The high pitched buzz of motorcycles engines and horns eventually gave way to the rhythmic ‘phut, phut’ sound of our boat’s engine as we and our bicycles headed across the Thu Bon River, towards Cam Kim Island. It was my first full day of a ten day trip to Vietnam and Cambodia with a group of other tour operators and I’d just been on a short but pleasant bicycle ride through the busy streets of Hoi An. Now, standing on the deck of this small wooden craft, I was about to head into a fertile countryside dotted with a green patchwork quilt of paddy fields.
Cam Kim Island is a delightful slice of rural Vietnamese life and within five minutes of disembarking I was amongst local artisans engaged in various traditional crafts. My first stop was at a boat-builders yard where two men were heating long wooden planks in front of an open fire so they could bend them to shape over the hull of their sturdy looking vessels. Half an hour later I was observing wood-carvers whittling intricate shapes for the mother of pearl inlay they would add later. Probably the highlight of the day for me though was the opportunity to have a go in a traditional basket boat (we’d know them better as coracles). Trying to master the figure of eight paddling technique certainly provided plenty of amusement for the rest of the watching group. What struck me most about the island was the almost complete absence of other tourists to be seen: it was just our small group mixing with the locals, who were going about their everyday business totally unconcerned by our presence.
Returning to Hoi An by ferry a couple of hours later, we cycled through some of the markets and back to the delightful Fusion Lounge, where we had lunch. This restaurant and bar is owned by the Fusion Maia, one of the newest properties on China Beach and where I stayed during the Vietnam leg of my visit. After this we went on a walking tour of Hoi An, strolling through narrow streets of brightly painted houses and seeing famous sights like the Japanese Bridge.
My lasting impressions of Hoi An was of a charming, ancient town, admittedly slightly congested in parts by visiting sightseers, but away from its centre in places like Cam Kim Island, just how I imagined Vietnam would be.
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