We have been in Vietnam for about 2 weeks and seen endless amounts of rice paddies. Long bus trips steering at kilometer after kilometer of lush green reeds growing in huge water paddocks finally made us wonder… how the heck does the whole rice farming thing work? How does the green grass in the water become the rice on our plate? Sure we could have googled it like most other families would but we decided it was a much better option for us to get out into rural Vietnam and see how the whole countryside operates. Thanks to Heaven and Earth Bicycle Tours we were able to do just that. Not only did we get to see the countryside but we got to do it on fabulous bikes at a pace that suited our whole family.
As we were super excited about the trip we arrived at the tour office in the center of Hoi Ans ancient town right on time with a couple of backpacks loaded up with our supplies for the day. Unbelievably the next group of people to arrive was an English/French family with 5 children!!! We could hardly contain our excitement over meeting another large travelling family and quickly made introductions. The remaining member of the tour was a sole Australian guy who, as you can imagine, was totally pumped about doing a cycle tour with 9 kids especially since he was on holiday in Vietnam from his teaching job back home. We did feel super sorry for him and gave him many advance apologies for the noise and craziness of our combined tribe of kids.
We were all rearing to go. Heaven and Earth have a huge range of safe, well serviced bikes (including a toddler seat for our 3 year old and a tandem bike, which the other family used) and once we had been fitted for our bikes and helmets and had a brief outline of the afternoons activities we set off. It was just a short ride around the corner to the river to start with where we all boarded a boat, bikes included, and enjoyed a 40min river cruise to one of Hoi Ans other Islands. All the kids immediately teamed up and formed instant friendships while all the adults chatted about our travels.
After arriving at our first island in the Song Thu river delta we cycled a short way to visit a traditional local Vietnamese house. Our local guide, Quyen, who spoke great English, explained all the characteristics of the house including the reason for the 3 doors, the flood protection features and also the reason for certain decorations within the house. The kids really enjoyed seeing the house and although it was very small and basic, you could tell that the owners had great pride and a real sense of family existed within the house. Back home you would say that it was the simplistic, minimal approach that ironically so many spend thousands to create!!!
Since the weather in Vietnam can be so humid, hot and wet, and since traditional Vietnamese houses don’t have air conditioning, they don’t have mattresses on their beds. The humidity would quickly ruin a mattress and sleeping on a thick mattress can just be way to hot. So for many years Vietnamese people have produced sleeping mats which are weaved together using reeds. We got to witness 2 lovely old local ladies working together to make a sleeping mat. One of the ladies was 82 years old and had made her 1st mat at age 10. Pretty incredible!!! Unfortunately the art of weaving the mats is dying out due to the lack young people learning to do it. Not surprising really when it takes 2 people, 4 hours to make 1 mat and they can only sell them for $7US. Not an industry I would be encouraging my kids to get into!!!
An enjoyable, easy flat ride bought us to another local home and tradition. Rice wine. We got shown how rice gets fermented and made into rice wine and bottled. The farmer keeps pigs which eat the unfermented rice who then poo. The farmer uses the pig poo and its methane gas to light the fire which boils and ferments the rice. Pretty smart aye!! These local Vietnamese farmers have been using sustainable practices for generations. Our Mr 8 year old is very interested in all things sustainable and the environment so this was practically interesting for him. After sharing and cheersing a shot of the 40% rice wine with our fellow travelers (adults only…. ok, I did let my kids dip their finger in mine) it was back on our bikes and off through some gorgeous rural landscape and along the riverside and over a few bridges to our next destination.
Bamboo river boats. Learning and watching how they are made and how to paddle them was a real treat for us all. And it involved more poo!!! Water buffalo poo is pushed into any gaps in the bamboo to seal it before a tree resin is painted on top. Of course we were all gagging to have a go at paddling these round boats so down to the river we went. And let me tell you, it was definitely a case of…. it looks so much easier than it is!! A figure 8 pattern is required under the water to give these boats any sort of forward momentum otherwise the boats just spins in 1 spot. All the kids had a go and most of them were able to make some forward progress. It was a lot of fun and I know a big highlight for the kids.
After a well earned break with some snacks and drinks it was back in the saddle to enjoy some more cycling. Quyen stopped and explained the whole rice paddy process to us on the edge of a large rice farm. It was very interesting and she was able to answer all the questions that we were throwing at her. For such a simple grain, its really hard work and quite a long process. Once again it highlighted these farmers ethical practices as nothing from the whole production process goes to waste. As a family we had been talking about rice and rice farms quite a bit so it was so fantastic to hear about the whole process. My boys are quite excited that they know how rice is produced!!!
Our final stop of the day showed us how some very talented and patient artists make incredible pictures using mother of pearl shell. We saw many treasures that we would love to bring home if only we had room in our packs!!! We then headed out the back to see a few river boats at different stages of construction. By this stage the kids just wanted to jump in one of the boats and play pirates and Carl was just trying to work out how he could get one of these beautiful boats made from Laotian timber home to NZ!!!
So as the sunset over Hoi An, we loaded out bikes and all our kids back into a boat for the short journey back to town. The boys rode up back with the driver, the girls sang songs and did clapping games while the adults all shared email addresses and contact details.
As a highlight of our travels so far, our day out with Heaven and Earth Bicycle Tours is right up there. It gave us everything that we love. Adventure, utterly gorgeous scenery, amazing, friendly locals, a look at the true authentic way of life, a fabulous education but most importantly a day where we could all love, learn and be together.
Heaven and Earth Bicycle Tour gets a top rating and a massive thanks from us. Thao and Quyen were brilliant guides and deserve a huge congratulations for keeping 9 kids safe, interested and excited for the duration of the 6 hour tour. Plus they answered all our questions and sorted any issues that came up. This tour is super family friendly and certainly deserves to be top of your to-do list when in Hoi An.
So to Heaven and Earth Bicycle Tours, thank you and see you next time. To Thao and Quyen thanks for being fabulous guides. Gerry from Australia, sorry about all the kids but great to meet and chat with you and to our wonderful new friends, John and Fiona, look forward to seeing you and all your awesome kids again in Marseilles in August. x