First published May 2019 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
INTRODUCTION | GUIDE | MAP | RELATED POSTS
A small and tranquil island within fairly easy reach of Hoi An and Danang, Tam Hai has long beaches, coconut groves, volcanic cliffs, and sleepy villages whose houses are splashed with colourful murals. A pleasant 1-2 hour drive south of Hoi An via the coast road, Tam Hai is an island at the mouth of the Truong Giang River, in Quang Nam Province, Central Vietnam. The placid river flows either side of island, thus cutting Tam Hai off from the mainland. Accessed via small ferries from the north and south, the island retains its own character, with local festivals and temples, a distinctive dialect, some historical relics, and even wildlife, including a population of Leopard Cats. Walking, cycling, kayaking, motorbiking, swimming, snorkeling, fresh seafood, and boat trips to outlying islands are all very good fun and worth making the trip for. Tam Hai is a particularly rewarding excursion for independent travellers. The island only has one accommodation option: the peaceful and tasteful Le Domaine de Tam Hai.
GUIDE: TAM HAI ISLAND
This guide is a brief introduction to Tam Hai Island for any travellers considering making the trip. Below I’ve written a short summary of what it’s like, what to do, where to stay, and how to get there. Tam Hai Island is good for independent travellers looking to get off the beaten coastal path, especially anyone following my Coast Road route. Two days and one night is enough to explore the island, but the longer you stay the more you’ll tune-in to island life. Weather is best from March to September.
Tam Hai Island, Quang Nam Province
View in a LARGER MAP
Tam Hai is s quiet, still, and slow-paced island. Even compared to the villages either side of it, on the mainland, Tam Hai seems to operate at a different speed. This is a very appealing quality for a visitor. The island has two roads and two small villages. The bigger of these is sprawled along the east-west road, which connects the two ferry crossings. The smaller village is clustered at the north of the island, sheltered under the volcanic bluff at the end of the north-south road. All around the island there are narrow, paved lanes leading off into the coconut palms, past shrimp farms, through family cemeteries, under casuarina trees, and out onto the beaches and river banks.
Tam Hai Island is widest at its southern end, where the brackish water of the river estuary nurtures mangroves, and fishing boats gather along the concrete embankments where the water is calm. Going north, the island quickly tapers, forming two, long, sandy beaches on either side, which, though lovely, are tainted by trash. The northern tip is perhaps the most charming part of the island. The volcanic cliffs, which swell up behind the brightly painted hamlet, have a certain aura about them: there’s a sense of time and history here, helped by several old and attractive houses, some ruins of Cham-era foundations, the remnants of a war-era military base, and a still-active freshwater well at the bottom of the hill. Small temples and shrines dot the interior of the island, including a newly-built whale cemetery, where dozens of sea mammals are given burial in the belief that they will bring good fortune on the seas.
Naturally, Tam Hai’s main industry is fishing, and there are reminders of this everywhere on the island; from nets to boats to coracles to seafood restaurants. But shrimp farming is the most obvious, and one of the reasons for this is the mess that the farms produce. The plastic piping for the water, plastic lining for the pools, plastic sacks for the shrimp feed, and the discharge from the farms into the ocean are all too obvious. Like so many islands in Vietnam, Tam Hai is suffocating in plastic. There’s no formal trash collection on the island, so locals have no choice but to collect and burn, or throw into the sea and river, the litter they produce. Neither of these are long-term solutions, of course, and the beaches and interior are suffering for it. But, assuming a trash collection service is on the way, it might get better soon. Note that, in general, the water quality of the river and the sea is pretty good; don’t let the littered beaches put you off swimming, snorkeling or kayaking.
Activities & Sights:
There’s enough to see and do on Tam Hai to keep you busy for a day or two, and because the island is so small and so quiet, it’s easy to explore independently:
Cycling & Motorbiking: Tam Hai Island is only a few kilometres in diameter at its widest point, which makes getting around by bicycle or motorbike extremely quick and easy. Le Domaine Resort can rent wheels to guests, and a couple of the local cafes might also be able to rustle one up. The island’s two ‘main’ roads run east to west and south to north. Not much more than paved lanes, these roads pass through the island’s villages and hamlets. At the time of writing, a new embankment road was under construction on the east coast. Another embankment road leads along the southern shore, fronting a large lagoon filled with fishing boats, with the Truong Son Mountains rising in the distance. Leading off the two ‘main’ roads, lots of little, concrete lanes are good for exploring, taking you to beaches, shrimp farms, fruit orchards, shrines, cemeteries, and fishing hamlets.
Hiking & Walking: Because the distances are so short, Tam Hai is great for walking. There’s very little traffic on the island’s roads and lanes, so ambling around on these is fine and pleasurable. Depending on the tide, it’s even possible to hike the entire circumference of the island: from the beaches on the east and west coasts, to the rocky bluff at the northern tip, and the dykes through the mangroves in the south. The most challenging hike on the island is in the north, where it’s possible to take dirt paths on a loop. Starting in the northeast, from behind the seafood restaurants at Ban Than cliffs, either walk along the fascinating rock formations by the sea or up the dirt path to the communications tower, then across the exposed and beautiful bluff, and down the other side through thick tropical foliage to an ancient (and still functioning) communal freshwater well in the northwest.
Also at the northern tip of the island is the mural village, where several homes and shops have been painted in bright colours with fishing and sea-related scenes, adding a lot of character to this isolated community. As you wander around, you’ll see a few handsome but crumbling century-old houses standing beneath the palms. Many of the homes on the island appear to have been abandoned and left to decay. I was struck by the relatively old population of the island. In most Vietnamese cities, towns, and villages, children are everywhere, but this was not so much the case on Tam Hai. Finally, a whale cemetery can be reached via a lane between shrimp farms. Many whale graves are laid before a pagoda, which is still under construction. (Note: the whale cemetery marker on my map is only an approximate location.)
Kayaking & Boat Trips: Kayaks, for rent at Le Domaine Resort, are perfect for paddling upriver to the mangroves and lagoon, or downriver to the sandbar on the opposite bank or the long, sandy, beach on the west coast. The river is placid, but, once it flows into the ocean, the chop can make things more difficult. Two small islets lie off the northeast coast of Tam Hai Island. The smallest, Dao Da Island, can be reached by hired boat from the collection of seafood restaurants at the northeast of Tam Hai. During the day, small groups of Vietnamese tourists gather here to take the boat trip. You can join one of these for a few dollars. The island has a little beach and some interesting rock formations and coral. Dao Da Chim is the bigger island, but I’m told access is restricted, because a shipwreck was discovered carrying a valuable cargo of Chinese porcelain, dating from the days of the maritime silk road, which traded goods between China, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Arabian peninsular. However, boats can still sail around the island to give passengers a look. But you’ll just have to imagine the shipwreck and its cargo, which is long gone.
Swimming, Snorkeling & Beaches: Swimming is possible in both the river and the sea around Tam Hai Island. Although the water quality is pretty good and clear, the trash on the beaches can be off-putting. The best (and cleanest) places to swim are at Le Domaine Resort and off the rocks along the cliffs near Ban Than, in the northeast of the island. The latter has some coral, fish, and submerged volcanic rocks that make snorkeling an option. Two, long, beautiful, fine-sand beaches, backed by coconut palms and casuarina trees line much of the east and west coasts of Tam Hai Island. Unfortunately, in their current state, they are more attractive from afar than up close, when the litter problem becomes apparent.
*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use any of the relevant links below to book your accommodation, I make a small commission (at no extra cost to you). All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.
The only accommodation on the island, Le Domaine de Tam Hai [BOOK HERE or call (+84) 077 9533 622] is a lush, peaceful and tasteful riverside resort. Set under a dense canopy of coconut palms, the 11 private villas are comfortable and atmospheric, including tiled floors, wooden furniture, thatched roofs, outside showers, and terraces with river views. The resort lies along the banks of the Truong Giang River, a beautiful spot, particularly in the mornings and late afternoons, when the sun is low, bathing everything in a pink light. There’s a swimming pool, large gardens dotted with tropical trees, and an excellent lounge bar under a thatched roof on the sand, offering creative cocktails (and a happy hour) and an enticing menu, including fresh-caught, local seafood. Le Domaine is a refuge and it treads lightly on its patch of the island. Low-rise and low-impact, Le Domaine chooses to work with its natural surrounds, rather than stamp all over it, like the string of concrete mega-resorts between Danang and Hoi An, for example. The resort is perfectly positioned as a base from which to explore the island. From Le Domaine, you can hire bikes to ride the back-roads to villages and temples, or kayaks to row downriver to beaches, sandbars and headlands. Le Domaine is overseen by Caroline, who works hard to maintain the resort and help guests (and non-guests) get the most out of their visit to Tam Hai Island. Prices hover around $100 a night for a villa [BOOK HERE or call Ms Caroline on (+84) 077 9533 622 for special rates & promotions].
If Le Domaine is out of your budget, you could potentially camp on Tam Hai, if you have your own equipment. While exploring the island, I came upon several good, potential campsites. Otherwise, head to Tam Thanh Beach (15km north of Tam Hai), where there’s a smattering of good guest houses and hotels, or into Tam Ky City (20km) for more accommodation options. You can find out what’s available in Tam Ky and Tam Thanh Beach on Agoda.com or start your search HERE.
Le Domaine de Tam Hai Resort is lush, tasteful & comfortable: it’s the only accommodation on the island
The swimming pool at Le Domaine Resort is under coconut palms, on the sand, by the riverbank
Food & Drink:
Although food and drink options on the island are fairly limited, especially compared with mainland towns, you won’t go hungry on Tam Hai. There are inexpensive noodle and rice joints (looks for signs saying phở, bún, mỳ, cơm) in the main village in the south of the island, and a handful of fresh seafood restaurants (quán hải sản) in the hamlet at the north of the island, as well as elsewhere. Le Domaine Resort has a good, eclectic menu at their beach lounge, and a great choice of cocktails – time it for the sunset happy hour (5-7pm).
*Please support Vietnam Coracle: If you use the links & search boxes below to book your transportation to Tam Hai Island through Baolau.com, I make a small commission. All my earnings go straight back into this website. Thank you.
Tam Hai Island can be accessed from the north or the south via small ferries that operate regularly during the daylight hours (apart from a ‘siesta’ between about 12noon-1.30pm):
From the North: From Hoi An/Danang, it’s roughly 60km due south on the pretty coastal road, via Tam Thanh Beach, to the furthest tip of the sandbar. When the road and land end, there’s a small motorbike ferry (10,000vnd) to take you across the Truong Giang River to Tam Hai Island.
From the South: Coming from the south, Chu Lai Airport (which has daily flights to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi) is just 10km away via Road 618 to Ky Ha Port. From here, a bigger ferry (capable of carrying a couple of cars, as well as motorbikes) makes the 5-minute crossing (5,000vnd) to Tam Hai Island.
Booking Tickets: The major transportation hubs in the region for flights, trains and buses are Danang, Quang Ngai, Tam Ky, and Chu Lai Airport: you can search schedules, prices, and book tickets easily through Baolau.com or use the search box below:
Search & Book: Type your departure & arrival cities & travel dates below & click ‘Search’ to find current ticket prices & availability for flights, trains & buses:
Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this island and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements here