which one is superior for a short getaway?

Firstly, it is worth considering how convenient it is to travel to each region. Starting with Ly Son, you will have to reach Sa Ky Port in Quang Ngai Province. This is approximately 160 km south of Da Nang, however if you reside in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, you will likely choose a flight to Chu Lai Airport in Quang Nam Province, around 40 km north of the port. The ferry ticket to Ly Son island costs VND185,000 (US$7.27), while the journey lasts around 40 minutes depending on the conditions of the waves.

Your journey to the Cham Islands will likely be smoother in terms of convenience, but less so in regards to how bouncy the speedboat is compared to the slower Ly Son ferry. The speedboat takes around 25 minutes from Cua Dai Port in Hoi An and costs VND400,000 for a foreigner. Although the frequency of ferries to and from Ly Son is higher, it is certainly easier and faster to reach the Cham Islands.

Upon arriving on either island your next decision will be how to fill your itinerary during your time there. Snorkeling, diving and fishing are popular activities in the Cham Islands with many day trips also visiting there. Although the clear water is comparable in both destinations, it is much easier to appreciate it and spend time exploring the wonders of the coral world that lies beneath the surface in the Cham Islands.

Fish swim around coral reefs in Cham Islands, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh

Fish swim around coral reefs in Cham Islands, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh

In addition to the recreation on the water, the stunning beaches in the Cham Islands are more common compared to Ly Son with many consisting of hundreds of meters of golden sand to enjoy. Hang Cu beach and To Vo archway on the northwest part of the island of Ly Son are the leading attractions, but unfortunately, they don’t provide much more than a photo opportunity.

Furthermore, if a visitor in Ly Son wants to capture the beauty of the island, there is a strong likelihood they will have to traverse piles of trash to get the picture they want, including the additional challenge of photoshopping the litter out of the photo.

The subject of cleanliness and protecting nature is another resounding victory for the Cham Islands. The beaches and surrounding ares are the cleanest I have witnessed in Vietnam, this is largely due to plastic-free initiatives that are in place on the island. I was pleasantly surprised when buying fruit and sugarcane juice at Tan Hiep Market and receiving a paper straw, glass cup and rattan basket with them, rather than any single-use plastic.

The island was recognized as a world biosphere by UNESCO in 2009 and local authorities are striving to protect the incredible nature there with numerous policies, such as limiting the number of daily arrivals to 3,000 people and eradicating all plastic waste by 2025.

At Ly Son, one can find greater peace and quiet on Be Island, a 20-minute boat ride away from the the main islet of Ly Son. Here, there is more beach area to enjoy and a much-welcomed absence of trash.

Coracles to take tourists out for coral watching on Be Island of Ly Son. Photo by VnExpress/Lan Huong

Coracles to take tourists out for coral watching on Be Island of Ly Son. Photo by VnExpress/Lan Huong

Ultimately, if you are considering which island to visit for an upcoming weekend or vacation, I would suggest that the Cham Islands are the clear frontrunner. Ly Son's landscape is certainly unique and there are not thousands of tourists arriving for day trips to disturb your peace, but in the Cham Islands you can enjoy a far greater range of activities, travel a little further to relax on empty beaches and even have a greater range of restaurants and cafes available to you.

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