Off the beaten path ~ A rural community in Central Vietnam.

One of the features of Hoi An, is that it is also a hub for a myriad of smaller rural communities that live on islands, all within short boat rides from the historic town center.

One of our favorite things to do in Hoi An, is to play “russian roulette” ~ by going onto the wooden boats (which ferry passengers and their motorcycles), not quite sure the destination, but always sure to be rewarded by the sights of authentic rural life in Central Vietnam.

We did this many a time when we lived here in 2013 and each adventure was unique in it’s own way…

It is currently monsoon season and it is possible that typhoon Sarika will head our way. So we decide to take a boat ride off the beaten track today, 24 hours before the typhoon is supposed to possibly come our way.

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As the boat gets steered into the Thu Bon river, we leave the ochre colored architecture of Hoi An’s riverfront.

There is good reason Hoi An is a popular place and attracts as many foreign visitors as it does each year. However, as always, most tourists stick to a few main streets where the “touristy stuff” is focused and do not venture further, which suits us just fine.

 

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Today we  have this boat to ourselves…  The 3 of us (Peta, Ben & Brook) head out onto the Thu Bon river with the boat “captain”.

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“Floating” down the river definitely has a meditative feel.

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These colorful wooden boats are constantly repaired and repainted, resulting in a mix of bright colors accompanied with well worn planks of natural wood.

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Ben is happy to have some key business meetings behind him. Taking a few off the beaten track day trips, is a great way to disconnect and take a break. The river is a pale sienna color due to all the rain in the last few days. It IS monsoon season after all…

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One of our very favorite modes… “Going with the flow.” No specific destination or plans. Just go where the boat and the rhythm of the day takes us….

img_7783Our motorbikes atop the ferry boat, ready to ride off into the countryside.

“If you’re on a motorbike, the Vietnamese start to see you as ‘belonging’ here. You’re not just a tourist any’more – you’re one of the people, slogging through mud and dodging trucks same as anyone else. The Vietnamese have a lot of respect for westerners who tackle their roads by motorbike.” (Travelhappy.info)

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When we arrive, there is one boat and one man ready to catch the rope and dock us so we can drive our motorbikes off the boat.

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Tall graceful coconut groves grace either side of the narrow pathways as we set off to explore the island.

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Old colorful wooden boats need constant repair and new coats of paint. We stop to watch a few men working at a small shipyard, fixing and painting these big beauties. http://www.vietnamheritage.com.vn/pages/en/2511312940437-More-than-meets-the-eye.html

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One does not realize how big these boats are when they are in the water, as a good part of the hull is submerged ~ but here standing next to them on the ground, they reveal their majestic size.

As we ride along small paths and streets, we are prone to stopping to say hi to local villagers. No one speaks English here but that does not in any way inhibit our communication. Pete especially is surprisingly adept at playing “charades” to get her point across.

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A woman sits outside her house on the steps, throwing feed to her flock of chickens and chicks.

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We drive by small cottages, with lush green gardens and the feeling of tranquility that comes with rural living.

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A small family shrine overlooks a rice paddy. It is the norm for every house to have an internal shrine( for ones ancestors) and an external shrine (to ward off evil spirits and to bring good luck to the family and the land.)

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Due to the rains, many of the rice fields are completely flooded, making for reflective landscapes and giant wet playgrounds for lucky ducks and herons.

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The three of us easily fit into a natural rhythm together. Ride, walk, stop to see interesting things along the way, ride, stop, walk……

 

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Temples, large and small, are a part of every community. The yellow ochre predominant color in Hoi An and the surrounding countryside has permeated our visual field to such an extent, that we have selected it as a color for the house we are renovating in Sri Lanka.

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Classic central Viet Nam landscape…. Lush and green, dotted with farmers and water buffaloes.

Insert buffalo here

 

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We stop to watch the huge herd of rust colored cows and their calfs, enjoying the process of grazing freely in the currently swamp like rice fields.

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These are definitely very happy cows! And no Ben! We cannot have a cow….!

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Underneath this mound of green fruit is a motorbike… The driver stopped to show us her fruit and demonstrated that this fruit is not for eating ~ bite into it and use the flesh to…..wait for it… clean your teeth!

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Every Vietnamese community has a vibrant market. We gravitate to markets no matter what country. In addition to fruit and vegetables, in Vietnam, there is always some good cooked food to be had as well. In this case one of the BEST Ban Xeos (Vietnamese pancakes) ever! Rolled up with fresh greens and herbs, like a sushi hand roll, dipped in peanut chili sauce. Yum!

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Celebrating our best Banh Xeo find so far….. By eating them one after the other until we are totally full and cannot have another bite. This will be one of those “remember that amazing Banh Xeo we had” memories. Yes, we are serious about our food and after having eaten at five or six Banh Xeo spots in one of the culinary capitals for foodies in the world (Hoi An) saying this is the best Banh Xeo, is quite a testament to how delicious it is!

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One of the fun things about Vietnamese markets are the way the women dress, in bright colors and patterns and with all sorts of interesting floppy hats.

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The sea salt seller measures out the salt and prepares bags of it to be sold to her customers. There are multiple categories of salt based on the size of the granules. From very fine to very coarse chunky sea salt.

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This is the garlic, shallots and fresh turmeric seller.

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When we arrive back in the colorful town of Hoi An with all it’s infamous colored paper lanterns, it feels like the big city after a day in the countryside.

It’s good to be back home…

~ ~ ~

Hungry for more? See another Green Global Trek “off the beaten path” blog entry from 2013:

Every outing yields a surprise “off the beaten path”

and

An in-depth look at rural shrines in Central Viet Nam (2013)

Ancestors and the spirit world, Hoi An, Viet Nam

 

 

43 thoughts on “Off the beaten path ~ A rural community in Central Vietnam.

  1. Liesbet

    I love the idea of just getting on a little ferry and seeing where you end up.. a peaceful island with the best Vietnamese pancakes this time. They sound delicious and make me hungry. I could also use some coarse sea salt right now. It is so nice that all these things are readily available at the markets for no money at all. What business is Ben conducting?

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Liesbet.

      Ben has an extensive background in strategy, in various industries, as well as two decades working globally in the Aerospace Industry.
      Based in Sri Lanka, he is helping American companies identify and capture opportunities with a focus on facilitating humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions. This is one track.

      He is also exploring how to leverage several years working on climate adaptation issues (in Central America) to address climate change issues in SE Asia.

      Those are his two main tracks… my intent is to continue to work towards having impact helping elephants in Sri Lanka. There are so many problems facing elephants and all wildlife today and we hope to make this a central theme as well, to our lives in Sri Lanka.

      B&P

        1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

          Hoi An and most of Viet Nam was lucky this time. Typhoon Sarika hit the Philippines and in China close to the border with Viet Nam. There was also a lot of flooding in Viet Nam due to the heavy rains of this unusually strong monsoon season.

          Thanks,
          Peta

  2. carolinehelbig

    How wonderful to experience these spur of the moment side trips from Hoi An in such a relaxed manner. Some of my best travel memories are from “simple” days of exploring off the beaten path, or just letting life go by in a pretty rural village (in SE Asia and elsewhere). I love your market photos, and those Vietnamese pancakes with peanut sauce…wow!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Yes, we are not the types to rush out to try and see all the sites. We are much more into seeking out authentic experiences, interacting with locals and finding small delights and surprises along the way.

      Thanks for your compliments on my market photos… we have many prior entries in our archives on markets in many different parts of the world. Here is a fun one from Joja, Indonesia.

      http://www.greenglobaltrek.com/2014/03/jogja-food-markets.html

      We are in foodie heaven here, and we re here during “winter”, which means Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Pancakes), which remains as my personal favorite.

      Peta

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      It’s a simple formula:

      Get a motorbike, point in any direction, and keep riding until you don’t know where you are. This is the best way to have your own adventures in this opportunity rich landscape.

      Peta

  3. Sharon Rosenzweig

    I get that you can’t have a cow, but those chickens look adorable. I tried to enlarge the photo to see them better but I’ll have to check them out more carefully when I’m at my computer.

    Overall, this post made me even more envious than usual. I do love your style of adventure.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Maybe we WILL have chickens in Sri Lanka. They are easier than cows, but cows are definitely easier to cuddle. We look forward to discovering our future animal friends in our new abode. I remember monkeys in the jungle right near our future nest, although neither of us can remember what type of monkeys they were. Eager to find out….

      P

      1. Sharon Rosenzweig

        There’s a wide range of cuddleability in chickens. Hand raised chicks are very friendly but they go through a latency period when they’re adolescents. Then when they’re ready to start laying eggs they practice a submissive squat when approached that makes them grabable. Once captured most settle in for a snuggle. I have a couple that are love junkies and would rather be petted than eat, even. I guess the whole dynamic is different if there are roosters around.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Sue, the notion of every day an adventure is spot on. It is a feeling we associate with developing, and or emerging countries ~ where we never know how our day will evolve. This unpredictability is of course what attracts us to this lifestyle and adventures seem to happen every day even if we don’t leave our neighborhood.

      B&P

  4. Bun Karyudo

    I like the idea of taking a nice, slow boat down a river. It sounds relaxing. Riding back home by motorbike sounds fun too. What a great way to explore. The word “authentic” is probably overused a bit at times, but it certainly seems to apply to your experience of Vietnam. What a fascinating place.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Bun… It is for us the best way to explore and motorbikes are for Vietnamese the main mode of transport, so we are in good company!

      We have a simple definition of “authenticity”, which is:
      Is what we observe and experience an activity that is primarily and fundamentally by locals and for locals and part of normal day to day life, or is it set up to address the tourism market? And this option for authenticity can be found almost anywhere, even in Hoi An, which has such a large tourist draw. There is a multitude of restaurants for example, catering to foreigners offering Hoi An’s gastronomic best, in posh and attractive settings sometimes with air conditioning. Alternative for a more authentic experience one might grab a low to the ground plastic chair on the sidewalk to sit down and enjoy the very same delicacies for a fraction of the cost and invariably much more delicious!

      B&P

  5. lexklein

    I’d love to spend a day that way. A friend and I decided that our favorite mode of travel/sightseeing is “meandering” – no real purpose, no list of things to see, no known destination – just an aimless ramble around whatever city or rural spot we find ourselves in. Of course, I do enjoy having a goal sometimes, but some days are just meant for a meander!

  6. Joanne Sisco

    I love your lifestyle! Sounds just about perfect … take off for the day and just drift where the current takes you 🙂

    I smile because inevitably there is always a photo of Peta without shoes on 🙂

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Joanne, yes it is so good to have days to “drift” in amongst the working days to maintain balance.

      About walking barefoot: you hit on a critical criteria. There are definitely countries where being barefoot is more acceptable than others and these seem to be the countries we tend to gravitate toward. There is something so less constraining about being barefoot! I think we both are barefoot at any given opportunity to throw our shoes off! 🙂

      B&P

  7. Gilda Baxter

    Beautiful photos giving a real flavour of life in this part of Vietnam. I love Peta’s colorful clothes and bare feet. I hope you got home before the storm arrived there?

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Gilda. Hoi An was very lucky this monsoon season, as it seems there was not only no flooding this year but as well, the typhoon that was predicted to hit, did not. Other areas of Viet Nam were not so fortunate and there was a ton of flooding and damage in the North as well as the typhoon which hit at the border of Viet Nam and China.

      Peta

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks for the flattering comments….!

      We invite you to peruse our archives by selecting a country and delving into our past adventures and photographs as we have been maintaining this blog for eight years now.
      (We have over 500 blog entries.)

      B&P

  8. Stan

    Love your post as usual, Peta and Ben…

    The colors and vibes which come through from your photos and writing are of an easy going flowing deliciousness of being, which increases my appetite with every line I read…
    So much inspiration…!

    I have never ridden a motorbike and lately I am pulled to go and have some lessons – this post of your is definitely serving as further encouragement to do just that as I see myself driving along in that part of the world sometime…
    Hmmmm… Yes yes….
    Thanks and much love

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Stan, thanks so much! I love the “easy going flowing deliciousness of being”… that’s a great commentary.

      The motor bikes used here are not exactly Harleys, but rather “motor scooters” very easy to ride and most people learn how to do it after one or two times of trying…

      “If you’re on a motorbike, the Vietnamese start to see you as ‘belonging’ here. You’re not just a tourist anymore – you’re one of the people, slogging through mud and dodging trucks same as anyone else. The Vietnamese have a lot of respect for westerners who tackle their roads by motorbike.”

      I hope you come and visit us in Sri Lanka, which is not that far from Israel, plus the fact that we will be living so close to an amazing yoga shala… and then you can rent a motor scooter and we can go zipping around together in “flowing deliciousness”!

      Much love, huge hugs,
      xoxo
      Pete

  9. Laurel

    Adventures off the beaten path are always the best! Although our travels are nowhere near as exotic as yours, we delight in searching out unique places and experiences. Your meditative float down the river sounds wonderful!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Laurel, thanks for stopping by our blog.

      No matter where one is, there are always unique places to be found and experiences to be had under the next rock or around the next corner.

      One of the things we really love about Hoi An is the predominant river and river life which is so prevalent here.

      Peta

  10. badfish

    Is it still monsoon season? When does/did it end? I love those boats. I’ve seen that same “eye” painted on boats in very different parts of the world…I wonder how old that sign is?? Do you know? I saw them on Malta. And I think maybe it was in the Maldives. And others. I never thought I’d see a house with a white picket fence in Vietnam, but there you are…taking a photo of one! You make the place seem very attractive, alluring. You know what, I lost your email address!!! If you haven’t rented your place, let me know.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      A bittersweet memory of a caged bird who responded with enthusiasm to Ben’s bird calls. He was so longing for human contact, any contact. The culture in Asia of putting birds in very small cages, often large birds, is not something that is “comfortable” for us… it is a jail cell for a bird. Unable to fly. Cooped up in a small space. So sad. The bird tried to call Ben back when we were leaving….

      P

  11. rommel

    You really are one of the locals. Your boat ride is like VIP treatment. I’d rather have that kind of treatment than the ones in luxury hotels. 😉 Visiting provinces was how our yearly vacations in the Philippines are like when I was young.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      One of the main reasons we like to travel slowly and live in places for extended amounts of time is so that we can have a better feeling of what it means to be “local” in a particular place.

      We DID get the VIP treatment by getting a boat to ourselves, as usually the boats are packed with people going back and forth from all the small islands… also a great experience to feel the buzz of the commute via boats.

      In the three years since we lived here in 2013 many bridges have been built connecting the “main land” of Hoi An to the smaller islands, whereas before the only way to get to most of those islands was by boat, so now there are definitely fewer ferry boats on the river than before

      Peta

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Sharon. We did quite a few of these adventure days, “off the beaten path” when we lived in Hoi An in 2013. They are definitely some of our best memories of this region.

      Peta

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