One of the best things about traveling is that every now and then you get the opportunity to meet people who are so delicious you just want to wrap them up and take them home.
We’ve booked a bicycle riding tour with a company called Heaven and Earth around the dreamy rural countryside outside of the sleepy little historic fishing town of Hoi An.
Our guides for the day are two beautiful young Vietnamese ladies named My and Be.
When we first meet at the offices in Hoi An, Be introduces herself as our guide telling us she will be helped today by her good friend My. Now the correct way to pronounce My in English is Me.
So Be says that we will be going today with me and Me (My) they both look at each other and crack up at this, doubling over in fits of laughter, they find it hilarious and that’s how the day continues.
The tour is based around a couple of the larger islands across the big flooded rivers around Hoi An, it’s an easy and short ferry ride across the river to the first island and from there the girls lead us on a winding route through the back lanes of country Vietnam.
It’s only a small group today, just us, the two girls and a family from Melbourne out for the day. The trip is only about 10 kilometers all up and the ride is pretty flat all over the islands, a good thing because none of us is likely to be in the Tour de France any time soon, with plenty of stops on the way the tour should last us all day.
Some of the stops allow us to get a look into the small craftsman operations still going in this part of the world, a family of boat builders, a small mother of pearl inlay factory and another family who make their living freezing water into ice for restaurants and hotels, the hotels use the ice to cool down the swimming pools. There’s plenty of time to chat with the local craftsmen and thankfully no big push to buy anything, ( a boat or a block of ice anyone!) just a nice chance to see these people at work and to ask questions about their life.
Everywhere along the route the two girls are peppering us with gags and one liners, bouncing off each other and off us, they teach us about Vietnamese row boats and we teach them the difference between paddle and puddle. They are hilarious and a delight to be with.
At one stage they manage to convince us that it’s a good idea if we give one of the little round paddle boats you see in Vietnam a go. Coercing an elderly local lady into giving a hand in her boat.
With the threat of “no lunch if you can’t get back” hanging in the air some of us venture out in the rickety little thing, the trick lies with the paddle action and the ability to not rock the boat. We still spend a lot of the time spinning in a circle going nowhere fast.
I’m not sure how deep the water was and I’m glad we didn’t find out but we all managed to have a go without too much mischief and the little old lady got to keep her boat in one piece.
After all that excitement we climbed back onto the bikes and headed back across the island to another small ferry crossing and off around the second island we were given the chance to explore.
The bikes by now were pretty muddy from all the puddles we’d splashed through, but straight off the ferry and we’re in a whole new field of mud, some of us make it through and some need a little helping hand from Be and My to get through.
It’s worth the effort though as we have a wonderful ride along quiet little lanes, no cars, just the occasional motor scooter or school child on a bicycle sharing the countryside with us. Lunch is coming up and we are due soon in the family home of one of the local land holders.
A real slice of genuine family life, they cook us a light and easy lunch of stir fried morning glory, steamed fish, some grilled chicken and of course rice. All served under a spreading mango tree in the front yard.
There’s chickens pecking around us in the yard and grandma watches from the doorway as Te and My explain the significance of the design of the home, what they do when it floods, (first the TV gets put up into the attic, then grandma, then the wife) and lots of other interesting facts about rural Vietnamese life.
Grandma, who is in her late 80’s, still spends her days weaving the traditional sleeping mats for sale in the local markets, and has done since she was 10 years old.
Before long though it’s time to head them up and move them out and we climb back into the saddle for the ride down to the returning ferry.
But not before one last adventure.
Coming around the final bend and making our way to the ferry the path shrinks to a single lane sandy track with a steep drop into prawn farms on either side. One thing leads to another and before you can say boo, Annie is down and rolling towards the prawn farm.
The two girls leap into action and run to help, dusting Annie off and making sure everything is still in working order, thankfully nothing broken and all is good.
It’s been a great day, full of laughs, good food and adventure, we’ve seen part of the rural Vietnamese culture that we would never have been able to experience and really enjoyed it. And a special thanks to the Tom and Jerry of bicycle tours, the wonderful guides Be and My.
All photos copyright Ross Duncan: firstname.lastname@example.org