After Hoi An I decided to explore a bit the less touristy area between Hoi An and Mui Ne. The first stop was Quang Ngai. Instead of a boring train journey I decided using my favourite transport mode to get there – riding pillion on a bike.
I contacted Mr. Thong and arranged the trip for the next day. As Hoi An is a very touristy place the prices are higher here as well, including motorbike trips. For a day trip to the DZM from Hue I paid $45, for my trip through the central highlands I paid $80 per day, including food and accommodation. Day trips from Hoi An cost between $70-$80. That is not cheap. As prices didn’t vary between the various Easy Rider outlets, I paid $75. A train journey would have been cheaper!!!
I was picked up at 8:30 from Ngo Homestay, and Thong stored my bags and the painting on the back – at least I had a place to rest my back against.
Straight from the start I was reminded that things are slightly different in Vietnam. We crossed a new big car bridge near the harbour of the day boats. But construction work was still on-going – the right lane was done, while the left was still work in progress. But the bridge was already open, and the finished lane (ok, it was not fully finished) was used for both directions. Interesting. Though the view from the bridge was great.
Arriving on the other die of the water we drove through a rather larger fishing village opposite of the ferry point, and saw people selling fresh fish and seafood on the street, with boats in the water and on land ready to be repaired, and some quite beautiful houses lining along the coast.
After that we were in the rural area – away from the touristy bit. The road started to follow the coast – there were dunes between the road and the sea, and more dunes on the other side of the road, some trees and plants adding some colour to the scene. After a while we also started to pass some of an important sights in this area – fish and shrimp farms. I saw so many of these pools. I doubt you would have an issue to get fresh sea food here. When we stopped at one we were approach by a local – he asked us if we want to visit his home – he would even prepare a duck just for us…at 9:30 in the morning. It was even for me too early for such meal!!!
Soon the main road was leading away from the water. So we drove onto a dirt road to get to the coast again. On the way we passed another beautiful village, colourful houses on both sides of the road, but instead of grass in front of the house there was just sand. It was an interesting view.
We were back on a smaller road following the coast once again. While he blue sea was on our left side, there were fields and rivers to our right – made it difficult to decide where to look.
Thong stopped in a tiny village next to a massive to enable me to stretch my legs on the beach. I must admit a regular break is important when riding pillion. The beach itself was actually very nice, but I doubt it sees any tourists. Instead I saw boats along the beach, and a few younger guys in the water – I am still not sure what they actually did. An older man was sitting in his boat nearby, watching everything while repairing the fishing net. It was as far away from any touristy place as you can imaging. Walking back to the road I also noted how beautiful the view was on the other side, rice fields, plantation and a river a bit further away.
After the welcoming break we hit the road again, passing more villages, fish farms, with rice fields and the sea on either side. Thong stopped a few times so I can take pictures, and some of the stops provided some stunning views. One of the nicest was near a bridge crossing a river. With the rice paddies in the background, little fish farms on either side, seeing locals working, this is how I imagine rural Vietnam. Well, even hear technology is important. In a tiny hut that provides some shelter for a worker I saw a TV – it looked a bit out of place.
After another shorter stretch on the road we came into a village where a lorry was parked on the street, and behind were people sorting shrimp. Not just a few, but thousands. We stopped so I could watch them, which was like “the good ones go into the pot, the bad ones go into the crop”. To keep them fresh there were a few ice blocks to freeze them.
But as it was interesting for me to see it, I suddenly became the centre of attention of the villagers. People stopped working and came out of the various houses came out to watch me, smiling and waving. Apparently they don’t see too many tourists.
While we were off the bike we went to a little shop next to the shrimp processing house and had a coffee. It was hot instant coffee, and not very good. But I finished it nonetheless. Sitting there I was joined by a few kids and an elderly man and woman. The kids initially looked at me slightly worried. Thankfully this changed and when I left they were all smiling at me (well, I ask the mother who owned the shop to give them some sweets and paid for them). The older man on the side was more than just curious. He compared our hands and feet, he even checked my ears (yes I was still a human), smiling the whole time. It was rather entertaining and I wasn’t really surprised hen I was told that he was the crazy man of the villages.
Yes – this just showed me again why I love Vietnam so much…
After the short break we headed off again, and followed the road, passing more villages and farms until we reach the end of the road at a little ferry point. Here we had to cross a river to get to the other side via an island. Here I realised that we took a little detour, which was a great way to be off the main road and to see more or the rural area. Unfortunately the skipper of the ferry was away for his lunch (it was after noon), so I was able to make myself comfortable in an hammock, despite the protect to some dogs.
As the break took a bit loner Thong went away to skipper away from his lunch, and it seems for a little extra he agreed to head to the other side of the river. The two passengers were happy with that approach.
After a quick crossing we were on an island called Dao Tam Hai. The island had a similar look as the mainland, though some of the roads were quite narrow passing through some fields. Again, the locals were waving when they saw us, and kids were shouting ‘Hello, what is your name’. I really couldn’t stop grinning. After 1/2 hour we arrived at the other ferry point – but it was a complete different set up. Instead of a small ferry with space for a few bikes, here a larger ferry crossed the river to Hay Tay. Back to civilisation I guess.
As it was 13:30 it was time for lunch, so we stopped at a little food place in the town of Hay Tay. Even now I find the layout of some food places rather interesting. You have the kitchen and tables on the ground floor, and there was a little floor above the kitchen where the family is sleeping. So during their free time they just sit on one of the tables and watch TV. Every inch of their home is used as efficient as possible. The com ga we had was simple but delicious.
Heading out of Hay Tay to Quang Ngai the scenery changed – I still saw some long beaches, but there were far more rice paddies and other plantations along the road. We still avoided the highway (thankfully), instead we drove on some roads under construction, and passed some places that were seen as future tourists hotspots and there was even an airport – the empty hotels though told a different story.
I enjoyed just sitting back and enjoying the ride and the scenery, and through the noise of the bike continued having interesting conversations with Thong.
After a while we reached our next stop – My Khe beach. This could be seen as a more developed beach – there were food places along the beach, loungers and hammocks and even 2 guesthouses. The beach was actually very nice, so it could be a nice stop for some beach time. After a stroll on the beach I was actually considering staying there.
But before we headed to Quang Ngai I asked to stop at the Son My memorial.
The Vietnam War is not short of terrible stories and war crimes. I think the photo of the kids running away from he Napalm is known to most.
But maybe the My Lai massacre is the most infamous symbol of the war, as it was a terrible war crime against civilians committed by the US. On the 16/03/1968 a platoon of US soldiers killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in two hamlets of the village My Son, including kids and event infants (numbers of victims differ from both side, but the Vietnamese claims more then 500 were killed).
The memorial site remembers the victims. Inside the museums they exhibit pictures, letters and other items to tell the story. Yes, there is clearly propaganda included (showing books with orders of the US to do this attack – though it was written in Vietnamese), but nonetheless I found it very interesting learn more about it, and I must admit it made me slightly angry that civilians were on the wrong side of political power play of some democratic nations – and that it still happens today.
Outside the museum they rebuilt part of the village, with destroyed buildings, bunkers and even rice fields. I think it would be difficult to walk along these buildings and not be moved at all. I had a drink with Thong at the café, and it was strange to sit there now, having a drink and watch over the site of this terrible war crime. Personally, if you are near Quang Ngai, a visit there is a must-do.
This was our last stop. It was just another 30 minutes before I got my first glimpse of the large city of Quang Ngai – and my first bike journey of this trip was over.
I really enjoyed the day – I just love seeing the rural, non-touristy Vietnam from the back of the bike. It is much more enjoyable than sitting in a car, bus or train. I was once again lucky to meet wonderful people, and having some great experience. Mr Thong is a safe driver, and I wasn’t worried once. Like others he probably think that Westeners like seeing beaches, hence we stopped at two (I would like to know why they think that Western tourists want to see beaches the whole time). I prefer stopping near rice fields or villages, and he stopped whenever I wanted to take a picture or walk around. It wasn’t rushed.
Only downside is that the Easy Riders from Hoi An are more expensive than the ones I had in other parts of Vietnam – but I think this happens when you stay in a touristy area.
Still, I didn’t regret the trip, and would be happy to choose Mr Thong as driver again. Contact details can be found on his website: easyrider-hoian.com
The route between Hoi An and Quang Ngai is just beautiful. Even a day return trip would be worthwhile to see a bit of the real rural Vietnam. Also, a visit to My Son memorial is a memorable visit, for those interested in War history, but even people who are not.