April 30th/May 1st 2019
Hoi An, a city located in central Vietnam, is a thriving hot spot of adventure, shopping, history and markets. We had a free day on our tour today and we all chose to maximize our time between tailor fittings, optional extra tours, and night life/markets .
In addition to the usual draw of tourists to this tantalizing city, we were lucky enough to experience an influx of Vietnamese due to a national holiday! As a previous Dragon Boat competitor, I was thrilled when we even discovered a dragon boat competition–Vietnamese style– during our bike tour! The video of this high energy event is located later in this blog post!
On April 30th, 1975 this national holiday, called Reunification Day by our local guides, was born. This date has varying names in other geographical areas from Liberation Day to the Fall of Saigon. After researching, I discovered on this date “Communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces captured the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon, forcing South Vietnam to surrender and bringing an end to the Vietnam War”. nytimes.com “The country was unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the following year” history.com
Our entire “Tiger Team”chose to participate in the optional half day boat/bike Discovery tour around the island of Cam Kim. Cost CA $47.00/person. I am not able to peddle bicycles due to a chronic knee condition, but gratefully was accommodated as a passenger on the safety motorcycle which followed the group.
Our adventure started at Hoi An Cycling where our group of 12 were fitted with helmets and bikes for the day; met our vivacious leader and tech support men; and reviewed basic safety rules for this outing. Next we were off to the boat launch area! The bikes were loaded and the vessel headed off to Cam Kim Island.
During our short boat trip we passed multiple types of eyed water craft. We witnessed Vietnamese fishing techniques and enjoyed the sights of cattle grazing along the banks.
Upon arrival at Cam Kim Island the bicycles were unpacked and the 15 + km adventure commenced! The group cycled past rice paddies, sugar cane fields, cow pastures, reed fields, rivers, and numerous home businesses. An unexpected result of exploring during the national Reunification holiday was that we even witnessed a local Vietnamese dragon boat competition!
Here is a video depicting our amazing views and experiences during the first half of our boat/bike tour.
After rice is harvested, it is dried and sorted on the roads! Rice is the seed of the grass species Oryza Sativa (Asian rice). When rice is harvested it is called “paddy”.
Sometimes the rice is spread on top of tarps and sometimes it sits directly on asphalt or cement roads. It was a common sight to see locals out in the ferocious heat spreading the grain and kernels around as they dried.
After passing over a small bridge we were thrilled to discover multiple long boats full of men in the river; crowds of exuberant locals sitting on the river banks; and motorcycles lining both sides of the road. My motorcycle driver yelled “Racing Day!”
I nearly jumped off the motorcycle in excitement! We convinced the tour guide to stop here for an unscheduled break so we could share this dynamic experience!
Many locals wear decorative masks over their noses/mouths as protection against air pollution–especially when riding motorcycles. Observe the woman in the 1/2 sphere boat. These boats are common with locals as a previous king taxed boats based on their length. So Vietnamese responded with these round vessels!
Here is a video representation of our local Vietnamese Dragon boating experience! Such fun!
After resuming our journey we passed more fields then small man made ponds with interesting aeration systems. The tour guide informed me these were prawn farms. There are so many innovative and practical ways to utilize and maximize harvest potential here. More huge drop nets were evident near water edges. My guide said the nets are dropped around sunset and lifted before sunrise.
The next stop on our day’s experience of rural Vietnam was a rice wine distillery. The distillery and adjacent home were owned by an elderly ex soldier who proudly displayed photos and sang songs about Ho Chi-Minh. This positive man lost his foot as a result of a land mine explosion during previous war periods in Vietnam, but has adapted to a small prosthetic foot. He greeted us with smiles and welcomed us to his home.
The connection between pigs and rice wine is substantial. The manure from the pig and piglets is used as fuel (as well as rice husks) to heat the boilers. The left over rice product not used in the rice wine is fed to the pigs. Win. Win. There are different levels of rice wine. We sampled the “typical” rice wine. It’s strong! Only a few dared to try the rice wine which was fermented with cobras, poisonous snakes, scorpions, or giant centipedes. The question is…did they suddenly become more manly and virile?
Reeds were thickly growing in many locations around the island. We observed people hacking them down with curved machetes while others sorted them into piles. We even observed piles of reeds dyed in various colours–yellow, red, green (natural), purple. Reeds were used to create colourful sleeping mats. Prior to arriving at the home of the couple who created sleeping mats we passed more very unique modes of transport…
We had the opportunity to observe the mat weaving process and try adding a few rows! The couple who introduced us to this traditional craft work together for nearly 10 hours a day to create about 4 mats/day.
I’m afraid our group would starve if we were dependent on mat production to feed our families–as we were painfully slow! It was fun attempting this type of weaving, but I would imagine your back would ache doing this endlessly!
Next stop was lunch at a family home/store. We learned how to make wraps created from rice into a type of appetizer.
Add to that real coconut water and traditional Cao Lao noodle soup.
We also learned about Vietnamese celebrations including lanterns, decorations, and symbolic burning fake US dollars. There was a small residence at the back of the rice wraps/noodles area and small store at the front. A lady (grandma?) and 2 children were sitting on the floor in the back area. There was also 1 bed and a tiny bathroom with a squat toilet which they allowed me to use during the visit. Everyone has been so welcoming to us.
Our 5 hour tour around Cam Kim island was drawing to a close as we returned to the boat launch site for our homeward trip.
This is a video representation of the second half of our wonderful experience and events from the rest of our packed day! I would highly recommend this Discovery tour.
We had tailors to visit in Hoi An prior to our next extra excursion which was a cooking class at the Green Mango! Cost for the 3 hour group cooking session was $92 CAN/person. Our Intrepid tour guide presented us with a list of suggestions of where to shop if we were interested in any of the following: custom tailoring, shoe-making/leather, silver, optometrists, etc.
Mark decided to get some fancy new frames and prescription sunglasses at Optic Au Viet Glasses. For 2,200,000 Dong $129.00 CAN the owner had his new glasses made to his specifications and delivered personally to our hotel within about 24 hours.
Although there are literally hundreds of tailors in Hoi An city, most of our tour group decided to get some clothing custom designed from one of the two tailors Jay recommended. We stopped in to check out both locations. Yaly was upscale and quite famous. They also had the best selection of styles and fabrics. Sisters Tailor was family run with a very good reputation.
Mark and I decided to support the smaller company and selected Sisters Tailor. We were carefully measured then we selected our designs and fabrics. We had 4 items custom tailored for 7,820,000 Dong which was $461.00 CAN for 2 custom designed dresses, a fully lined sports jacket, and a men’s dress shirt.
By our second fitting the items were nearly perfect for us. Everything was delivered to our hotel on the second evening. Overall…Our group had more success with Sisters Tailors as multiple extra fittings were required before the clothing from Yaly fit properly.
Now we were off to the Green Mango for our evening cooking lesson and concluding meal. The chef was delightful and so vivacious. We all wore black aprons and chef hats.
Although it was interesting to learn how to cook new Vietnamese dishes and fun to bond with our group in another setting, I preferred the cooking lesson we experienced in Chiang Mai when we each had our own station rather than standing around watching most of the time. Plus $92 CAN/person seemed a bit pricey for this activity.
As we headed back to our hotel the streets and markets were bustling with activity and energy. The lanterns strung above our heads truly made the place feel so magical. The sound of drumming and chanting caught our attention and drew us toward an active area where people were sitting up in a type of tree house playing a Vietnamese game.
We watched and were enticed to try playing the next game. It was like Vietnamese Bingo! You paid a small amount of Dong to buy a wooden stick with 3 designs on it.
As the lady started chanting, a man walked around showing a wooden paddle with a design on it. If you had that matching design you were passed a small yellow flag. The first people to obtain 3 yellow flags won that round. It was fun! We were so close!
Another full and exciting day in Vietnam! Tomorrow we fly to Hoi Chi Minh City!