When I’m in a new place, I’m always looking to explore the culture. What I really love about travelling, is the education you get with it. But sometimes in the city, it’s not always possible to truly learn about the culture and the way of living there. So while In Hoi An, I did some research online, to see if there were any walking/cycling cultural tours around Hoi An. Hoi An Free tour caught my eye straight away. Well honestly because of the word free, as I’m always looking to cut down my costs with travelling, as much as possible.
I checked out the website and found they did a range of tours around Hoi An. Hoi An free tours offer both walking and cycling tours. They only have one free tour, which is the free Bike Tour to Kim Bong Village. The reason it is free, is because they use volunteers for this tour. The volunteers sign up to do this, are mostly students. So they sign up to practise their English and because they want to help educate visitors, on Vietnamese culture.
I signed up to do a tour, via their online booking form (which is pretty easy to do) and was all set to start a tour, the next morning. Please note that even though the tour is free. There is a charge for the ferry, taking you over to the village from Hoi An. Although it is only 20,000VND both ways (Which is very cheap)
The next morning I headed down to the Hoi An free tour office, where they were happy to rent me out a bicycle for the day. You can also rent your own out. Most hostels will have the option to rent you one. But you can also find many bicycle rental places around Hoi An. Our guides did a great job explaining to us, what we would be doing and the itinerary before we set off.
There was quite a few of us in attendance. I guess this tour is pretty popular, due it being free. We split into two groups. In my group, I was accompanied by two Americans, an Australian and a girl from Myanmar ( which is the first time I had met someone from this country, so this was pretty cool)
We headed off on our bikes, along the roads of Hoi An. I didn’t find riding around Hoi An, to chaotic in comparison to the other Vietnamese cities, so this was nice. The first destination was the Bach Dang pier, down by the river in old town. We would take the ferry across the river, to Kim bong village. Setting the bikes on the deck of the ferry, we sat down and enjoyed the relaxing ride across the river, to the Kim Bong village.
Arriving at the village, we headed not to far from the pier, to where the boats were made. They explained to us about the local boat making trade. They told us, that the locals often live on their boats, as well as work from them. As you can see from the photo above, there are little enclosed houses on the boats themselves. We unfortunately didn’t get to see anyone working on boats, while we were there. These boats usually sell for around $120,000 US dollars and can take around 6 months to make.
We continued cycling through the lovely village. It was really nice cycling around here, getting to see locals going about their daily lives, as we past through. Which is something you don’t really see, when you are in the cities and the tourists areas.
Arriving at our next destination, where we were being shown, how the local people, make their sleeping mats. This is an interesting process and it requires great coordination, by the two people making them. The materials they use, to make the mats, are reeds, which are grown locally on their land. To make the beautiful colours seen on the mats, they put the reeds into a huge cooking pot. The reeds are then boiled and immersed in the various colours. To which they are then, put out in the sun to dry.
The process of making the mat itself requires one controlling the shuttle and the other controlling the loom. One person inserts one of the reeds into the machine and the other moves the reeds in line with the others. On average ,it takes around two days to finish one mat, but this also depends on the size of the mat. Once finished, the mats are taken down to the local markets, to be sold. The mats themselves can be used in various ways. They are most commonly used as sleeping mats, or used for eating meals.
After they showed us the process of making the mats, they let some of us have a go at it ourselves. When you watch these ladies, making them, they make it look easy. But when it comes down to trying it, it’s not as easy as it first looks. These ladies work hard at their trade and I hope they can continue to make a trade from it.
Making rice paper
Next we arrived to a home, where they were making rice paper. Making rice paper, is quite the process. The raw rice is first ground down, into a slurry watery paste. They do this by, putting into a machine, that grinds the rice down with water. Then the machine spills the mixture out, into bowls below it. To make the rice paper itself, they take the mixture and scoop it onto a stretched cloth, that is hung over a boiling pot. The mixture is spread evenly and thinly. Once spread, a lid is placed over it, to let it steam (Around 30-45seconds) Once the rice paper is ready, it is transferred, by lifting it of the cloth, with a thin stick. It is then taken to cool, on the bamboo cooling racks. They usually take them the cooling racks outside and leave them to dry in the sun for the day, until they are ready.
After showing us the process, we got invited to have a go ourselves. He showed us how to spread the mixture evenly, by pouring the mixture into the middle first. Then spreading it around the outside. It was really cool for the local people, to take time, to show us first hand the process of this. You can really start to appreciate, how much work they put into their trades. The next time, I eat a delicious Vietnamese spring roll. I can look back and think about all the work that has gone into making this.
Heading into the next room next door, they wanted to show us a different demonstration. The rice mixture is not only used, for making the thing rice paper. But also used to make things like rice rolls. They showed us, how the rice is cut by hand and also by machine. The method today, is mostly by the machine, because it is a whole lot faster and producing more volume. They used to cut it all by hand, which is a timely and tiring process. Even though, when she gave us an actual demonstration. She showed us just how fast, she can chop the rice by hand. It was really Impressive watching her do this. She chopped it so quick, yet so precise. She was evens smiling at us, while chopping at the same time. Those are some skills.
Kim Bong local temple
They also showed us around the family temple in Kim Bong. We were able to go Inside the temple itself, to take a look around. As well as our guides explaining a bit about the history of the temple. They also explained to us, a little bit about the Buddhist symbols around the temple. I always enjoy learning new things about this culture. Before coming to Vietnam, I had very limited knowledge about Buddhism. So it’s nice to be able to keep learning about it, in each new place that I visit in Vietnam.
We ended the tour, by visiting a shop/workshop in the village.The Kim Bong village is well known for it’s carpentry trade. So we were able to go see see locally crafted products, made in Kim Bong village. I didn’t take any pictures in here, as I was unsure if i was aloud to. But there is a beautiful showcase of craftsmanship in the shop itself. There are a lot of traditional Buddhist figures and traditional Vietnamese pieces for sale here. They also have on offer, a collection of tourist souvenirs such as key rings, fridge magnets etc.
We headed back to the pier ,to catch a boat ride back into the old city. It was really a great experience, getting to Immerse into the local culture here. I personally love learning about new cultures, in any country that I visit. So If you are Interested in this kind of thing. Then this is a must see, when in Hoi An
I want to say thank you to Hoi An Free tours, for putting this on for us. Also for being very helpful, in explaining everything that we saw in the Village. You can check out there tours here – http://www.hoianfreetour.com I highly recommend trying to get on a tour with them. They also have many other tours beside this one. I just wish I had more time, to check the other tours out