Hoi An provides ample opportunities to get out onto the water, be it fresh or of the salt variety. Enjoying some of the town’s many river ways is a must – hire a boat, go for a paddle or take a tour that incorporates the life aquatic.
If you’ve got an hour or two to spare, it can be as simple as going to the old town’s riverfront where you’ll be inundated by touts offering boat trips down the Thu Bon River, the vessel ranging from sampans (flat-bottomed wooden canoes) to larger, noisier fleets with padded seats and lifejackets. One-hour trips are quite cheap, depending on how good your negotiating skills are. And negotiate you must (wisely, with good humour and a big smile) and maybe check our your ride before agreeing and parting with your dong. Expect to part with around 100,000 dong for an hour for a sampan, which are more memorable than the engine boats. These old rowers – usually women – know how to show a photo happy foreigner a good time. You will cover a lot of ground – or we should say river – on the trip.
The route depends on the helmswoman, who will consider things like tide, currents and silt banks. Longer tours should give you a window to rural life on the river, Chinese fishing nets and sampan-live-aboards. The best time to cruise around, for lighting and for river action, is 07:00 in the morning or late afternoon to catch sunset. Avoid the midday sun, it’s not fair on rower and the light's not great for photos then anyway. Here during the full moon festival? Lucky you, it’s absolutely stunning, and while you’ll pay a fair amount more, it’s a glowing experience worth shelling out for.
The sampan may not be for everyone. For a more formal experience, Anantara Resort offers one-hour public rides on their small but comfortable covered wooden boat which holds up to 12 passengers. Departures from the dock in front of the hotel are at 10:30, 14:30 or 16:30 and include drinking water, cold towel and some fruit. Cost is 208,000 dong per adult, 104,000 dong for children. Book in advance.
Get moving under your own steam with a fun kayaking trip. Hoi An Kayak Center offers guided tours ranging from easy leisure paddles to more strenuous and adventurous half-day or full-day trips exploring the islands. Pricing works on a sliding scale, depending on numbers. For example, the two-hour sunset paddle with canoe or kayak is US$30 per person for one or two people, or US$25 per person if there are three to six people.
A confident paddler? Rentals are available: single kayaks and Canadian-type canoes cost US$10 per person for two hours and US$5 for each additional hour. A nice service available is delivery or kayak pick-up, so you can cover more river and go one-way with the current. It’s an extra US$10.
Hoi An Kayak Tours runs half-day, full-day and sunset trips, as well as a multi-sport cycle and kayak tour. They also do SUP tours. Glide on a stand-up paddleboard as the river glows orange from the setting sun. The 2.5 hour sunset SUP trip is US$27 per person for one to two people, or US$25 per person for three to four people.
SUP-only specialists SUP Monkey hit up that big blue thing called the ocean. The newbie-friendly sunrise paddle (four hours, US$50) does require getting out at the crack of dawn – it's a 04:45 start from An Bang – but it looks absolutely spectacular.
Tours give you an opportunity to escape the old town and see it from a different perspective with a big emphasis on fun interaction with the locals. SUP and kayaking run between April and September, when the weather is kinder and the river calmer. In the winter months from October till March, kayaking tours still run in good weather but are subject to last-minute confirmation to ensure weather conditions are safe. The best access to the shallower river inlets is during high tide; silting up is a centuries-old problem for the Thu Bon. Guides do have alternative routes to keep you from running aground.
Jack Tran’s Ecotours have programmes that include getting to row your own coracle, otherwise known as Vietnamese basket boats, those funny, iconic half-shells that seem impossible to manoeuvre. They’re the best for a fun paddle through dense forests of beautiful water coconut palms. Most of their tours also incorporate a cruise on their wooden boat. The four-hour “Fishermen and Palm Paradise” tour costs 1,100,000 dong per person including lunch on the boat.
Cham Island is an extremely popular day trip, with the masses being zipped to and from the island’s tropical white sand beaches by speedboat. Do-it-yourselfers can take the daily wooden supply boat, which is an adventure in itself. Full details can be found in our Cham Island guide.
Hoi An Kayak Center: 125 Ngo Quyen Street, An Hoi Islet; T: (090) 505 6640; email@example.com; www.hoiankayak.com.
Hoi An Kayak Tours: Thuan Tinh Pier, Tran Nhan Tong St; T: (0979) 437 338; firstname.lastname@example.org; hoiankayaktours.com.
Jack Tran’s Ecotours: Block 4, Phuoc Hai Fishing village, Cua Dai district; T: (123) 433 1111; (0914) 082 850; email@example.com; jacktranecotours.com.
SUP Monkey: T: (0912) 136 681; supmonkey.net.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you'll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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