While planning for our trip to Vietnam many travellers we have spoken to, travel guide or travel articles we have read praised Hoi An for its local charm, unique cuisine and top tailors. Therefore we expected quite a bit of this stop. The surroundings of Hoi An seemed very rural and charming but as we got nearer to town we realized bit by bit that this might not be what we thought it would be. The streets gradually became busier with western tourists, english named shops, tour buses and à la carte restaurants serving pizza, pasta, sushi, mexican food etc.. After checking-in at our homestay (a top-notch!) we took a walk round the town of Hoi An for a couple of hours and our suspicion was confirmed. It had never been this hard to find those small authetic streetfood vendors (which by far dominated the food supply) equipped with simple “furniture”, some knee-high plastic stools and tables that allow you to enjoy their local tasting dishes. In fact locals themselves dont feed in town anymore. The main streets are full with face-lifted, well maintaned and brushed up stores try to sell their good to tourists. We had a feeling that Hoi An gave in its local soul to money and tourism and soon felt the urgent need of getting out of this touristy spot. We made reservation for a bicyle rent for the next day and wished to find something more suitable for us by then…
On Tuesday we had a lovely waking up accompained by sunshine, blue skies and temperatures around 25 degrees. After enjoying a hearty breakfast prepared by our homestay host (In fact she and her sister do everything themselves. From breakfast to checking-in and tour reservations to cleaning and maintaning the place) we got on the roads with our bicycles. Cycling around Hoi An was perfectly wonderful in the weather conditions. We crossed endless rice fields, fine sandy beaches and local bamboo fisihing villages. The day passed by fast. Besides some beautiful photos and the memories created we (especially Roman) also got a heavy sunburn on his neckline as a souvenir from today (yes yes, even a sunscreen spf 30 twice applied is not enough for senstive Swiss skin coming directly from winter to tropical sun).
For the following day we planned to visit the My Son ruins (imagine a little Angkor Wat, if you are familiar with Cambodians relicts). Guided tours available from Hoi An all depart around the same time in the morning and start at a rock bottom of 5$ per person. We doubted this would be the way we wanted to discover this peacful ruins about 50km towards the highlands of central Vietnam. As we learnt later, all tours would drop-off their customers at the site at the same time with all other tourists, thereafter bring them to overpriced souvenir shops and restaurants on the way back to raise commissions of operators and finance the tour. We decided to do our own self-drive tour there avoiding crowds so we rented a motorbike for a day.
After breakfast a guy came to our homestay and left us with the key of a so so new 125cc bike. Rate for a full day: staggering $6. No instruction, no questions, off we went. After a few minutes on the road we questioned ourselves: Did someone ask us about insurance details? Did anyone request a driving licence, a deposit or passport copy?…The first few minutes in Vietnamese traffic system are somehow confusing. There seems to be only one rule: the bigger your vehicle the more rights you have. A pedestrian bascially has to give way to anyone. A bicycle to motorbikes, cars trucks, a motorbike to cars and trucks etc. It needs some time to get used to that you are even honked by a bus driving on YOUR lane as he overtakes another truck, that is Vietnamese traffic.
After some time on the road we finally arrived at the My Son Sanctuary. The Chams constructed these temples between 4th and 14th century. Much of its has been destroyed by US during Vietnam War. What is left today is still impressive keeping in mind that some were built in 4th century! As it is now a UNESCO heritage site, some conservation and reconsutrcution work is taking place. However, the damage cannot be undone. It is a pity to see what wars have done in this beautiful country. We went on with our adventure on the powerful Yamaha (haha!) and went to the island next to Hoi An, Cam Kim Island. On the way we stopped somewhere on a town to have lunch. One of the best noodle soups we had so far, though we are still uncertain of its name, as noone in the store could understand english…We took a ferry back from Cam Kim Island to Hoi An. Bikes would be parked at either end of the ship and passengers in the middle. Thanks to Roman’s amazing sense of direction, we managed to drive around today without getting lost. thumbs up! All in all, it was a good day exploring around on 125cc Yamaha!