Day 61 | Exploring Hoi An’s beaches and farms by bicycle

Day 61 | Exploring Hoi An’s beaches and farms by bicycle

We ventured out of Hoi An’s ancient village by biking through rice paddies on our way to An Bang Beach and then through Tra Que Vegetable Village on our way back to our homestay. In the evening, we went to the same vegetarian restaurant for dinner and ambled through a few more historical houses open to the public.

Breakfast at the Hoi An Ngo Homestay was great, we sat on the patio and got vegetarian cao lau with its delicious lemony dressing, small pineapple pancakes, passion fruit juice and a lot of fresh fruits including pitaya.

Cao Lau for breakfast

Pancakes and fruits at Hoi An Ngo Homestay

We left the homestay around 10am, renting bikes from the homestay that were old and rusty. In fact, the first bike I got had pedals coming loose. I rode for 1 block and noticed that the pedals were not aligned against each other making it very difficult to pedal straight. We switched the bike with one that had working pedals but the seats could not be adjusted for my height, too rusty. Maurice and I switched, compromising on bikes that more or less fit our heights. Good enough for us, we didn’t complain. We were off to An Bang Beach which is only 5km away. It was a very pleasant bike ride. On the way we saw rice paddies and a farmer on a water buffalo, his friend standing by the road told us to come get a closer look. It all happened very fast, we stopped for a few minutes and both of us took turns climbing on the buffalo.

Riding a water buffalo

Maurice riding a water buffalo

Water buffalo love

I even got to feed the buffalo a stalk of rice.

Then came the sales pitch. The farmer’s friend told us the buffalo was having a baby and asked for a donation of 500,000 VND to each of the men. They wanted us to pay them almost $50. No way, we eventually gave them a 200,000 VND note to the farmer and told them both to share. Our photos on the buffalo cost us $5 each. Also, the buffalo was male, so I don’t know what baby they were talking about.

Then we continued on our way to the beach along the main road north of Hoi An.

Biking to the beach

An Bang Beach was pretty and clean. It was lined with simple beach restaurants and cabanas and there weren’t too many people around. Unlike some of the famously beautiful Thailand beaches with calm crystal clear turquoise water and powder-soft white sand, the water here on the South China Sea was a duller more opaque shade of blue with big waves and powder-soft golden sand.

An Bang Beach

Maurice looking in the distance

We walked for about an hour south along the beach and then back up north until settling on Banyan Beach Bar and Restaurant for lunch. The food was average, it was all about this view from our dining table.

View from Banyan

After lunch we used their beach chairs and umbrella. We swam for only 15 minutes since the water was cold and the air temperature was relatively cool due to a strong wind. It would have been fun to row out into the ocean with these giant floating coconut shells. They were actually baskets. We saw at least one of them floating far away in the water, but the waves looked too choppy for it to be safe and easy to row.

Giant floating coconut shells

We left the beach in the late afternoon. We took our time to bike around Tra Que Vegetable Village, really taking the time to enjoy the bucolic scenery of rural Vietnam.

We stopped at this water buffalo (yes, another one!) grazing in the rice paddy.

Saw this lone duck fanning its wings.

Duck on the run

And continued biking through the residential areas. We didn’t book any Tra Que village tours or cooking classes, so we just calmly observed things from the seat of our bikes.

Biking through a farming village

Straying away from the main road, we were all alone most of the time.

Sunset on the rice paddies

Unlike Laos and Cambodia’s yellow dried out paddies, Vietnamese rice paddies are lush and blessed with good irrigation even in dry season.

Mimi at the paddy

A silly animation of the ride of course.

Riding through the village

And a video.

We passed by a duck farm next to one of the irrigation channels.

Riding through the duck farm

Finally we connected back onto the main road to Hoi An. The sun was setting and we were smack dab in the middle of rush hour. Workers, students, and us were all on the road jammed tight onto either the public buses, motorbikes or bicycles careening fast through the narrow city streets. It was really stressful and we both had to stop on the side a few times to look for the other person. By sunset, we finally made it to the bridge connecting Hoi An ancient town with the island where our homestay is. The sunset side of this particular bridge shows a section of modern day Hoi An, however,

Sunset back in Hoi An

We returned our bikes and set out again in the evening for dinner. Right outside our homestay towards the bridge to ancient town, vendors set out hundreds of bright lanterns for sale.

Lanterns for sale

As if the ancient town’s streets don’t have enough lanterns.

Strung lanterns in the old town

We saw a cute black dog that looks like our Lulu.

A dog that looks like Lulu

It was dark on the inside of the Fujian Assembly Hall complex, so we took a picture of the outside street through the courtyard’s gate.

View from Fujian Assembly Hall

We passed by another ancient building on the way to the restaurant.

An ancient building

After looking through reviews of other restaurants in the ancient town, we decided to go back to Minh Hien vegetarian restaurant again. The restaurants in ancient town seemed to be overpriced and not necessarily better than the tried-and-true restaurant we went to yesterday.

This time we ordered less food, I was completely stuffed last night after both of us ordered and consumed their large set menu.

We finished with mango shakes, coconut ice cream and red bean ice cream. I couldn’t resist slipping a note advertising under the glass table.

Ice cream at Minh Hien

Walking back to our homestay, we noticed one more historic house, a family home, that was full of domestic tourists walking around. Someone tried to help us as a guide but our Vietnamese is nonexistent.

One more historic house

We were a little sad to leave Hoi An tomorrow as it has a little bit of everything that we like when traveling: history, culture, interesting architecture, great food, bucolic scenery and beautiful beaches all wrapped into a small, accessible package.

Day 47 | Chasing waterfalls and dolphins on Don Khon Island

Day 47 | Chasing waterfalls and dolphins on Don Khon Island

On our full day on Don Khon island, we rode bikes to see the Irrawaddy dolphins, swim in a sandy beach on the Mekong and see the famous Somphamit waterfalls.

We had breakfast at Pan’s Restaurant just across the street from where we were staying, Pan’s Guesthouse. It was pretty basic: eggs, baguettes and fresh fruit.

Breakfast at Pan's Guesthouse

We rented bikes from a shop next to our guesthouse. With a rudimentary map of the 4 km wide Don Khon island, we forged west out of the main street and then south towards the old French Port where motorboats take tourists out to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphins who congregate in the Mekong between Laos and Cambodia.

Riding bikes on Don Khon

It was another 100+ degree Fahrenheit day and we biked through dried rice paddies and forests.

The old French Port is a very dominating structure in an otherwise low key, sparsely populated area. It was used to accommodate large steamer ships transporting goods up the Mekong River. Nowadays it only serves small motorboats.

Old french port

We paid a young boat driver to take us out to see the Irrawaddy dolphins.

We stayed in the middle of the particular section of the Mekong River for about 20 minutes. We saw at two separate times, a dolphin as it emerged out of the water to breathe. We heard the sounds of their blowholes expunging water. We were happy to see dolphins at all, however, each time was quite far away and we only saw their fins and half of their bodies for a couple seconds each.

We then headed back through the small islands back to Don Khon’s port.

Si Phan Don islands

We relaxed and had fruit shakes at a café above the port overlooking the river. The café had a sign noting this was the southernmost point in Laos.

Don Khon and Don Det islands used to have a railway connecting them to mainland Laos. French ships were unable to navigate up through the treacherous Somphamit waterfalls section of the river, therefore the French colonists had to build the railway to bypass the waterfalls and then reload the goods onto other ships waiting north of these islands. We took a picture in front of an old train engine left over from those colonial days.

Steam engine

Riding our bikes back north, we passed by a tiny village with a schoolhouse on stilts.

Village school on Don Khon

We then turned onto a westward road to reach a sandy beach. We walked a few steps through a rocky section and plunged into the water with our T-shirts on. Although the water was warm, it was heaven to our sweat-drenched sun-parched skin.

Sand beach on the Mekong

We relaxed in the natural fish spa as little fish started nibbling at our skin.

Mekong fish spa

We swam across the river and back again. The current was very strong and we would end up on the other side of the river several meters downriver from where we started.

Then we relaxed in a yet another restaurant with fresh coconuts. The restaurant is run by a family: the mother lured us in and prepared the coconut, her young daughter served us, the father was napping on a platform near us and their toddler son provided us with entertainment. The little boy was interested in my mosquito repellent wristband and my sunglasses case. I then showed him my cell phone and nothing else mattered of course. He took about 40 selfies in a row of just his forehead on my phone.

Selfies in Laos

Then the little boy eyed my coconut. I scooped up coconut meat and fed it to him. He chewed on the coconut happily. After a few scoops of this, he decided to pay it forward and feed coconut to the dog, who was less enthusiastic.

I had a hard time getting my phone back from this boy as I introduced him to the game Two Dots. Here he is with his sister on a hammock. Their dad is still sleeping behind them.

Kids at the restaurant

The next stop on our bike tour was Somphamit waterfalls. The falls are also located on the west side of the island, on the north. We paid for admission tickets and walked into the large park. We saw a pack of the largest turkeys I have ever seen. Some of them were quite beautiful (for turkeys).

Wild turkeys at the falls

The waterfalls were impressive. They came rushing off of rocks in all directions, converging into the wide flow at the base.

Waterfalls 1

Waterfalls 2

Waterfalls 3

Waterfalls 4

We walked along the rapids until we arrived at the Oasis Restaurant and “beach bar.” We finally got lunch and more fruit shakes! There were hardly anyone there so we occupied this entire bungalow overlooking the rapids. We vegetated here for more than an hour, too hot to move.

Oasis Restaurant at the falls

We had a long walk to the sandy beach since it is dry season and the waterline receded a lot. Here Maurice is standing at a shallow pool with the river behind.

Beach after the falls

We could not wait to jump into the water again since it was too hot for us to function on land. The current was much stronger here than at the previous beach since we were immediately downstream from the Somphamit waterfalls. Maurice demonstrates his Olympian swimming skills on the river. Michael Phelps who?

We showered off at the beach bar’s outdoor shower after swimming. Then we biked through the farms back to town.

Afternoon light on Don Khon

A herd of cows grazed on the dry grass.

Cows grazing on dry grass

On the way back to town, there was loud music emanating from the local Buddhist temple Wat Khon Tai. We walked in to explore.

Entry to Wat Khon Tai

There seemed to be a festival going on. Monks were blessing people on the left. People were eating barbecue on the right. Loud music blared from three separate areas. All were playing different songs, of course.

In front of Wat Khon Tai

We enjoyed another sunset on the Mekong.

Sunset on the Mekong

The main stretch of Don Khon does not have many restaurants. We liked Lao Long restaurant where we ate lunch and dinner yesterday and decided to go there for dinner again. Maurice got the noodle soup in a bowl so big you can wash your face in it.

Noodles in the kitchen sink

Day 18 | Last day of island hopping, next stop: Bangkok

Day 18 | Last day of island hopping, next stop: Bangkok

Today was our last beach day in Thailand. We woke up earlier than yesterday so we could enjoy our private swimming pool before checking out by noon. Before 7am we were already at the Banana Leaf restaurant for another delicious breakfast buffet. We were among the first guests to arrive but all the stands were ready.

Breakfast stands at Banana Leaf

I did not come close to my legendary eleven food plates at Le Meridien — OK now I can finally admit it, I was bragging in front of Mimi, pretending my stomach is an endless black hole — but I did eat a fair amount nonetheless. My favorite was passionfruits, which Mimi found too bitter. She preferred papaya though she had to eat it while doing the anti-mosquito dance to limit the number of bites on her arm.

Went back to our villa and enjoyed our private pool and patio for a few more hours before packing up. I am going to miss that place! I usually think of room upgrades as a scam for hotels to sell you additional amenities or services you really don’t need but in this case it was very much a different experience. It’s especially nice to relax in such a place after staying at more basic hotels several nights in a row and I think we will be more inclined to look for similar opportunities in the next countries on our list.

At noon we were out of the villa and proceeded with the checkout. We went to the beach, played in the water and then showered and dried as the sun was getting stronger. We had a couple more hours to kill before our taxi to Ko Samui airport.

We decided to check out the library. Most books inside seem to be books left there by previous guests of the resort, judging by the disproportionate number of titles in Nordic languages. I spent time doing some more research for hotels and activities in Myanmar, our next country after Thailand. Booked one domestic flight with Air KBZ and a hotel for our two nights stay in Inle Lake. Mimi worked hard on the next yolomimo blog post, desperately trying to catch up as the number of belated posts keeps increasing.

Booking hotels and flights in Myanmar

Yolomimo blog writing

It was time to meet our cab driver. About 40 minutes later, we arrived at Ko Samui International Airport, our second time transiting through it. As mentioned in the previous blog post, this airport is super cute and very green. It reminds me more of an amusement park than an airport, let alone an international one (truth behold it only serves international flights to a handful of neighboring countries, but still).

The domestic terminal is exclusively owned by Bangkok Airways (which I later learned also built the airport so that may explain things) and passengers can enjoy complimentary beverages, light snacks as well as WiFi access throughout the terminal. We have been quite impressed with the Asian airlines so far, they offer excellent services and their staff is super attentive to their customers requests.

Our flight was on time and we boarded the plane directly from the tarmac. I am a bit of an airplane nerd so don’t be surprised if the next video is super boring, I still want a trace of it here!

For some reason our flight was filled 90% with Israelis. I knew Thailand was a popular destination among young Israelis but it was unexpected and funny to hear so many people speak in Hebrew around us. The flight itself was short but we still got a dinner meal served. No vegetarian option was available for Mimi so she had to eat chicken. Other than sitting just in front of the loudest crying baby ever, it was also uneventful. We landed in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport around 8:30pm. Coming from Ko Samui, it was a bit of a shock to arrive at such a busy airport which actually has more than one conveyor belt! The airport has a very modern look, much nicer than our three airports back in New York.

We got an early taste of Bangkok crazy driving with our cab driver refusing to stick to a single lane. His English was really poor and he was definitely on the older side, so it was also a big struggle to have him understand where our hotel was located. After Mimi told him our hotel name (“Loog Choob”), he made fun of her Thai pronunciation for several minutes. Perhaps there was something really funny in the way she said it that would only work in Thai, but to us it just seemed like an old guy being perhaps too senile to still work as a cab driver. He also stopped the car at the beginning of a freeway merging lane so he could look at the map on my cellphone. Eventually he called someone and had that person give him instructions on the phone. What a nightmare but we finally made it to the Loog Choob Homestay.

This small boutique hotel is a family run guesthouse beautifully designed and renovated. The owners have very good English and are super friendly. They gave us a map of the neighborhood as well as a binder full of useful documentation including a top 10 of Bangkok scams! There are only five rooms in the entire hotel and we got one on the fourth floor.

We unpacked and went to sleep right away. Tomorrow will be a long day, with our friends Amandine and Laurent meeting us in Bangkok for two busy days of nonstop city sightseeing together. It’s going to be epic!