We did an absolutely amazing bike tour around some of the islands just off the coast from Hoi An. Going on this tour gave us plenty of opportunities to see some real Vietnamese life.
We traveled between the islands by bamboo bridge usually. One of the bridges disappeared literally overnight – Steve, our guide, had been there the day before and crossed by bridge, but when we arrived the bridge was gone so we had to take a boat. The bridge had been disassembled because strong winds were expected in the area. This slight hiccup gave us a chance to drink a small rice wine and share a few laughs with the people who were working on the bridge so it worked out pretty well.
As we cycled along we often saw crops left out to dry in the sun. We saw rice, corn and reeds drying on the sides of the roads. Some of the reeds were dyed lovely purple, red, yellow and green colours. We were wondering what the reeds were for when Steve introduced us to some women in their homes weaving beautiful mats from the reeds. They let us have a little go at the weaving too which was kind of them because I’m sure we slowed down their progress. They make something like 30 mats a day and sell them for about a dollar.
Down the road from the weaving women we heard loud clicking machine noises coming from a building. Inside was one woman looking after about 6 weaving machines all weaving beautiful, white silk. I’d never seen raw silk before and it was amazing to see the weaving machines in action and the woman’s quick fingers changing the spools.
On our travels that day we also saw lots of other people working very hard. We saw fishermen and women out working in their boats – they used lots of different kinds of boats and lots of different techniques to catch the fist. We saw people making ice in a small house-hold factory and another man using a machine to take the husks off rice. Local people bring bags of rice to him, which saves them lots of time because until recently this process had been done by hand. We saw women with red teeth from chewing betel nut, and we rode with kids who were coming home from school on their bicycles. Everybody seemed really busy.
As well as seeing the crops drying on the side of the road, we also saw papaya trees, cashew nut trees, mango trees and pineapples plants. We tasted an amazing fruit that I’ve never come across before. It’s very small and round and grows on a tree and tastes just like toffee.
Steve explained that much of the land at this time of year usually has peanuts growing, but not this year. The farmers have instead planted their third crop of rice. They’re expecting the rains not to be too heavy this year and are hoping that the rice won’t get washed away. I hope they’re right!
Another trip we did from Hoi An was to visit the home village of a man called Mr Phong. He took us to his village, gave a short history lesson in his living room and then took us on a walk around the village. On that trip we saw a small household-based rice wine distillery. And, we also came across people rolling tobacco, which they grow in the village. They roll the tobacco into coils which are then sold to the cigarette factories.
Mr Phong also told us about ancestor worship and ghosts. He said that most Vietnamese families have shrines in their homes for their ancestors. They place offerings, burn incense and say prayers for their family members who have passed away. They also keep a table of offerings outside for the ghosts. The ghosts don’t have family to pray for them and are often far from home. The table is outside so that the ghosts don’t come inside the house. People burn fake money as offerings for the ancestors and ghosts – they even burn fake American dollars for the ghosts from the war.
As well as all this activity, we’ve been doing a bit of sitting on the beach and swimming in the sea too. On one particular day we had the whole beach to ourselves, ate fantastic calimari and clams by the water and swam in the perfectly-temperatured water. Heaven!
We’d been looking forward to getting to Hoi An for a while now. We figured it would make for a great place to hang out for a week or so, relax and not do much else.
When we first arrived I was wondering if maybe we were wrong – we couldn’t take two steps without being hassled to buy something, eat something or take a ride somewhere. It’s over a week later now and I’m going to be sad to go. We’ve done and seen a lot in the week that we’ve been here – a lot more than we intended to – but somehow it’s all been very relaxing at the same time. These days we stop and have a chat with pretty much everyone who’s trying to sell us something. It’s not really a chat I guess – we only know how to say a few things like no thanks and good luck – but even that’s enough to turn the odd frown upside down.
We’ve filled a lot of our time with activities – a bike tour, a cooking course, a home visit and tour of a nearby village, a few bike rides to the beach, a concert, and some visits to a few of the heritage buildings in town. We filled in the gaps with eating, more eating, reading, the odd arvo nap and laying around on the beach.
I’ve been really impressed with some of the ingenious contraptions in Vietnam but in Hoi An we got to see quite a few of them up close and in action. Fish traps and nets, bird traps, ice making machines, weaving looms, boats, rice huskers and more. Probably the most impressive thing for me was to see the round boats in action. These boats are like round bowls with a diameter of six or seven foot. Someone stands at the front with a single oar that they seem to stir around in front of them to make the boat go forwards. It really seems as though it shouldn’t work but somehow it does. I wouldn’t get in one myself but these guys seem to manage even in the surf – sometimes with five or six passengers.
We’ve had some great food here. The giant prawns were pretty amazing. A more interesting meal was made up of tiny shellfish that are scooped up off the bottom of the river (by fisherman making strange but groovy reggae dancing motions). The shellfish are boiled up, the meat is collected and then it’s mixed with garlic, onion, herbs, spices and peanuts. You eat the mixture using deep fried rice paper chips as scoops – might sound a bit odd but it was really good eating. Another amazing meal we consisted of a table full of assorted vegetables, meat skewers, rice pancakes, herbs, sauces and spring rolls that we’d roll up in a couple of sheets of rice paper to make a giant spring roll – about an inch thick and six inches long. We had a few too many of those. It couldn’t be helped.