Cheesy though it may sound, a cruise down the Thu Bon river is one of the best ways to idle away an hour or two when in Hoi An, and although you can do it the posh way by jumping aboard a tourist boat, it’s far better to go local; and by local I mean grab a sampan.
If it’s a lucky day, expect to part with approximately 100,000 VND for an hour of thrills and spills and maybe a fair amount of bailing out water; these old rowers — usually women — know how to show a foreigner a good time; had they thought to put this crew on the Olympic team, Vietnam would have come back with a gold. You will cover a lot of ground — or river should we say — in an hour.
The mystery part of the tour is dependent on your helmsman of the day, the tide and the silt banks, but whichever route she takes you’ll get to see a slice of rural life on the river, Chinese fishing nets, commuting boats from the islands, sampan live-a-boards and coracles.
Communication is limited for those who are not fluent in the local dialect of Vietnamese but it’s surprising how much fun you can have with a little idle banter and hand gestures.
Photographers will be in seventh heaven, snapping away from the “other side” of Hoi An and those who prefer to observe with their eyes rather than through a lens will have the added bonus of watching the photographer get rather damp in the process of capturing the moment.
As for the best times to cruise: romantics and photographers should hit the Bach Dang docks for sunset; for the best river action rush hour is 07:00 for early risers or 16:30 for the rest of us. Avoid the midday sun as it’s not fair on your driver. If you are lucky enough to be here for the full moon festival, it’s absolutely stunning; although you’ll pay a fair amount more it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences you won’t mind shelling out for.
To pick up your boat, loiter at the riverside anywhere along Bach Dang Street. Once you’ve made eye contact you’ll be inundated with offers. Interview wisely, negotiate with good humour and a big smile, and maybe ask to check out your ride before parting with your dong. And don’t wear your best frock!
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 12th December, 2014.