There was the option to borrow bikes from our homestay (the Asian term for a bed and breakfast hotel) or book onto an organised tour. We only had 3 days in Hoi An and I hadn't ridden a bike for over 15 years so being a massive chicken I decided an organised tour was the way to go.
After doing plenty of research online we decided to book a half day tour through Grasshopper Adventures, costing US$37 per person. What drew us to this tour in particular was that it included stops at different homes within the local Hoi An community, giving us the chance to get a taster of the Vietnamese way of life.
The result was a day filled with memorable experiences and moments which touched me more than any other experience I have had whilst travelling. Read on to find out why it was so special!
Our morning started bright and early at the Grasshopper office. It is located on an alleyway just off Hai Ba Trung street and you can't miss it as there is a big green and white sign pointing out the way. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it was just going to be us and our guide, Trang. This was a huge relief as I'd had visions of my nervous cycling holding everyone up! Trang was so knowledgeable and put me at ease straight away.
When you arrive for your adventure you receive plenty of guidance on which bike is best suited for you and ample time to get ready. Helmets are provided as well as a small bag for your essentials. The guide will give you a water bottle which clips onto your bike and this will be topped up plenty of times throughout the trip. All you need to bring is your phone or a small camera, sun cream in case you need to re-apply it later, any essential medication and sunglasses.
Our guide was lovely and helpful, stopping a couple of times when I needed a break. Once we got through the busy town centre we went over a canal bridge which was a little steep, but it wasn't long before we were rewarded with the most beautiful open countryside!
We passed beautiful green countryside, rice paddies, some very laid-back cows chilling out in the shade, the odd group of young children smiling and waving at us and local houses with families going about their day-to-day business. The people in Vietnam are so friendly and it was lovely seeing the local communities.
Because you are concentrating on staying upright on your bike, you are 'forced' to actually take in the views and not spend all your time behind a camera. I don't feel that my photos do the experience justice at all - it's something you really need to experience for yourself!
Our first stop was to visit a couple who made rice flour in their home to sell rice-based products to locals in the village. It was so interesting seeing how this staple Vietnamese food item was made and we were able to have a go at making rice paper ourselves.
The couple were so welcoming and accommodating and despite the language barrier, we felt like we got a real taste of their lives without feeling like intruders.
Trang shared his favourite childhood snack with us, a 'smash cake' which is effectively a poppadom inside soft rice paper which is smashed with your hand before eating and then dipped in different sauces. Trang explained how he had lived in the village all his life and now had his own home with his wife and family. It felt so authentic and not touristy at all to be exploring the village with one of the locals.
We got straight back onto our bikes to head to our next stop. We visited a couple who had their own temple in the back yard of their home. This sounds so lavish but seems to be really common in these parts, with families actually burying their deceased relatives in the grounds of their homes. Having their loved ones so close by clearly brings great comfort to Vietnamese families and it was so interesting to see a family temple first-hand.
Later we drove over a very rocky, slightly scary bridge which is pictured below. There is no way I would have had the confidence to tackle this before we had been made to feel so at ease by Trang.
He pointed out the original bridge just nearby which had to be shut down as it was so unsafe, with this one being a temporary alternative whilst it was repaired. I couldn't help but be a little shocked that this bridge was deemed to be much safer, but over it we went.
This was one of those travelling days where I really pushed myself. It might sound like a small thing cycling and riding over a less than perfect bridge, but the ex-accountant in me is so risk averse that this felt like a big day of achievements!
After driving through more beautiful countryside, our next stop was at a boat-building yard which was really impressive. Trang explained how the family who built up this business had originated from quite a poor background and were a real success story in the village. It was very inspiring!
It was time for a break; we really needed it. Trang took us to a simple cafe where we devoured a beautiful platter of fresh fruit and some large iced coffees. It was really good to recharge and spend some more time chatting to Trang about the way of life in rural Hoi An.
Our water bottles were refilled so we had plenty of fluids to keep us hydrated for the rest of our trip. We also re-applied our sun cream as it had been really hot, with open air cycling for most of the day.
The next stop was probably the most memorable part of our whole trip around South East Asia and it will stay with me forever.
We visited a family who made reed mats which are used for mattresses and pillows amongst other things. The reeds are hand dyed with beautiful vibrant colours and then hand weaved together to make mats of various sizes.
What made this so memorable was meeting the grandmother of this family, at the age of 92, still working every day making the mats! This lady was a true inspiration to me. I felt very humbled to have met her and it made me so aware of how lucky we are in the UK to get retirement benefits that allow us to finish work way before we reach 90! What was so lovely about meeting this lady was how happy she was. She clearly still really enjoyed her work and looked so well for her age as you can see in the photo below.
We both had a go at weaving the mats and just had to buy one to take home for ourselves. It now has pride of place in the middle of our coffee table as a reminder of the most wonderful glimpse we had into this family's business and work ethic; something I think about regularly even now a few months later when I have returned home.
The other product this family made was one of the most unique and special things I have come across in my travels. The Vietnamese people have a tradition where they buy gifts for their loved ones who have passed away, entirely made out of paper. They are then burnt with the belief that this ritual will provide them the items they need in the afterlife. The family made everything from iPhones, to business suits, to cigarettes, to shavers and soap: all literally lookalikes made out of paper.
This really touched me and I felt even more emotional after leaving our final stop. I wish I had a photo to show you but I was just so speechless and touched. My last thought was to reach for my phone!
After another fairly long cycle through some beautiful greenery, we arrived at the boat which would take us back to the main town of Hoi An. We shared the ride with some other groups and had some lovely views on our way back. A brief cycle back to the main Grasshopper Adventures office and our half day tour was done!
I can't recommend this tour enough and if you are going to visit Hoi An I would put this at the top of your list. Most people just borrow bikes from their hotel to see the surrounding countryside, but I am a big believer that you should always get to know the true culture of places you are visiting and I just can't think of a better way to do that than this amazing tour. To read more about Grasshopper Adventures or book your own tour, just click here.