Once a major spice port, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hoi An, Vietnam, has managed to preserve its legacy and heritage for more than 2,000 years. This cities charm and impressively preserved architecture, lend to memorable travel experiences. But, for an adventure off the tourist loop, make time to explore the more laid back surrounding countryside. Exploring by bike and boat you will attain a deeper sense of local life, in picturesque, rural Vietnam.
Hoi An’s is a culturally diverse port town that once controlled the ancient spice trade in the 7th and 8th century. This trade route spanned all the way to Indonesia. The prevailing religion at the time was Hindu until the 10th century when Muslim traders introduced and influenced the spread of Islam. These influences can be seen throughout the cities architecture today. The next major cultural influence was from the Chinese. They first arrived as traders and later as refugees, escaping the oppressive Ming Dynasty armies. Today, Chinese styled shop-houses flank winding lanes, as the sun goes down you feel as if you have been transported to another time.
Rice is at the heart of Vietnamese life. Not only is it a staple but a major economic resource. The farms and paddies around Hoi An are the lifeblood of the community. The best time to head into the countryside is morning, when the temperature is cool and the mist rises from the rice paddies. Begin your day with a visit to a local noodle shop where MiQuang, a famous local dish is prepared fresh. Traditionally, this noodle bowl is created with thick rice noodles in a broth with shrimp, chicken or pork. It is then topped with roasted peanuts and toasted sesame rice paper and a dash of locally prepared fish sauce. Enjoy a refreshing glass of sweet Vietnamese coffee and the vibrant sights and sounds of the day beginning on the paddies.
The peaceful countryside embraces a slower pace of life compared to the bustling larger cities. Verdant paddy fields and swaying water coconut farms dot the countryside and various river ways carve through the brilliant landscape. Traditional farming methods have been maintained over the centuries. It is not uncommon to find the majestic water buffalo tilling rice paddies, evoking nostalgia of a bygone era.
Fishing is also an important way of life here. This area is famous for creating flavorful fish sauces used in spicing local cuisine. This unique condiment is used throughout Vietnam and with Hoi An’s proximity to many rivers and the sea, it is a key fish sauce producer for the country.
An unforgettable highlight in the region is taking a ride on a Basket Boat, known traditionally as a Thung Chai. This is still the preferred method of transportation of local the fisherman in the central regions of Vietnam. Large nets are thrown from the boat to easily catch an array of fish sold in markets and for the making of fish sauce. These round, bowl shaped boats are wove out of bamboo reeds and given a yearly seal of tar to keep them afloat. It takes great practice to perfect navigating these spinning water vessels, but with patience and a great sense of humor, you can give it a try yourself.
If you prefer to stay on Terra Firma, maybe a gentle bike ride is more your style of transportation. Take your time exploring quiet country roads along local farms and hamlets. This will give you a chance to meet friendly locals who are happy to share stories and history with visitors from around the world. If you are interested in learning more about this vibrant culture, we can arrange a lunch at a local home, where you can share a delicious traditional lunch with a local family before your return to Hoi An town. No matter how you prefer to explore this enchanting area, Hoi An and its countryside will create memories and experiences of a lifetime.