Although the Nipa Palms (Coconut Palms) have been a Hoi An tourist attraction for several years, few experiences can deliver, as they can, the illusion of ‘being the first person ever there’ – an illusion that transports one back millennia.
But this is an impossible illusion to sustain in those areas where the mangroves are choked with bus loads of tourists crammed into spinning circular bamboo basket boats with pop music blaring; little grasshoppers made from palm fronds the mass produced take-home reward.
It’s possible, however, to avoid ‘basket-boat central’ (see map) and hit out on your own. It’s even possible to control your own craft through this labrynthine wonderland and, for a time, embrace a Jurassic Park adventure.
Join with Hoi An Kayak Tours and you’ll enter relatively unexplored channels through narrow keyholes of encroaching foliage. In these areas the only sound – wildlife aside – is the gentle, slow, rhythmic swish of paddles dipping into the still, primeval waters.
Here too, the only sight is the glorious Nipa Palm Forest itself, swarming over the Tho Bon River delta in every direction. Some channels are darker and shrouded by denser foliage than others but magically, uplifting, thick shafts of light invariably pierce the gloom here and there.
But with Hoi An Kayak Tours it’s not all Juarassic Park. Keen kayakers are also afforded a solid workout if they want it. A good part of the 2½-hour tour traverses the Thu Bon River proper and you’ll likely pass fishermen hauling their extensive catch from boat to land alongside grazing cattle. You’ll explore new Nipa Palm plantations – a reafforestation – in the lee of the Cua Dai Bridge and feel the pull of wind and tide where the river nears the ocean.
I was sad to leave Hoi An’s superb maze of Nipa Palms but the genuine greeting we received from the Hoi An Kayak Tour team on our return made a great end to a great day. All said, Hoi An Kayak Tours delivered one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had in Vietnam.