It has been a while since we were last on a bicycle during this trip. Ruth reminded me that it was back in Cornwall and it was not that long ago , “remember, you fell off and nearly broke your arm and I was ready to finish you off because you made me ride up all of those hills”.
However, time not only heals the physical wounds but also the mental scars. She didn’t throw anything at me when I mentioned the “b” word and actually was very calm when I said that we had a day bike tour organised for our stay in Hoi An. A lot of shopping also helps to soften up opposition to a little bike ride.
To help ease us back into biking mode I suggested to Ruth a little “warm up” ride for the day before. The homestay had complimentary bikes, the terrain was flat and there was no more room in the bag for any more gifts, so all possible excuses were covered. Time to hit the road.
The homestay bikes were simple affairs, no gears and minimal brakes. With flat roads, the only issue we really faced was avoiding the other bicycle and motorcycle traffic.
So we headed off on a (thankfully) partly cloudy day, aimed for the coast as a starting point and before long we were sitting in our loungers sipping passion fruit juice and looking longingly at the South China Sea (we did not think to pack our swimwear). A few dark(ish) clouds arrived on the horizon so we thought we should head back. I had read about a more scenic route which took you off the beaten track so we duly found the lane and took a route back through water coconut plantations. The warm up ride was deemed a great success and we were pumped for the big ride the next day (the rain never did arrive).
Contrary to the climate data for Hoi An, October has not turned out to be their wettest month, in fact we have not seen any rain and the day of the ride dawned cloudless. By the time we had walked the 50 meters to our meeting place, the temperature was nudging 30c, but the heat should not be a problem because of the self made breeze when you bike. The guides confirmed that heat would not be an issue when they appeared decked out in sweatshirts, long pants and gloves (must be cold out on the Thu Bon River Delta).
By the time we got to out first boat transfer 30c was a cool and distant memory, however, we got that breeze as the old wooden boat pushed us slowly along the river. An hour later we (four of us plus two guides) were underway on our bikes. The surfaces ranged from concrete paths through to single tire tracks along the riverside or through rice paddies. We were in the heart of rural Vietnam, no cars to be seen, just people going about their everyday life.
Being in a delta meant that we had to “island hop”. This entailed journeys across some interesting bridges and where a bridge was not available, a local would appear along with a boat, each of varying sizes. Forget seats, parking yourself somewhere in the boat and keeping still was the prescription for remaining dry. It was a biking experience like no other we have experienced.
Unfortunately the self made breeze tended to disappear when we stopped peddling. Our second stop was to watch a family making rice noodles. Now this takes place in their home, it involves a fire and a lot of heat and the homes are not very big. When the self made breeze is removed and replaced by a man made wall of additional heat, the result is like self-made rain. So we watched the noodles being made through the heavy self made rain pouring off our brows (and everywhere else) and this was to pretty much set the tone for the day. Pleasant while moving but as soon as you stopped your personal rain shower caught up with you.
When we first set off we thought that the large water containers provided to each of us was a bit of overkill, by halfway though the trip I was resorting to supplementing my liquid intake with cold beer.
We also saw traditional boat building, the large wooden variety and the smaller basket boat variety. They showed us how the basket is weaved, stitched together and made water proof with a secret ingredient. They then showed us the paddle action required to power these unusual boats along. The bit where we all started to pay attention (unfortunately too late) was when it was mentioned that we were now heading down to the river to show what we had learned. A lady (we found out she was 63) with a rather wicked sense of humour appeared, escorted us to the river, gave us a dazzling demonstration of her basket boat skills (the spinning top move drew loud applause) and then we each proceeded to learn how hard it was to move the boat in the desired direction. Ruth was the star, maybe it is her small stature, but she was whizzing around the river like a true basket boat pro. It was mentioned that maybe it was a hint as to what to get her for Christmas.
Hoi An has been a very different destination, much more serene than the others we have visited to date. The train ride from Hue was along some very spectacular coastline sandwiched between mountains and sea and through dense jungle.
The town is adorned with lanterns which day or night add a lot of colour to what is already a colourful scene. We managed to fluke being in town for the monthly Full Moon Festival when the river is covered with floating lanterns (each with a candle). Very colourful. We are staying on An Hoi Island so not only is it a very short walk into town, at night it takes us through the night market and over the brightly lit bridge where visitors can launch their lantern into the water. There are many many lantern sellers, in fact no matter where you are there is always many hawkers no far behind you. We even had one come along side Ruth while we were biking along a reasonably deserted road trying to sell her a “spa”.
Most importantly, Ruth has given Hoi An the “shoppers seal of excellence” award. Foolishly, we went down to the Post Office in Hue and endured another marathon parcel sending experience (four sets of forms) which opened enough “free” space to let Ruth loose on one final fling. No more parcels home and I think the bags will once again be full. Looks like more biking may be in store.