Hoi An Outdoor Adventures

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Hoi An Outdoor Adventures
It doesn’t take long to get to know the historic core of Hoi An. Fortunately, the variety of landscapes surrounding the ancient town allows visitors to embark on an impressive array of outdoor and active adventures.
By Duncan Forgan, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Jose Moya/age fotostock
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    Sunbathe on China Beach
    China Beach is Vietnam’s best-known stretch of sand, extending north from the mouth of the Thu Bon River near Hoi An to the Son Tra Peninsula. Wide and welcoming, it rarely gets too crowded despite its fame. The peaks of Son Tra (better known as Monkey Mountain) and the Cham Islands in the distance offer additional visual stimulus. From Hoi An, one of the most accessible beaches is An Bang, an expat favorite that boasts a number of relaxed beach bars.
    Photo by Jose Moya/age fotostock
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    Cham Island
    Hoi An was once the commercial capital of the Kingdom of Champa, which occupied much of the country until the 19th century. As the Hoi An river inlet was too shallow for docking, larger cargo vessels would anchor off Cham (Hon Lao) Island, the largest island in this rugged archipelago, which lies nine nautical miles offshore from Cua Dai beach. Today the island is home to a few thousand people and makes for a peaceful day trip or overnight stay from Hoi An. There’s not much to do, as the island is army-controlled and its interior and east coast is off limits, but there are a number of good beaches and the road between the villages of Bai Lang and Bai Huong makes for a pleasant hike.
    Photo by Daniel Robbins
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    Adventures on Two Wheels
    The motorbike is the vehicle of choice in Vietnam, and several of the country’s top routes for motorbike adventures are within easy striking distance of Hoi An. If you are brave enough to go independently, the Son Tra Peninsula north of Danang offers deserted roads and jaw-dropping vistas. Most newbies prefer strength in numbers when taking to the highways, and may want to join a tour with an outfitter such as Hoi An Motorbike Adventures. They offer a wide selection of tours, such as a one-day odyssey to Hai Van Pass, one of the most spectacular sections of tarmac in the region, as well as a trip to Son Tra.
    Photo by Francesco Tomasinelli/age fotostock
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    Whale Sharks to Wild Rock Formations
    Not only does the Cu Lao Cham archipelago offer the most northerly diving on Vietnam’s eastern seaboard, it also dazzles divers with underwater eye candy. Dive sites around the islands range from coral gardens and reefs to underwater pinnacles and wild rock formations. Tropical marine life runs the gamut from colorful rays to whale sharks. Over eight sites surround the islands, providing a wealth of variety for beginners and expert divers alike. Several reputable dive outfits operate from Hoi An, offering everything from PADI Open Water courses for novices to advanced Divemaster qualifications.
    Photo by J.W.Alker/age fotostock
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    Tee Off on Lush Links
    The strip of coastline between Hoi An and Danang is a growing destination for golfers. The first course to appear in the area was the Montgomerie Links, a lush, American-style design masterminded by Scottish Ryder Cup star Colin Montgomerie. In 2010, it was joined by Danang Golf Club, the work of Australian legend and world-renowned course designer Greg Norman. Both courses have done much to establish the area as a golf destination in its own right. Danang Golf Club is the more spectacular of the two, with holes such as the 16th—a short par-3 played towards China Beach—as attractive as they are exacting. Check out Ba Na Hills and Laguna Lang Co for still newer golf courses.
    Photo courtesy of Balcony Media Group
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    The Rhythms of River Life
    Although now unashamedly a tourist town, Hoi An was an important port in Vietnam at various stages in the country’s history. The conduit for much trade was the Thu Bon River, which runs through town to its estuary near Cua Dai Beach. Life on the river today is less busy than in Hoi An’s trading heyday, and now a boat trip is an idyllic way to while away an hour or two. Several tourist vessels ply the waters, but the best way to experience the river Vietnamese-style is by hopping onto a sampan. Boats leave from the center of town and trips generally last for around an hour. Routes vary according to the tide but typical sights include Chinese fishing nets, live-aboard sampans, and round coracle boats.
    Photo by Guenter Fischer/age fotostock
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    Catch Some Surf
    Vietnam doesn’t have the surf to rival the waves in Indonesia or Australia, but at certain times of the year—usually September through March—it offers some very passable beach breaks. The most convenient surf beach in the central part of the country is My Khe, the portion of China Beach nearest Danang, around 30 kilometers north of Hoi An. Non Nuoc, a little further south, has even better waves but fewer facilities. There’s also a small but healthy enclave of surfers in Danang these days, and boards can be rented from Tam’s Pub, the central hub of the surf community.
    Photo by A. Johannes Wyneken/age fotostock
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    Explore Vietcong Territory
    Jutting upwards from the flat coastal hinterland that surrounds them, the Marble Mountains between Hoi An and Danang are a distinctive landmark, and there’s more to these five marble-and-limestone hills than meets the eye. All of the mountains have cave entrances and numerous tunnels, and were used as hiding places and hospitals for Vietcong guerrillas during the Vietnam War. These days the mountains have become well-known for adventure sports possibilities such as rappelling and rock climbing, guided by numerous companies including the American-run Phat Tire.
    Photo by Klaus Lang/age fotostock
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    Cycle the Countryside
    Hoi An’s manageable size and relatively quiet roads (by Vietnamese standards) make it ideal for cycling, and virtually every guest house in town rents out bikes for a couple of dollars per day. Most tourists cover the well-worn route between the town and nearby beaches Cua Dai and An Bang, a few kilometers away. It's easy to do the beach run independently, but a host of tour groups operate longer itineraries if you want to dig deeper and immerse yourself in rural life. Heaven and Earth runs two-day programs where extensive exploration of the countryside is combined with an overnight stay with a local family.
    Photo by Gerhard Zwerger-Schon/age fotostock
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    Fish the Vietnamese Way
    A distinctive feature of Vietnam’s coastline is the miniature circular coracles the locals use to fish. They aren’t the easiest vessels to handle—particularly if you are a foreigner with a big build and questionable rowing skills—but they are definitely effective, and fishermen rarely come back empty-handed. Should you fancy trying to snare your own supper, Castaway Restaurant at Cua Dai Beach runs line- and net-fishing lessons for a few dollars per hour. Budding fishermen are free to tool around in the coracle for as long as they like after learning the ropes. Should the mission be successful, the chefs at Castaway are masters at cooking up a catch.
    Photo by age fotostock