This little town may have been my very favorite place on this vacation. The night before we arrived in Hoi An, a sleepy river town a few kilometers from the beach and surrounded by beautiful countryside, we got aboard a very tall sleeper bus that would take us the 15+ hours from Hanoi to Hoi An. I had the misfortune of getting one of the only short bunks on the whole bus, so I had to be careful not to kick other passengers with my restless, windmilling limbs.
We arrived in Hue around 8:30 am, where we escaped our sleeper bus for a regular day bus, and I rejoiced in being able to stretch my legs out all the way. As we left Hue and drove on through the countryside towards Hoi An, I felt an almost tangible weight lift from my shoulders. We drove up through tall, green mountains, the sea never too far from the left side of the road. We got away from smog, and people, and I realized how much I missed being in the country. When we got to Hoi An, I was amazed at how tiny it was. I knew it was small, but I didn’t know it would be so pleasantly free of traffic and hordes of people.
We rented all-day bicycles for $1 each, and almost immediately made for the road leading to the beach. Along the way, we saw people working in the rice fields and cows and water buffaloes grazing along the edge of the road. The beach was pristine and almost empty of people, and we enjoyed some Vietnamese beer and lounged around for a while. After swimming for a bit, we hopped back on our bikes and explored some neighborhood roads by the river. I had to stop myself from stopping at every bend in the road and taking pictures, because it was so nice just to enjoy the beauty of the place for a while without trying to capture it all on film. Little kids playing in the road and next to the river shouted “Hello! Where you from?” and their parents smiled at us as we biked by. I was really struck by the friendliness of the people there—no hard, inscrutable looks were really directed towards us as foreigners, like I see so often from the older generation in China. Vietnamese people, old and young alike, grinned at us and waved when we passed them. Elijah and I both were struck by how much more happy the children seemed here than in Shijiazahuang. Maybe it’s because they aren’t pushed as hard in school as Chinese kids in Hebei province, or maybe because they aren’t spoiled and coddled as only children, as many of our students are. They have free time to play outside, and they have brothers and sisters, so the weight of the family’s expectations doesn’t rest on an only child. But that’s just speculation. The kids here look like they pull their weight on the family farm, but there was so much laughter and playing going on, too.
One of the days, we rented a motorbike and explored an island across the river from Hoi An, reachable by ferry. We spent all morning cruising along country roads, enjoying the warm weather and the farms we passed. All of the houses here are brightly painted and unique, their doors open to the road and people sitting on front porches chatting, or working in the yards. Once, we stopped the motorbike next to a large field to take some pictures, but couldn’t get the bike started again. A farmer saw us from his house, and ran out to help us. After multiple tries, we finally got the bike going again with his help. As we passed more and more workers in the rice fields, we stopped again to take some pictures, and there was one man in particular that gave us a huge smile as we took pictures, and gestured to himself so that we would take his picture. The people we passed at first seemed surprised to see us there, especially as we got deeper into the rural areas, but they almost always smiled kindly at us as we rode by, and that left a lasting impression in me of Vietnamese people.
Here are some pictures from our biking adventures in and around Hoi An: