Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cycling Vietnam: Hoi An to Cam Thanh - Of Buffaloes & Basket Boats

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Cycling Vietnam: Hoi An to Cam Thanh - Of Buffaloes & Basket Boats
Cycle Ride Hoi An : 3rd February 2017

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions & Ride Conditions
Vietnam traffic is left-had drive, so ride on the right hand side of the road. Same thing applies when crossing the road, so do take care.
- The route is quite flat with early morning temperature around 24ºC, it was drizzling and this made the weather cooler.

2. Places of Interest
Hoi An Ancient Town (GPS: 15.87806, 108.32862).
Thu Bồn Riverside (GPS: 15.87645, 108.33455 to 15.87489, 108.34766).
Cam Thanh Buffalo Ride & Padi Planting (GPS: 15.88049, 108.35993).
Basket Boat River Riding at Ho River (GPS: 15.87638, 108.37359). These boats, locally called thung chai are similar to coracles.
- Traditional Rural Vietnamese Cooking Class (GPS: 15.87634, 108.37064).


PRELUDE

Okay.... OKAY! That's me (at the top-most photo) riding a Buffalo... one must be asking, is this a cycling blog or a buffalo-riding blog? Well, the burly buffalo is part of the game which we will come to later.
We were on a family holiday in Hội An in Vietnam, and Lynn who had picked up cycling recently (... see Buiying My 2nd Brompton blog). She had taken to cycling quite ardently and through her own initiative had booked a cycling tour for the four of us. We had wanted to bring our Bromptons over from Malaysia, but our stay here was short and weather forecasts predicted rain for most of the time, so our bikes stayed put back home. A friend, Tai Lim, had visited Hội An a couple months back and had experience flooding in the town. Irrespective of the flood they did have a good time of a different experience (... see Tai Lim's blog).
The weather in South-east Asia has of late become rather unpredictable, instead of the usual dry Chinese New Year weather, it had been raining for weeks. And in Hội An it had been raining everyday since we arrived a couple of days ago. On the morning of the ride it was raining rather heavily, so we were uncertain weather our afternoon cycling tour would be proceeding. But Mr. Cu from the cycling tour company contacted us and told us not to worry, the ride will proceed!
Sure enough, the rain did stop just before the ride start time and he was at our hotel with his bikes ready and waiting for us!


THE RIDE


Cycling Distance: 9.73 km.          |             Level: Easy


The route is fairly flat and started off skirting the Thu Bon River, cutting a short stretch througn Hoi An Ancient Town and its outskirts before heading inland. Inwards were scenes of rural housing and padi fields This ride includes a short buffalo ride and also a ride in basket-boats along the Ho River.


Just as we were about to ride off, it started drizzling again. But Cu was ready with raincoats for us, and off we proceeded - we were not going to let a little rain dampen our spirit. From our hotel on An Hoi Islet we crossed over the Cầu An Hội Bridge into Hoi An Ancient Town. We were not the only one out in the rain, many pedestrians were crossing the bridge too and to play it safe, Lynn pushed her bike across.


On Bach Dang Street, we skirted the Ancient Town on one side and river boats moored along the Thu Bồn River on the other side. The rain had abated and more tourists were coming out; and this lone lady was happily taking a selfie while riding a trishaw, wearing a raincoat and half-covered with green tarpaulin - it must have been a sight for her to send to her friends 😍!



We continued along the riverside and then cut inland a bit, crossing the Hoi An Market, taking a slow ride across it slowly observing life at the market with stalls on both side of the streets.


Further along we took a right cutting into a narrow alley...


... and we were back onto the riverside riding along a track passing by nice hotels and outskirt local houses. The rain had flooded part of the track... but no worries... this just added to the fun of the ride!



Wheeee...... the boys went through puddles of water with their legs outstretched and lifted. laughing all the way!


Every once in a while Cu would stop and had us gather around, giving a some short insights into life here along the river-banks. For example, he asked us why all the boats here had eyes painted onto their bow? Well, it so that if the fishermen got lost; the boats with their eyes would mystically guide them back.


On the landwards side, an innovative local has his own outdoor gym with concrete weights and "Tai Chi" kung-fu stations (those wooden poles with arms sticking out).


After about 1.5 kilometre along the river, we went through another alley... do we see greenery ahead?


Yes! it's green ahead. GREEN, GREEN padi fields on both sides of a concrete track. We took deep breathes, taking in fresh "after-the-rain" green fragrance. Man... this is life!


Ahead our first activity: a stop at the paddies!
Cu having grown up in the countryside was very used to the water buffaloes; with a spritely leap he was up on on of them standing tall agilely while the farmer led the beast along.



Alas! We city denizens were not so nimble and needed a stool (which was conveniently provided 😆) to climb up. Sorry, out of embarrassment, no photos of us climbing up the stool. We took turns to ride the friendly buffalo, holding as best as we could onto the shoulders of the animal. No! Don't hold on to their horns, they don't like that. The top-most photo of me riding like Indiana Jones is just for show, the buffalo was standing still; don't do that while riding lest one gets thrown off!


Next was doing some ploughing. The rest of the gang were quite reluctant to have a go at this; so jolly 'ol me went in. It's no easy task trying to keep the plough erect while it was being pulled by the buffalo. But the worst part was going in barefooted; at the bottom, the muddy slime squished uncomfortably through my toes. It was a yuckish feeling, making my hair stand on ends (not to say that I have lots of hair!).


To top it all, the buffalo had earlier peed and pooed into this muddy track.... Ughs.... 😱.


Next was some padi planting.... "Er.... you mean I have to put my hand into the pee-ish and poo-sh water?" Well, it's in for a penny in for a pound... or in this case in with a foot and in with a hand; and "jolly" 'ol me went ahead.
On hindsight, it was really fun after all the farmers do it everyday. And at the end they did provide lots of water for me to wash my feet and hands... Phew!


We left waving good-bye to the grinning farmer and his wife; they themselves must have had some fun seeing us city bumpkins clumsily trying to be farmers.
Our route took us along more rural roads with nipa palms on one side. A gaggle of geese came close by, getting me worried that they would pinched us with their beaks, but they didn't as probably they did not see us as threats.


Our next destination - a fishing jetty at the Ho River. Here we boarded basket boats - boats about 1.5 metre in diameter made from bamboo strips and water-proofed with tree resin. It's the first time I have seen boats of these types, but they are not that uncommon in Vietnam or the rest of the world. These are called coracles (many thanks to a reader, Vincent Lim, for pointing this out).


Off we went, wearing conical Asian rice hats, now looking very localised, slowly rowing the boat along the river, wending our way through the nipa swamp. Every now and then we passed by locals in their own boats, for them it's their usual mode of transport and for fishing.


While we were busy observing the activity along the river, our women guide-rowers would pluck nipa leaves and make hats for us to wear; they even made me a pair of "nipa" goggles... I look cool don't I... eat your heart out John Lennon!


Now for some crab-fishing. We slowly approached clumps of nipa and poked our small bamboo fishing rods in between their stalks. A the end of each string were tied small pieces of chicken/pork. Crabs, smelling the meat, would latch onto them with their claws and would stubbornly (and stupidly) not let go, making it easy to pull them in.


But our catch was meagre. We only managed to catch a couple of crabs; maybe the rain had driven them away. These crabs were very small river crabs, just about a couple of inches across.


Other than the crabs, we saw several fishing boats, their bright colours making them stand out against the dark skies... Oops.... the boat don't seem to have eyes, hope it is not lost.


We left the river and headed inland again. Dusk was setting in and the locals were on their bikes heading out for dinner; but Cu had some other dinner plans for us...


... we are going to cook dinner for ourselves.. or at least part of it. Kev and Neeks here having a go at cooking some Vietnamese pancake. Looks like fun!


Kev did it with some finesse,  or some cooking gymnastic, with a flick of his hand he threw some bean sprouts onto the cooking pancake.


Our delicious dinner - Vietnamese deep-fried spring rolls, green papaya salad, Vietnamese pancake (only a few of it made by our sons), green salad, rice paper. This was a real home-cooked food as we had it at Cu's house and the food was prepared by his wife.

As we ate, we saw our bikes being carted away ala Vietnamese style - on a trailer pulled by a motor-bike.



Although a short one, it was a fun-filled ride; one that included riding buffaloes and riding in basket boats.
It was great doing things together with the family; it was even greater sharing the joys of cycling with them.

Tạm biệt!

(That's Goodbye in Vietnamese)



POSTSCRIPT

For those interested in joining this cycling tour, here's Mr. Cu's contact:

Hoi An Village Experience
Tel: +84-984 493 363 / +84-914 740 292
Address: Hamlet 3, Cam Thanh Fishing Village, Hoian Ancient Town, Vietnam

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