Taking to two wheels sans motor and zipping through the countryside around Hoi An is one of the most rewarding travel experiences you can have in this corner of the country — even if your chosen $1 stead happens to be an excrutiating bone rattler with a suspect braking system and two flattish tyres. All roads eventually lead back to the old town, so it’s the one activity we’d usually suggest you don’t need a guide for — that is, unless you happen to be in Hoi An on a Saturday afternoon, when local charity organisation Ong Vang teams up with Hoi An Cycling for a three-hour countryside cruise.
Ong Vang is a group of Hoi An teens headed up by a few good men who have worked as tour leaders for some of the big gun tour groups in Southeast Asia. These guides were struck by the severe poverty of a number of Hoi An residents, void of any sustainable means or support to survive. Over a period of time the guides formed Ong Vang, encouraging local kids to get involved visiting families in their area in the hope of building a local support group to reach out to the people who need help the most.
Ong Vang is now 400 kids strong. They run soup kitchens and coffee mornings, they’ve built strong community support networks for more than 50 families in dire need of help, they’ve helped rebuild homes after the typhoon and floods of 2013, and they’ve delivered food packages and helped with medical expenses. One of the ways they raise funding is by taking travellers on a weekly ride — the tours are led by student volunteers hoping to gain the experience and skills to work in tourism. And it’s the local knowledge and enthusiasm of these volunteers that makes this tour really worth doing.
The bike tour heads off from Ong Vang’s HQ — Hoi An Culinary Centre — just off Tran Hung Dao on the outskirts of town at 14:00 every Saturday. The price of 100,000 VND per person includes the services of your English -speaking guide, water, a top of the range mountain bike and proper helmets. The tour takes guests on a cultural loop through tiny town alleyways and out to rural villages, stopping off at small local enterprises for coffee, coconuts and chats. There’s the chance to ride a monkey bridge, take in a village temple or two and to learn a little about a more life outside the main tourist area.
Times are set for a return route that runs parallel to the rivers at sunset, giving plenty of opportunities to snap commuter boats packed to the rafters with motorbikes and conical hat-sporting workers returning home from a day in the fields and at markets. The tour ends back at base for a sundowner in the Culinary Centre’s beautiful garden, where you’ll have to fight off offers of spice-infused rice wine shots if you value the rest of your evening. And every last dong raised from the tour goes straight in the pot to provide help to those who need it.
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 24th February, 2014.