Our hotel is in Danang, approximately 40 minutes north of Hoi An. Our tour commenced with being picked up by our guide, Hau, in a luxury SUV. During the drive, Hau spoke with us about the region.
Our drive to Hoi An:
Throughout the Danang beach area are small basket boats. We learned that under French rule, locals pay taxes on boats. However, basket boats, being round and small, are not “boats” and therefore are tax free. To this day, fishermen utilize these to venture out into the sea to obtain the daily catch.
It’s hard to believe that the Vietnam War occurred not so long ago. During our drive to Hoi An there are remnants including American military bunkers. Hau said that buried bombs still exist and need to be undetonated.
On a lighter note, we drove by Marble Mountain. It is a holy area for the Champa People. The ethnic group is Hindu and known for their intricate stone and brick carvings. Hindu temples are dotted throughout the area. To this day, the area is still known for sculptures and shops showcasing the artwork are plentiful.
The Scooter Tour:
Upon reaching Hoi An, Tom and I met up with a local electric scooter company to practice driving our scooters. I’ve never driven a scooter. After 30 seconds of practice, I crash into a curb and land on the street with the scooter on top of me. Needless to say, I passed on driving my own scooter and rode with the guide. Tom, of course, is a natural at driving the scooter!
Our tour swiftly takes us from the old town Hoi An to the countryside. The theme of our tour is daily life activities. After a brisk drive on a major throughway, we meandered onto residential streets and eventually onto bumpy and narrow dirt paths. In fact, some of the ride reminds us of mountain biking, but on scooters!
The first stop is on Cam Nam Island at a fishing village. During the rainy season, the entire village is floods up to 10 feet and residents move to the second floor of their dwellings. Luckily, it’s dry season when we visit. We meet a local gentleman who restores wooden boats. It’s an arduous 4-day process under the beating hot sun of filling wood slats with bamboo and resin from local trees. Once complete, the boats are sea-worthy for another 10 years.
We venture down the dirt path and meet a family that makes the famous Hoi An lanterns. It is a lengthy process and we learn that it takes a lot of skill. Nearby, we stop off at a woman’s house to learn how to make rice crackers. The tasty treat is popular to snack on while drinking beverages at the beach. With some guidance, I made a rice cracker. It was fun but I give credit to those doing this each day! It’s hot work in very warm and humid weather.
Hoi An is known for their tailoring. Another similar industry that is popular is making counterfeit products. We saw a house in the countryside that was converted into a “factory”. We learn that the kids who work in the home need money and aren’t afraid to risk getting caught. It is an eye-opening experience.
Dripping with sweat, we stop off at a café overlooking the Thu Bon river and ancient Hoi An to sample Banh Mi and local beer. Refreshed and somewhat cool, we drive amongst lush rice paddy fields and beautiful herb and vegetable farms. Then we make our way to An Bang beach where we drink tasty Vietnamese coffee. The beach area is lively and filled with tourists enjoying the sand and sea.
We drive from the beach back to the Old Town of Hoi An, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is an incredible history that dates back hundreds of years. Japanese houses, Chinese tea warehouses, and temples, are set amongst the lovely French colonial buildings. Although lovely, the area has become very touristy with bars and souvenir shops.
Tom and I were exhausted after a long day of riding scooters in the countryside under the blazing sun. We exchanged the scooters for a comfortable air-conditioned SUV. After refreshing ourselves with a cool washcloth and ice-cold water, Hau transported us back to our hotel in Danang.
Our Overall Review:
Tom and I enjoyed driving around the city center and countryside by scooter. However, we were disappointed with the “staged” stops of “encountering” daily life. It’s nice to see what every day life is like for the locals, but we saw the guide paying people at the end of each tour. This took away from the authentic experience. We recognize that we are on a tour, but perhaps the business transaction should take place at another time. We recommend a more authentic experience and rent a scooter on your own rather than following a set itinerary.
Hoi An is a “must-visit” city when visiting central Vietnam. The historical significance of the area and stunning architecture makes Hoi An a great place to tour. However, Old Town Hoi An is very touristy and feels unauthentic. We recommend walking around Old Town, then getting out of the city center to explore the authentic Hoi An of today and working with travel advisors that understand the area.
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