Tam hai island
south of hoi an
short drive east (22 km) of Tam Ky or 70km south of Hoi An, is Tam Hai, a small, rarely visited island scattered with Cham ruins, colourful fishing villages, coconut palm fringed beaches and Ca Ong, an
ancient whale graveyard thought to be one of the largest in the region, where every year on the lunar 20th of January,the villagers gather to hold an offering ceremony, praying for good weather and a calm sea.
From Tan Ky: Take the QL1A highway east to Tam Hoa, continue for 16 km and turn left at Điện Biên Phủ, and follow the road to Tam Hoa dock. The island is easily accessible via a small bike ferry that plies the ten minute route between Tam Hai and Tam Hoa Dock year round, taking passengers to a small village port on the southern tip of the island.
From Hoi An: Take the Cua Dai bridge south and swing left down any of the small laneways leading off from the main highway. Keeping the coast to your left, you'll eventually pass through Tam Thanh Village. Keep hugging the coastline, and 20kms later you'll arrive at the tip of the peninsula, and the ferry terminal to Tam Hai.
*Both ferries leave every 20 mins from 07:00 till 22:00 (stopping for lunch from 12:00 - 13:30). Cost 5,000VND foot passenger. 10,000VND for bikes.
tip: The island is small, at only 6kms long and 4kms at it’s widest point with just two roads and is best explored by bicycle (if you don't have a bike, you can ask at one of the many pop-up coffee shops located on the island side of the ferry terminal).
Allow extra time for your journey - it's gridlock on those coastal roads!
Tam hai mural village
Island festivals & Traditions
For the small community of fishermen living simple, sustainable lives with little interaction with the mainland, ancient traditions run deep. Each year the island elders gather to host a multitude of fishing festivals. Two highlights are the boat racing (2nd of lunar January) and the annual whale worshipping festival (20th of lunar March).
Lễ Khao lề thế lính
The biggest event, Lễ Khao lề thế lính - a death anniversary tradition that dates back to the Dao Viet period held in honour of the sailors lost at sea. The purpose of which, is to to help dead sailors and fishermen's souls mingle with the sea to reach nirvana.
While the fishing community on Tam Hai hold small versions of this ceremony throughout the year, the main festival is celebrated annually on the March full moon (according to the lunar calendar). The ceremony begins days in advance as the village elders gather at village communal houses to build miniature replicas of the boats, a drum and other traditional fishing accessories commonly taken out to sea. Each boat carries the identity number and a small mannequin of the deceased. Once the boat is ready, it is presented to a colourfully robed shaman who chants a prayer to expel any bad luck before the boats are cast out to sea along with hundreds of candles to guide the lost souls to safety.
Wherever your start point, it's a flat two-kilometre ride to the main market village. Here, you'll find plenty of local seafood restaurants, shops and a small pharmacy that marks a right hand turn off to the whale grave site. A further two kilometres on your left, is the entrance to Ban Than, a spectacular 40-meter high black coral formation that leads down to Dua and Can reef, an excellent snorkelling spot in the calmer summer months from April through to August. Before you make the hike up Ban Than, flag any of the coconut sellers down and ask them to take you to the Cham well and temple ruin which is hidden down a narrow dirt track under a canopy of coconut trees, almost impossible to find on your own. The well water is considered the most sacred and pure on the island; so the islanders use it to make rice wine that is believed among other outlandish medical claims to cure seasickness.
In July 2017, the Tam Hai islanders and visiting artists from the mainland, completed work on a mural village that leaves the more famous Tam Thanh painted village looking drab - they even painted the coconut trees!
Eat, drink: The island sleeps from 12-1:30pm. During these times, most (if not all) of the locally run cafes and restaurants close.
Though you could easily tick Tam Hai off in a day, if you are searching for a relaxed island vibe, bucket loads of culture and beautiful beaches, the island's only resort, the 10 villa, Le Domaine de Tam Hai is well worth considering as an overnight option.
Set under a canopy of coconut trees on the sandy banks of the Truong Giang river, Le Domaine is a romantic, secluded resort consisting of ten thatched beach villas complete with alfresco showers and private tropical gardens overlooking the river, and beyond to a deserted white sand beach. Though a tiny bit dated, the air-conditioned villas are beautiful, offering just the right level of luxe in one of central Vietnam's most stunning locations. Onsite, there is a pool, the sofa strewn Barefoot Bar, pool table and plenty of toys and games to keep both adults and kids entertained should it rain.
Extras like free kayak, paddle board, bicycle rental, speed boat transfers and the best seafood platter on the coast make it worth splashing out for.