Cu Lao Cham, a group of islets located 15 kilometers off Hoi An City in central Vietnam, is in the midst of a tourism boom, thanks in part to the hard work of a 62-year-old Italian national passionate about the rich local marine life.
Lodovico Ruggeri, an Italian who goes simply by Lodo, is changing tourism on Cu Lao Cham, thanks to the diving service his company offers that has helped introduce the islets to adventure seekers from all over the world and shaped the archipelago’s current-day popularity.
A passion for the sea
In addition to serving as the director of Hai Ban Diving Company, Lodo is one of the many non-Vietnamese who have chosen to make Hoi An their new home.
Back in Italy, Lodo and his family ran a small textile factory, but after the birth of his son, he decided to leave the factory with his wife and travel the world.
In 2002, he landed on Cu Lao Cham and fell in love with its clear waters and white, sandy beaches.
“[I] love the sea. In every dream, I see myself swimming in the ocean,” he said, adding that while the seas in Malaysia are also nice, he does not like living there because he does not "feel safe."
That was when he decided to officially bid his family farewell and settled permanently in Hoi An, where he now resides in a seafront house on the city’s Cua Dai Beach.
At the end of 2002, the People’s Committee in Hoi An City dropped piles of paperwork off at Lodo’s house in response to his request to set up a diving company on Cu Lao Cham.
With help from a domestic business, he eventually completed the paperwork and sparked the tourism boom on the archipelago.
Over the course of his stay in Vietnam, Lodo has become a fluent Vietnamese speaker, even capable of mimicking the local ‘Quang’ accent, a very different dialect of Vietnamese from what is commonly heard in other parts of the country.
He also has two children, Hai and Thien, from a second marriage.
“I am a simple man. I found myself here,” he said.
“Many of my friends speak ill of this country, but I don’t know why they think so. Only when you truly know and love a place can you really understand it.”
Besides diving services, Lodo has established a diving center to provide training for potential dive instructors where he offers free tuition for those who are highly skilled and ready to work.
|People go scuba-diving off Cu Lao Cham islands in central Vietnam. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre|
Exploring Cu Lao Cham’s seabeds
Visitors who dive with Lodo’s company have the option of taking wooden boats out to the archipelago’s pearl-like islands, where they can dive into the waters and admire the swarming marine life.
According to Lodo, after the first two years of his partnership with a local business, there was a shift in laws which allowed him to set up his own, independent company.
He then began recruiting staff, purchasing a fleet of boats, and expanding his business throughout the entirety of Cu Lao Cham.
However, sustaining tourist activities is still a challenge due to the strict regulations imposed by the islands’ authorities.
In 2009, Cu Lao Cham officially became a UNESCO-recognized biosphere reserve, a major factor in the influx of tourists visiting the island.
Currently, the islands welcome 400,000 visitors per year.