Sib and I have always been pretty healthy and active – she grew up a head taller than the rest of the kids and excelled in everything she did, particularly basketball. I’m no where near as naturally athletically gifted, but still somehow wound up with a degree in Exercise Science, a great 8 year career as a personal trainer and a black belt martial artist. After having been repeatedly told that the best way to see Vietnam was by bicycle, we decided to actually do a proper day-long tour, rather than just hiring bikes for an hour. Sib’s a good rider and really enjoys is. I can ride, but am prone to freaking out if I have to ride in traffic. We figured this lovely tour around the quiet, secluded islets of Hoi An was a good way to do it.
After an afternoon of online research, we found Heaven and Earth Bicycle Tours (http://www.vietnam-bicycle.com/). We read glowing review after glowing review from very happy customers, and decided on the 23km “Real Vietnam” tour. Our itinerary read as follows:
After a boat transfer, of approximately one hour on the Thu Bon river, you will arrive at a small village in the middle of the delta where you will begin your cycling tour. The morning will be spent cycling 14km across the countryside and rice fields. You will cross from island to island taking the unusual bridges made from wood or bamboo. A short boat crossing will bring you to a small island where you will enjoy lunch in the home at a local family. In the afternoon you will continue the same route as the “Countryside Bicycle Tour” and discovering local crafts. This tour includes crossing the river on a local ferry, visiting the crafts workshops, crossing a floating bridge, and a bamboo bridge, and several other stops along the way.
Our tour cost only AUD$47.00 per person, and included our lunch, bike and helmet hire, our guide and assistant (I’ll get to them, they were AMAZING!), and a few visits along the path. We were pretty happy with it all and booked on the spot, paying via PayPal, which made things very easy.
The morning of the tour, we caught a taxi to Heaven and Earth’s head office and walked up the front stairs with anxious excitement. After a quick confirmation that we were indeed paid and on the tour, we grabbed a helmet each and went outside to meet the girls who helped us pick out and adjust our bikes. Once the whole group was saddled up and ready to go, they handed us each a 1 litre bottle of water to clip to the back of our bikes, and led the way for a short peddle from the office to the water where our boat was waiting for us.
We spent an hour on the brilliant blue, calm water, weaving in and out of the fishing nets, getting to know our family for the day.
There were just 8 of us, plus the two amazing women who led us, educated us, looked after us, and quickly became our friends. Trinh and Nahm – you ladies are absolutely amazing! When you book your bike tour around Hoi An (and you’re crazy if you don’t), make sure you ask for these girls.
Once we hit dry land, we rode on and off for the rest of the day. The girls were really fantastic – Trinh leading the way and Nham holding the fort at the back of the pack, making sure everyone was accounted for, comfortable and managing the ride in the blistering heat. They stopped us regularly for water and photo breaks, always letting us know how far we’d come, how far our next riding stint would be, what our next stop would entail, and what kind of terrain we’d be encountering.
Instead of writing about everything we saw and did, I’m going to let the photos do the talking – no words could possibly do the truly breath taking natural beauty of this place justice :)
After riding a few kilometres through the most perfectly green rice fields you’ve ever seen…
.. we made our first stop in a gorgeous, colourful neighbourhood to learn how to make rice paper.
We rode a little more through some surprisingly diverse landscapes…
We also got stuck at a few of these very old bamboo bridges. We were told we could try cycling across if we felt brave. I did not. I walked.
Next stop was another beautiful neighbourhood, where we met two women who wove the traditional Vietnamese mats. You could feel the mood change, you could almost touch the sadness we were all overcome with, when we were told that these beautiful, large, intricate mats that took 4 hours each to make sold for only USD$5.00, and the women earned only USD$1.00 per mat. To see these kind, smiling women, bent over in manual labour was hard enough. To imagine them doing this for 8 hours a day and earning only $2.00, was beyond the scope of anything we could imagine. It was a really humbling moment for all of us.
We rode only a little further before stopping for lunch – home cooked and unbelievably good! We were then invited into the home for an explanation about some of the traditions that still hold in Vietnamese homes.
Next up was a stop on the water to learn how to and try to paddle the little round basket boats.
We also had stops to see how incense sticks were made, and also met a man who carved out the tiny detailed mother-of-pearl patterns that are inlaid into wooden products.
It was a long day in very hot, humid weather (we left our hotel at 7.30am and didn’t get back until around 2.30pm), but it was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. If you’re in Hoi An, even if you’re not particularly athletic, please do yourself a favour and jump on a bike with Heaven and Earth!