Part of the allure of Hoi An is its vibrancy. There is a charm to the mixing of its old world history and architecture with its still-lively markets, filled with locals and visitors alike. But step away from the city center by degrees, and by degrees you find a quieter – though no less vibrant – pulse.
Cam Kim Bridge
Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than Cam Kim Island. Only a short bike ride separates Cam Kim from Hoi An, but traversing the narrow bridge that spans the Thu Bon River is like riding hours into the countryside. Automobiles are prohibited from crossing here, so the congested streets of the town give way to a slow trickle of bikes and motorbikes that eventually peters out in the expansive rice paddies and corn fields that separate the island’s scattered hamlets. If you have the time, then you could easily spend a day losing yourself in this bucolic setting. But for those with a tighter itinerary, there are some highlights that you ought not to miss.
Rice Paper Making
Hang a left at the very end of the bridge onto Thon Thanh Nhi and follow till you see a small shrine and a sign ‘Cau Cam Kim’ (Cam Kim Bridge). Then turn right down a lane to a wider road where on the corner you’ll see something not marked on your maps – sheets of rice paper drying in the sun, leaning against a bright mint wall. Here, with any luck, a kindly man will come out and usher you inside, but even if there is no one around don’t be bashful – step right inside and prepare to lose track of time as you observe and then try your hand at grinding rice flour with a heavy old mill stone, firing a skillet and cooking rice cakes, and perhaps best of all, trying the fruits of your labor and some additional treats over a cup of tea with a couple that is still cooking up delicious rice cake dishes the old-fashioned way. If you haven’t tried bahn beo, then you’re in for a special treat.
Making rice paper
A short bike ride southeast from this unassuming house is the ferry dock and a small market with local handicrafts and other knickknacks. At night the area around this market tends to fill with people ferrying over from town and has a more lively feel to it. During the day it is relatively quiet but nearby a number of fascinating small boat yards beckon. I saw coracle boats and even larger fishing vessels being hauled out of the water by an ancient winch and some newly repaired boats being returned to the water. I was also lucky enough to catch builders working on a new boat, the smell of fresh timber and sawdust heavy in the air. The workers here were pleasant and greeted me with ‘hello’s and waves, so don’t be too shy.
Cam Kim boatbuilding yards
Glorious Rice Fields
The Kim Bong Carpentry village is also nearby. This village is perhaps the most touristy part of Cam Kim with carvings of Buddhas and dragons et al as well as mother-of-pearl inlay. Not for everyone but for some a handy spot for souvenirs and gifts.
Continuing east and out of the carpentry village you will find yourself on a dirt track that skirts a large field of rice paddies. Along this road is a scenic and shady spot to grab a drink and catch your breath.
A parallel road winds by a large cemetery with a sea of beautifully ornate and colorful headstones and shrines, well worth the time if you have it. Otherwise, continuing along the field edge till the juncture with Duy Vinh, reveals a large monument surrounded by row upon row of fuschia headstones, stone towers crawling with vines crumbling like old Norman keeps and, if you are lucky, farmers tilling the ground by hand as they have been for centuries.
Exploring Cam Kim Island
Biking back along Duy Vinh will take you through the heart of some breathtaking fields. And though it may not strike you like the steady grinding of the millstone or the sharp clanking of hammers at the boat yards, the quiet along this stretch of road is the perfect ending to a day exploring Cam Kim Island.