Words and pics: Mark Rose
Mark Rose first ventured to Vietnam for a spot of stand up paddling two years ago. There he discovered a flat water SUP paradise that was totally unique. Yearning for more of the same Mark and wife Chris decided to hop back on plane and head here again. Chuck in a quick paddling stop off via Dubai during the return journey and you have all the makings of a classic trip. Over to Mark for more…
Planning a SUP adventure to the Far East or Middle East? Do you love coffee?
If yes to the latter then the even bigger question is Vietnamese coffee or Arabian coffee?
Travelling with Emirates Airlines via Dubai to Vietnam you can have all of the above, what are you waiting for?
Hoi An in Vietnam is a beautiful 13th century trading port, a UNESCO world heritage site, no cars or motor bikes are allowed in the old town. From a SUPers view Hoi An is surrounded by mile upon mile of unexplored SUP waterways. This is the second time we’ve visited and it still amazes.
For first time SUPers I would recommend SUP Monkey Hoi An who run stand up paddling tours early morning off An Bang beach or their river tours to wonderful places such as the Coconut Village and beyond. Down at 250 Cua Dai Road, Hoi An, is the Vietnam Backpackers’ Hostel, a new accommodation built for those on a budget. $12 gets you a room for the night. This is no ordinary hostel though. It boasts a swimming pool – complete with bar – and SUPs racked up next to reception. They have a nice selection of hard boards from Aallokko and the usual inflatables.
For everyone else, who is not a backpacker, there is the charming Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort and Spa which is perfectly positioned between the sea on one side, with views out to the Cham Islands, and the river on the other. The Victoria Hotel just oozes Vietnamese charm and caters for everyone. Free bikes are on offer, plus windsurfing, kayaks, catamaran sailing and two Starboard Astro Tourer inflatables for rental. The Victoria and the Vietnam Backpackers hostel are only separated by a five minute taxi ride so you can have the best of both worlds for starting points and choices of equipment.
Trip one, starting point: The Vietnam Backpackers Hostel. Max, the owner of the hostel, laid on Jono and Shane to help out with local paddling knowledge and the rental of brand new gear. Straight out front it’s barefoot across the road and down the bank and into the river – less than two minutes and we are paddling!
Our route for the day, left downstream, meandering with the river towards the Coconut Village and the estuary beyond. Soon our first hurdle loomed up before us. It was a dam.
The Vietnamese have built the dam to carry a small road across the river. We drifted up to it, to look for a good exit point. The sides were steep and covered in overgrown vegetation. Jono suggested it’s best to use the paddle as a beater to scare off any unwanted Vietnamese wildlife, use your imagination for that one, mine was already in overdrive!
We climbed up the bank and tried to negotiate the road with our boards which seemed full of motorbikes and the odd lorry for added excitement. Did you know a 12 foot paddle board on the top of an overgrown slope sticks out over six feet into a narrow road. So be careful you don’t get spun around or you might end up on one of the many TV programmes like ‘World’s Worst Road Accidents’ or ‘Deadly Snake Bites’ Vietnam edition.
Back on the water we soon passed the Victoria Hotel, then further downstream exchanged greetings with local fishermen in their thung chai’s (basket boats). After an hour of cruising we entered the Coconut Village area with great swathes of palms growing right out of the water. Vietnamese ladies were fishing for crabs from their basket boats. There was no real conversation just lots of smiles exchanged between our two different worlds. This area is a little tropical oasis. In some places the palms crossed the water so low it’s down on your knees to get through nature’s green arches.
A quick rehydration break, then a high speed paddle back to the dam with tide and wind pushing us homeward. We did manage a quick iced coffee stop at ‘Riverfront’ next to the Cua Dai Bridge. After three hours of paddling we were back at the hostel for a couple of well-earned ice cold beers.
Trip two, from the Victoria. I used one of the hotel’s Starboard Astro Tourer’s. Due to the distance and the heat my plan was to meet my wife Chris at Cafe 96, a bar on the waterfront, four hours after my departure. If things went wrong on route I would either hail a local water taxi and use some US dollars to get a lift back or come ashore somewhere and get a taxi of the land based variety. Always have a backup plan in ‘Nam!
Setting off from the Victoria’s small jetty, with a good local map of the waterways I caught the last hour of ebbing tide which helped take me towards Coconut Village. After about 50 minutes I arrived surrounded by 20 basket boats filled with tourists on an eco-tour. The tide was turning so no time to waste. A quick water stop, then just grind it out until you see the lighthouse on your left. Cutting the corner of the river, turning right to get into the estuary, it all suddenly came good, going with the wind and tide. There are lots of Vietnamese boats to see which all have one thing in common: two large eyes on the bows. The white of the eye signifies hope and the black of the eye signifies death. They are meant to protect the fishermen from river monsters and serpents. Starboard and Red Paddle take note, an upgrade for the 2018 range?
In the distance was the next landmark and what a landmark it is! The new Cua Dai Bridge has a span of 1.48km across the river costing 3,452 trillion Vietnamese dong – that’s a lot of dong!
Next stop after the bridge was Cam Nam Island at the coffee shop that Craig from SUP Monkey took me to, two years ago. I use the term coffee shop loosely. It’s an old building on the canal where some of the best original Vietnamese coffee is served. As the harbour wall on the island appeared on my left I turned inland, the cutting rapidly narrowing down from 30m to 5m.
Due to the tide being higher than last time it was going to be a horizontal squeeze under the bridge, immediately on my left and then the long awaited coffee stop! The two plank jetty looked even more rickety than last time. With my SUP tied up I was greeted by a local man in a hammock offering to look after my carbon paddle. As we are not at Starbucks the magic words you need are ‘ca phe sua da.’
Proper Vietnamese coffee is served jet black with a splash of condensed milk and loads of ice, it is heaven on earth and a truly amazing taste/hit!
Following a few photos opportunities, more coffee, and saying my goodbyes it was time to pick up my paddle from the man now sleeping in the hammock and hit the water.
Zooming down between the mainland and Cam Nam Island the Cam Island Bridge was in sight which meant I was almost there. Gliding past the fish market – you do not need a map to know you are there – the air is thick with smells of the day’s catch. As the waterfront beckoned I slowly counted down the minutes to Cafe 96, journey’s end and dry land. Beer and spring rolls ordered I watched the world go by on the quay. It doesn’t get much better than this but eventually it was time to go again. With the SUP rolled under my arm we hailed a taxi back to the Victoria. All in it was a perfect paddle. Total time afloat was three and a half hours, with lots to see, nice people to meet, fabulous coffee and ice cold beer to finish.
Two flights later and we found ourselves in Dubai for a quick stopover. Dubai has hundreds of hotels to suit all budgets. The price also depends on the time of year. If you go in the low season it’s cheap because the weather’s 9apparently) bad – 50 degrees C bad! We stayed at the Centro in the Al Barsha district, a great hotel approx £60-£100 per night for two with breakfast and a free shuttle bus to the beach where you’ll find stand up paddle boarding.
My main contact in Dubai for SUP rental was DUKITE at Umm Sequim Fishing Harbour. The main man was Nic Muhl who operates from the public beach in front of Jumeriah Tent Restaurant.
Rental is very reasonable all top quality boards, from wide beginner boards, right up to the latest Starboard Allstar 24″ wide high performance SUP. Nic is a great chap who will either let you SUP off the beach solo or can take you on organised tours (for example) towards the Burj Hotel. The beach where Nic operates from is very clean, offers wonderfully clear water, plus the odd sting ray to keep you amused and a great bar for your Arabian coffee with cardamom. It’s taste is very unusual but worth a try.
On the map,12,264 miles does look a long way, that’s because IT IS! But if you want a totally different experience then it’s worth the jet lag and the long flights. Vietnam is an assault on the senses, an amazing adventure – not least from a SUPers point of view. So show up, blow up and keep up.