Exploring the Countryside on Two Wheels.
The countryside around Hoi An begs to be explored on two wheels. Sweeping rice fields, rural villages and the Thu Bon River Delta with its fishing communities, are all within cycle distance from Hoi An. Cycling also provides you with a welcome break from normal sight seeing – just hire a bike in town and hit the saddle, many hotels and guesthouses even offer them free of charge. There is no need to book a special bike tour, although there are many on offer in and around Hoi An, a map on your phone should suffice to find your way around the countryside. We cycled with a rough destination in mind and just took whatever lane we fancied to enjoy the stunning countryside, avoiding main roads, as traffic on those can be quite heavy. In case you do want to choose a specific destination, why not cycle to one of the smaller villages, like Thang Ha or to the sandy stretch of coastline near Cua Dai or An Bang.
Our Cycle Route
I usually get into fair detail about the cycle routes we choose, but to be honest we cycled a rather wiggly way on lots of tiny tracks across the fields and it would be tedious and boring to explain the exact course. There were no particular sights or outstanding buildings that we passed en route, but our furthest reach and perhaps therefore our main destination, was the train bridge up the Thu Bon River but most of you might consider this too far for a casual bike ride, particularly with kids. We covered over 30km that day which would stretch most people in the heat.
Cam Kim Island
Leaving Hoi An from our hotel, we cycled across the small bridge that connects the Old Town with An Hoi Island, and continued across and right. There we found a larger bridge at the western side of the islet, providing a connection for motorbikes and cyclists to the Cam Kim Island, and the boys enjoyed racing across, almost faster than the mopeds. I took it much slower, taking in the views of the river and the boats below. Over the bridge we headed for Duy Vinh, we rode along the riverfront before passing through the main village. We stopped to pick up some drinks for the journey at a tiny shop, we had hoped for some snacks too, but we just managed to get some biscuits and some mandarins.
The Local Life
By the river the fishing boats lay forlorn by the wooden jetties, too late for any fish to be caught. The residents went about their local life, women worked in the gardens, men chatted over a cup of tea and the children either played on the streets or watched TV. One thing that surprised me time and time again on our tours through the villages and towns, was that the TV seemed to be running all day long in most houses. The doors usually open to the living quarters we could see the kids and adults in front of he telly almost constantly. This is probably no different to the West, except that it is not so obviously visible to strangers.
Cycling Through Rice Fields
Before leaving the village we passed a farm with large bell shaped haystacks, they looked like giant mushroom caps, and soon after we were out in the open, on a narrow country path surrounded by lush green rice fields. Water buffalos roamed in the wet muddy gaps and the cone hats of the farmers looked like mushrooms poking out between. Jerome kept spotting Asian kingfishers flying through the summer air and we finally got close up to one of the colourful birds on one of the telephone cables.
A Field of Bitter Gourds
The rural paths often ran straight crossing the embankments and dikes between the paddy fields. Further ahead we stumbled upon a field of bitter gourds. The funny looking fruit, with its shrivelled skin is a common sight in Vietnam but it was our first time seeing them farmed. We had also encountered the bitter tasting fruit in Okinawa, the Japanese like mixing it into scrambled eggs.
Shortly after we reached a small temple and graveyard and beside it we discovered a large lotus pond. The lotus is the national flower, a symbol of divine beauty, and plays an important role in the local culture, folktales and songs. It is also one of my favourite plants, the elegant blossoms and umbrella shaped leaves, always remind me of our summers in Asia, especially Japan. I have tried growing the seeds back home but apart from a few leaves popping up there was no way they would have grown into anything like the beautiful fields there in the cooler climate.
A Peculiar Sight
Riding on we chanced upon a peculiar sight, someone had laid hundreds of sweet corn cobs into their courtyard to dry. Weirdly enough, it would not be the last time we would see people dry the yellow fruit on the road and pavements on the ride. Once the kernels had been taken off the cobs and spread out like a vast carpet in front of a temple and at some other point we even saw them drying fiery, red chillies on the tarmac.
Since our arrival in Hanoi, I had become somewhat obsessed with barbers. In the capital, customers would sit in make shift open air stalls sometimes under the cover of trees and have their face shaved completely unaware of the passers-by and enjoying a chat with the street barber. In every village we passed through on our travels we would encounter a barbershop, an increasingly uncommon sight in most European villages or towns. Since returning from Vietnam I found that the men running these little shops have somehow made a big impression on me and I started to wonder why no one ever made a book about them? There are countless publications on the wondrous loads on the back of motorbikes and bicycles but nothing worth mentioning about Vietnamese barbers cutting the hair in the open air.
Lunch Stop at a Local Eatery
We stopped in a small village for lunch a typical eatery for the locals. The family of the house had gathered around a large table for lunch and we were the only other guests. There was no menu and the mother of the family put three bowls of hot pho with chicken, plus salad and fresh rice paper for Vietnamese Summer rolls. It felt more like having lunch at a family home rather than in a restaurant, despite not being able to communicate with the locals we appreciated the authentic atmosphere.
Crossing the Train Bridge
Beyond our lunch spot our way led across more rice fields towards the river, at one point our path was more of a bumpy grass track than a road, which rather stressed me, but made Jerome laugh. Fortunately we were soon back on a normal roadway and heading towards our furthest point where a cycleway crosses the river beside the main line train bridge. The north side of the river is more built up but thankfully that meant faster progress, which was welcome as our legs were now tiring. Keeping to the side roads as much as possible heading back to Hoi An, we passed more villages and some markets on our way. Later, we even splashed through a ford on a side track, before reaching another larger road back towards Hoi An.
Meet the Friendly Locals
There is no doubt that the landscape around Hoi An is beautiful and should be explored, we thoroughly enjoyed our bike ride through the rural villages and stunning countryside. The friendly and welcoming locals is what makes any venture into the less explored areas of Vietnam the main draw. The villagers, predominantly the children and the older generation, greeted us with a happy “xin chao”. Considering the history of the country they truly show their kindness and made us feel welcome.