Who would have imagined it to be possible to feel at home at a place you only stayed for ten days. A place that is located 9,632km (5,985 miles) from your hometown (thank you Google)? Before I made the trip, I couldn’t have imagined the bond I now feel with Cam Nam Island, on only five minutes’ walk from the Old Town of Hoi An.
Cambodia and Vietnam were the setting for a study trip I embarked on with my university at the time. I studied international tourism management and consultancy and we were working on feasibility studies, destination development studies, sustainable tourism studies, you name it.
Our real job started when our group of eight students (four Dutch students and four German students) arrived in Hoi An, a historic town in the middle of Vietnam. Each group had a specific location assigned in which they had to work on doing research for their feasibility studies. All groups were scattered around the Hoi An and Danang area, covering a distance of about 30km (18,5 miles) in total.
On arrival in Hoi An, we couldn’t wait to see what ‘our’ area would be for the next ten days. We quickly found the bridge that lead to Cam Nam, in our eyes still a mystery. The Cam Nam Bridge is the only bridge that connects mainland Vietnam to the small peninsula. A dangerously looking ferry boat is the only other possibility to access it.
We were required to find our own place to stay, and quickly came to the conclusion that the accommodation possibilities at Cam Nam could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Right across the bridge there were three resorts, only meters away from each other. A bit down the road, there was a homestay. Understandably, the homestay didn’t have enough room to house eight students. Our remaining options, the three resorts, seemed to be topping our budget, but after a bit of haggling (we would stay for a rather long period of time, and they would have eight guests extra in the low-season), we opted for Waterside Resort & Spa.
The rooms of the resort were set in ‘villas’ as they were called, in a tranquil garden setting. Each of our rooms had a private balcony, and when we opened the curtains during the weekend, we were welcomed by the buffalos that roamed the garden.
We had to learn as much as possible about the island in a short period of time. We visited local businesses, such as restaurants, bars, shops and craft shops, and even a primary school. Cam Nam clearly classifies as an off-the-beaten path destination (disclaimer: I visited in 2011, I don’t know what the situation is now), as it is nothing like the tourist attraction that is Hoi An Old Town.
Everything is very local, meaning that besides a bike shop and a beautician, there are no proper shops. Just a few old ladies walking around with their carts with crisps (or chips if you’re American) and fizzy drinks (or soft drinks when you’re American).
There are a few bars and restaurants, of which the Sleepy Gecko became our address for a night out. We also enjoyed our visits to the Lighthouse Restaurant, which is owned by a Dutch guy.
The major income of Cam Nam Island isn’t the tourism industry like it is of Hoi An, but the fishing industry. However, we also visited some companies that were part of the wood industry, or places that were into basket making.
I loved everything about Cam Nam Island: its people, the nature, the peacefulness… Yet, there was one thing that bothered us during our stay. Obviously, our trip took place during the raining season. Rain itself doesn’t have to be that bad. It does get much worse when giant beetles take over the place and fall like bombs out of the sky. Quite literally.
On Cam Nam Island, we found a huge amount of beetles the size of our mobile phones (no smartphones at the time) crawling around in the garden of our resort and squirming on the streets. We tried to avoid them as much as we could. The one time I accidently stepped on one, I heard such a horrendous cracking sound, that I cried out in utter terror. I took a deep breath and told myself I should keep it together, that being scared of an innocent creature wasn’t very ‘cool’. But then, the insects took off and started to fly. And apparently, they could hold that up for only a few meters before they dropped to the ground with the speed of lightning. I will just share with you that the feeling of a giant beetle in your hair isn’t fantastic…
Crazy insects or not, we wouldn’t let it stop us from exploring the island. To be able to see the entire peninsula, it is recommended to hire a bike, as it is fairly big. Hoi An has plenty of bike rental shops and even Cam Nam has one. When you don’t feel comfortable exploring the island by yourself, there are plenty of guided cycling tours available, in which you will also get the opportunity to visit some of the local companies.
We rented bikes for the entire duration of our stay (the local bike shop was extremely pleased with us, I can tell you). Cycling around Cam Nam is something I had never experienced before. The inhabitants of the island were extremely kind to us, and always waved when we passed by. Of course we waved back or tried to make small talk with them (using our hands and feet to make ourselves understandable).
When a few of us were invited to visit a primary school, we met an English teacher. You’ve to understand that the level of English spoken in the rural areas of Vietnam is fairly limited, which made it difficult for us to even speak with the English teacher. Yet, he was absolutely thrilled to see us being sincerely interested in the island and its people, and invited us all for coffee at his home.
So there we went, hopping on our bikes, making our way to the address the man had given us the day before. The teacher and his family lived in a house that wasn’t much more than some plastered walls with a collection of corrugated iron functioning as a roof. They had built some sort of tent in front of their home to be able to sit outside, even when it was raining or when the sun was at its brightest.
We were invited to sit at a small plastic table with matching plastic chairs, which we had seen so often already in Vietnam. Trying not to bump our long, western European legs to the table (which would have resulted in a hot coffee stain disaster) we enjoyed our time meeting this man’s family members and pupils, the latter who came by for a tutoring class. He also taught us how to make traditional Vietnamese coffee, although I don’t think I would be able to recollect the exact process. It looked quite tricky!
The ten days of research came to an end much quicker than I had anticipated. I had grown fond of the Cam Nam inhabitants, and I believe that they had grown fond of us too. Strange really how these developments can take place in such a short period of time. In all honestly, I felt sad to leave.
In the morning of our departure, we visited some of the people that we got to know during our stay, such as the Dutch restaurant owner, the English teacher, the beautician and the bike shop owner. We promised to come back sometime. I haven’t been back since, but whenever the opportunity arises, I’ll return to the place I called home, even if it was only for ten days.
I’m planning on sharing more about the destinations I visited during my stay in Cambodia and Vietnam. In the meantime, you can read a summary of the Vietnam stretch of the trip on Filling in the Map. Note: all photos are mine.