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Our Hoi An Free Bike Tour

Day 8 in Vietnam

sunny 90 °F
View Vietnam (2015) on heather.goodin's travel map.

After our big day of rest yesterday, we woke this morning invigorated and ready to start the day. Well, kind of. At least we only hit snooze twice, and managed to get the kids up without too much of a fight.

The plan for the day: take a bicycle tour of a local village through Hoi An Free Tours, which is a local organization which provides free tours to English-speaking tourists as a means to practice their English skills. (They are a non-profit company, their only "charge" for the tour is a nominal amount that you donate to the people of the community.)

After the sunburnpocalypse of the other day, we made sure to spend extra time on our application today! Actually, we spent so much time that we were late getting down to breakfast. The breakfast in our hotel was a wonderful spread of bacon, sausage, all kinds of breads, noodles, cold cuts, muffins, tropical fruit, fresh omeletes, fresh juice - almost anything you can imagine. As we settled in with our plates, we realized the time - 8:15 already, and we had to be to the tour place by 8:30. So much for the yummy breakfast. Out we go. Maybe tomorrow.

We rushed down the street to the meeting place of the tour. Luckily, the start was very near the hotel - only a few blocks. We arrived about 15 minutes late, and I felt bad as the tour guide was already giving introductory remarks to the group, and had to deal with us latecomers who 1) didn't bring our reservation code (I decided not to, as it was on the iPad and I didn't want to carry it all day), 2) hadn't brought bikes (we thought we'd be able to rent them there, and we could have, if we'd arrived early enough, 3) required a baby seat on the back of the bike (and not just a cushion that requires the kid to hold on; a real baby seat like in the US), and 4) were just plain old late. The tour guide was very accommodating though and got us all squared away. The other participants were patient too (at least, outwardly).

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We finally got everything straightened out and took off for the tour. We rode the bikes on the side of the road through some of the same streets we walked last night. Maggie's bike was just a tad too big for her, so she was having some trouble steering and touching the ground when stopped. She wavered among the motorbike traffic, but I stayed behind her to ensure she stayed safe. Cary was a bit too big for the baby seat - here in Vietnam, children of his size are already riding on the normal back cushion seat - so he refused to put his feet in the little pegs on the side of the baby seat. His feet dangled dangerously close to getting caught in the spokes, but thankfully never did. We pedaled through a little open market on our way to the ferry, but didn't have time to stop.

Shortly after leaving, we arrived at the ferry that would take us to the Cam Kim island to visit the Kim Bong carpentry village. The island has a population of just over 4,000, with just over 4,000 square kilometers of area. Actually, we were to make 5 stops on the island to see different traditional Vietnamese cultural stops. The ferry was packed with people and bike -motorbikes in the front, people in the middle, and bicycles in the back. People made room for the kids, which was much appreciated as we were trying to stay out of the sun as much as possible!

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After getting off the ferry, we realized Rick and Cary's bike had acquired a flat front tire. Ugh. Holding up the pack again! We walked our bikes to the first stop (which was thankfully close) - the carpentry village where they make traditional Vietnamese boats. The guide encouraged us to look around and take pictures while he took Rick's bike to a local shop to have the tire fixed.

The boat place was very small and only used traditional methods to make the boats. When the tour guide returned, he explained some things about how the boats are made. The wood mainly is of jack fruit trees (we had sampled jack fruit at the Mekong Delta stop a few days back, so were familiar), and it is gathered from forests in the interior Central Highlands. It is brought here to cure underwater for one year. The curing makes it easier to work with and also impervious to insect infestation (the same as pressure-treating wood back home).

After it has cured for one year underwater, it is brought out for planing. The wood is planed into workable thicknesses (a few inches).

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After planing, the wood is cut into the correct shapes vie circular saw and chainsaw.

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Fire is then used to bend the wood into the correct 3D shape.

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Afterward, they use wooden dowels to fasten the pieces together, and use a glue infused with sawdust to fill the holes between the slats. A small sized boat takes a few weeks to make; a medium sized boat takes about a month. The small boats sell for $6,000, and the medium boats (including the motor) for about $20,000. The lifetime of a boat is about 30-50 years, at which point people bring the boats back to be rebuilt with the same wood.

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Note that each of the boats has "eyes". This is a tradition for fishing boats in Vietnam. The eyes on the boats help to look out for water creatures and help find the fish in the ocean.

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We then got on our bikes and continued our ride. The countryside was very beautiful, with rice paddies along the road and some random cows hanging out.

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Our second stop was at a shop where they make "paper offerings", rice paper and rice noodles. Our guide explained the use of paper offerings, which are made to send to ancestors passed for use in the next life. Their belief is that when someone passes, they move on to another world where they need the same comforts that they have here: clothes, money, iPhones, razors, motorbikes, etc. They therefore make paper versions of all these things, and during certain times of the year, burn these things in order to cross them over to their ancestors in the spiritual world. This is traditionally done several times per year.

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We then moved to the back of the shop, where they make rice paper and rice noodles. Rice paper is made by using one scoop of rice flour mixed with water and spread out in a circular fashion on a piece of hot muslin over a fire. Rice noodles are made the same, with two layers applied and baked in between, and then cut into noodles. Rick and Maggie had the opportunity to make the paper/noodles themselves.

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We then had the opportunity to eat the fruits of our labor: two grilled rice noodle pieces with a raw one inbetween like a sandwich. It was served with soy sauce or fish sauce for dipping. It was actually quite good! They also served tea and candies for the kids. The tour guide then gave us part of our money back to give to the woman as charity.

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Our third stop was at a family temple. The temple we visited was for the Huynh family.

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The tour guide explained that every family has a corresponding temple. People are typically initially buried at home, but after 25-30 years are relocated to the family temple. Several times per year, people come to their family temples to make offerings to their ancestors. They offer both paper offerings (burned) and offerings of food and drinks, which after offering, they eat themselves in a "party" at the front. This temple, he explained, was the largest one on the island, with 6,000 - 8,000 people in the temple. It was decorated in a Chinese architectural style, as the Chinese had a lot of influence in the area before the French came along (and, later, independence).

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He also explained the tradition of offering rice. When offering rice to their dead, they put sticks of incense vertically in the bowl of rice. Therefore, they never stick their chopsticks vertically in a bowl of rice (in normal life), as this signifies an offering to ancestors. He cautioned us to not do this when eating.

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Back on the bikes to continue our ride! The countryside was gorgeous - what a treat to have the opportunity to go for a bike ride here on a nice, sunny day.

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Our fourth stop was at a place where they make traditional Vietnamese sleeping mats. They are woven by hand on a loom, and we all had a chance to try weaving a couple of rows (including Cary!).

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By now Cary was getting a bit restless, but the tour guide (in normal Vietnamese style) was doing his best to keep him occupied. He tried to give him a swing on his arms, but Cary shyed away from this. At the end of the visit, the guide gave us more money to give to the family. Also, we had an opportunity to take some photos with some local kids who were looking at us shyly during our visit. Cary asked several times if he could play with the kids, but we couldn't let him due to our need to stay with the group. As we rode away, he waved goodbye at them. It was very sweet to see him interact with other children and not see them as "different" than him.

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Our final stop was at a shop where we were able to buy some local goods. We were not pressured to do so, but it was offered. Maggie bought a bracelet for $2, and we didn't even bother to haggle. These people (IMO) deserve $2 for what they've given us.

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We got back on the ferry and rode it back...

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...and continued our bike ride.

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Afterwards, we went to a local coffee shop where we filled out some surveys on our trip. We made a donation to their charity, paid for our bikes and tipped our tour guide. I was surprised at the number of people who didn't tip the guy... we were the only people who didn't make up an excuse to leave and actually stayed to fill out the surveys and talk to the guide some more. Cary entertained himself by chatting up the local women (as usual), and we talked to the guide. He explained that English is compulsory in school here now, and by the time he got to University he was already pretty fluent. He was thankful that he had an opportunity to practice through this volunteer organization. We talked a bit about the difference in transportation between Vietnam and the US, and about him recently booking a trip to visit Ho Chi Minh City for the first time. I found it interesting that he has never been there, despite it only being a night train away! He said his dream is to visit another country. I wish I could have given that to him. It is something we have heard several times now, first from Pheonix, and now from Xuan.

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After leaving the coffee shop, we returned our bikes to the bike shop and walked back to the hotel to spend an hour or two at the pool while I typed this up in the hopes I could capture it all before I forgot!

Afterwards, we ventured back into Hoi An Old Town for dinner. I so wish we had longer to spend here so that I could have some clothes made. Hoi An is known for their tailor shops, where you can have entire custom wardrobes created in only a day or two (and for pennies, really). They create everything you can imagine - coats, suits, shoes, dresses, bags, wedding gowns, everything - by hand.

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And, once again, we were taken by the beauty of Hoi An at night! I wish the pictures did it justice... my camera lens just didn't perform at night.

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We ate on the second floor of a restaurant overlooking the famous red Japanese bridge. Dinner was great, and then we returned to the hotel with a sleeping Cary in our arms, and I spent the evening in the closed bar area writing up the notes from the past four days. I am now exhausted and ready for bed. I'll add the pictures and post tomorrow, hopefully, if we have internet access - we will be switching hotels in the morning.

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(PS - Posting this post-trip, of course, because we never did get that internet access!!!)

Posted by heather.goodin 06:11 Archived in Vietnam

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