Ask me what my favorite city I visited in Vietnam would be and I’d indefinitely answer Hoi An. I can’t image anyone coming to Vietnam and not wanting to come to this quaint, historic and sickly charming town. In a strange way it reminded me of Charleston, South Carolina but in Southeast Asia. There is most definitely a historical society behind the lack of neon signs, gaudy tourist junk shops and cars in the historic district. I read that the city requires restaurants and businesses to hang the lanterns so characteristic of Hoi An.
Luckily, my hotel in Hue hooked me up with a good deal on a room in a very nice hotel in Hoi An which was pretty central and came with a bike to get me to and fro. One of the best things I liked about my hotel was that it was located on a large-ish road, so if I wanted to go downtown, I go right and if I want to cycle to the beach, I go left. I appreciate a town that easy to get around.
I arrived in Hoi An late afternoon and decided to head to the river and city center to check it out. Sometimes my procrastination works in my favor and by the time I reached downtown it was dark. The whole place was lit up by thousands of colorful lanterns and candles floating in the Thu Bon River. When I turned the corner, I literally gasped.
My days spent in Hoi An consisted of riding around on my bike, browsing in little shops and chatting with the locals. One of the days, I went to cooking school at Ms Vy’s Restaurant which was a super fun. (See “Hoi An Cooking School” Food Post).
Because I was in the biking mood, I decided to go with a guide and a few other people to a couple remote islands near Hoi An. We commuted to the islands with our bikes on a jam-packed ferry. We cycled a bit to our first stop where artisans make mother of pearl inlay. Next, we went to visit a boat builder and later we tried our hand at basket boats. During the French occupation, the Vietnamese made boats that looked like giant baskets to avoid further taxes by the French. They are tricky to steer, but we were told they are light and were even used to navigate the streets during the heavy floods common in the area.
Finally, we went to a man’s house who makes rice wine with the help of his pigs. This is how it works… he breeds the pigs to use the poop to fuel the fires that make the wine and then he feeds the rice to the pigs to make poop to make the fire, and so on. “Sustainability” is such a buzz word, this guy makes it a reality. He can make up to 80 liters a day and he is heavily supported by his neighbors in part because he makes a damn good rice wine, but also because he lost a leg fighting in the war in Cambodia and he is somewhat of a local hero.
Our last stop, was to see how the grass sleeping mats are made by hand. Luckily, we had a nice, sunny day and the carpet weavers were laying their colorful grasses out to dry. They use the treated material to weave them on a very standard and simple loom. We met a woman in her 90s who had been doing this since she was 10. The mats are specific to this island and most are taken to Hoi An to be sold in the market. One handmade mat sells for 150vd or $7US.
It was hard leaving Hoi An. I pictured myself spending a few more days cycling around, hanging out in my fancy hotel and reading on the beach, but I forced myself to pack up and keep moving, Ho Chi Minh on the horizon.