We love Hoi An. In fact, we love it so much, we decided to head back there despite the fact we had already visited in May. It’s just one of the many places that make Vietnam so special.
This time round, we decided to do all the things we didn’t manage to do earlier this year, and one of them was the Free Tour of Cam Kim Island. Free tour we hear you say. Yes, free. The tours are held by local university students so that they get the opportunity to practise their English. As our guide explained, she rarely ever has the chance to speak the language in her everyday life, so this is the perfect way to converse with other English speakers, while offering tourists the chance to see some of the lesser explored parts of Hoi An.
There are three tours to choose from, but we went for the Cam Kim island tour (it’s down as the Kim Bong carpentry village tour on their website), which included a visit to a boat making workshop, a carpentry village, a family that makes sleeping mats, a family that makes rice noodles, and a temple. For four whole hours all we had to pay was 1USD for the ferry to the village and a 1.5USD ‘community fee,’ which goes back to the families whose businesses we toured. You also have to pay for the cycle rental, but we got ours for free from the hotel we were staying in.
In all honesty, I was rather sceptical as to how good the tour would be – I mean, it’s free after all, so I wasn’t expecting much. But we were both pleasantly surprised. Our guide, Duyen, was so much fun to hang around with for the morning, and she felt more like a friend than a guide. She was so knowledgable and it was so interesting to learn more about Vietnam through a local.
If you ever find yourself in Hoi An, you simply must try this tour and here are the reasons why.
It’s a great way of interacting with locals
Trying to interact with locals when you don’t speak the language can be pretty intimidating. This tour offers you the perfect opportunity to spend time with someone who has been brought up in the region. And not only do you get to speak with the guide, but you’ll also have plenty of chances to interact with locals living in the village.
One of the best parts for us was visiting the family that makes rice noodles in the yard of their home. They made us feel so welcome and even gave us a taster of a local snack.
They had a mischievous young son who must have been approximately two-years-old. We spent most of our time playing with him as he pretended to run away from us every time we tried to take a picture of him. He particularly loved Ankit, whom according to our guide he had nicknamed ‘Mr Hello.’ By the end of our stay he had grown so attached to him that he apparently exclaimed in Vietnamese “Don’t go Mr Hello!”
You see a lesser explored part of Hoi An
Cam Kim island is a 10-minute ferry ride from Hoi An, yet we didn’t see any other tourists there – and we loved it. In contrast to the bustling ancient town, the island doesn’t centre around tourism and you get to enjoy an insight into local culture without the annoyance of crowds. The roads are also very quiet, making the bicycle trip around town a very pleasurable experience.
You don’t get harassed to buy things
Anyone familiar with Vietnam will know that as a tourist you get constantly harassed to buy things or services; souvenirs, fruit, tours – you name it and you’ll be offered it while you’re here. This was not the case in Cam Kim, and it was a welcome break from the market vendors of Hoi An. Despite the fact we visited a carpentry workshop where you could buy various sculptures and souvenirs no one tried to sell us a thing.
There are so many photo opportunities
We took almost 400 photos during the three hours that we were there. The island is extremely scenic; water buffalos, vivid green rice paddies, quaint houses, the beautiful river that surrounds it. We also got to take pictures of people, which is somewhat difficult when you’re out exploring on your own. We found locals to be far more receptive to having their photo clicked when we were accompanied with a fellow Vietnamese, and ended up taking some amazing shots.
The tour may take you on trip defining detours
After we visited the temple (which, in all honesty, was the least interesting part of the tour), we rode past the local nursery. The little ones had just started piling out of class for lunch and had spotted us, so they began to shout “hello,” “hello,” “hello.” Duyen asked if we wanted to have a quick visit and our response was hell yes!
As a result of this little unplanned detour we got to interact with the cutest children who didn’t know how to say anything other than hello. They LOVED being photographed – one child in particular would not leave the vicinity of my lens and can be seen hogging the limelight of most of the photos.
They were absolutely adorable and this was definitely a highlight of our entire trip so far. I just wanted to hug them all and stay there – as someone who claims to have no maternal bones in her body, this is quite the statement.
You will learn a lot about local culture
Duyen was highly knowledgable not only on the island but about Vietnamese culture in general. We got to find out so many interesting nuggets of information. For example, all boats in Vietnam have eyes painted on them – they’re believed to help the ship to keep away from monsters at sea.
The Vietnamese are also highly superstitious people – for example, even numbers are believed to represent hell while odd numbers represent earth, so the number of steps leading up to temples will always be an odd one. These are things we probably would have never learnt had we not done this tour.
You will be paying it forward
Not only will you be helping the students to practise their English skills while they guide you around, but the small donation that you make gets distributed among the families whose homes you visit along the way. It’s a great way of supporting the local community, and you get a fun and informative morning in return.
You will be touched by the kindness of the people you meet
We didn’t like the previous city that we were in much; Nha Trang had a slightly seedy underbelly to it and we didn’t really find the locals too friendly. Maybe we didn’t ‘do’ it properly, but our experience of it wasn’t memorable. So when we got to Hoi An, we both instantly noticed the difference – people were smilling and saying hello to us instead of staring us out!
But the friendliest people were the people of Cam Kim island, from the family that made rice noodles for a living, to the incredibly happy old man at the boat workshop, they were all smiles and despite the fact we couldn’t speak much to each other, we felt so welcome.