The sound of waves lapping against the shore rings in another sleepy morning at our beach side bungalow. As the sun rises, we slowly rouse ourselves from a deep slumber, gently awakened by the warm light filtering in through the bamboo slats of our thatched roof home.
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I nudge the sliding door of our dwelling aside, revealing a view that could well be a painting. Outside, broad azure skies, cool, sparkling blue waters, palm trees and a quiet, empty beach await us. With a smile, we pad down to the oceanfront bar for breakfast.
Over a pair of iced coffees, we talk about our plans for the day. Our surroundings are so peaceful that neither of us feels particularly compelled to explore, but we agree it would be a shame not to see a bit more of this place. So, it is decided: on the docket for this morning will be a lazy ride to the southern tip of island.
Following a hearty breakfast of toasted "Luna" sandwiches (a combination of beef, fried eggs, tomatoes, cheese, and cucumber), we return to the room to gear up and fetch our bicycles.
Like every other morning we've spent here, a cool breeze compliments the sunny skies overhead: just another a picture perfect day in paradise. Leaving the only city of consequence on the island, we pedal off, heading south. The town is scarcely behind us when the pavement ends, revealing a dusty red dirt road – our path for the remainder of the ride.
Our first stop of the day is a nearby pearl farm called Treasures from the Deep. The place is well kept, but feels abandoned. Santana and Everlast are piping out of a stereo at the empty bar, while shallow waves lap against the equally empty shoreline.
After several minutes of us wandering around on our own, mostly admiring the peaceful views, a man with a thick kiwi accent greets us, opening the showroom. Inside, we learn about the anatomy of oysters and how pearls are cultivated, using a surprisingly (to us) invasive procedure.
After the pearl farm, we hop back on our bikes and head further south, slowing down when we enter a tiny village. On either side of the road, conical-hat-wearing women squat in front of their homes with colorful spreads of produce laid out for sale.
We're not so much interested in the vegetables, as the spaces between the splintery wooden homes where patches of the ever-present blue sea are visible. Instead of being empty as usual, this stretch of beach seems to be decorated with the riotous, sunny colors of boats bobbing around in the water.
Wheeling our bicycles between the houses, rolling over the what looks to be the village's litter and garbage piles, we emerge behind the homes, on the beach. To our delight, we've landed right in a boat-building workshop.
A friendly man crouched inside the wooden frame of an unfinished project looks up at us, a smile shining on his weather-worn face. He calls us over, motioning for us to take pictures.
We're more than happy to oblige, as witnessing skilled craftspeople at work is one of our favorite parts of traveling.
Not far from the boat builder, we come upon a basket boat made of woven bamboo called a thuyen thung. An iconic symbol of coastal Vietnam, this traditional boat proves the saying that necessity is the mother of invention:
When the French ruled Vietnam, they levied taxes on many things, including boats. Many poor villagers could not pay the tax imposed on their small boats so they invented a new type of boat called thuyen thung to evade taxes because the thung (round basket) was not considered a boat.Khue Viet Truong, Saigon Times
Heading back to the main dirt road for an iced coffee break, we decide on one of the many shaded wooden restaurant/shacks and order up two cà phê sữa đá. While we wait for our drinks, we enjoy the company of an adorable little girl.
Her mother brings our order soon enough: two dark, rich, chocolatey beverages swirled with sweet thick milk, with chunky hand-chipped pieces of ice sticking out of the top like icebergs. While we sip them through straws, the mother and daughter duo teach us a few words of Vietnamese.
Then, onwards we go towards the tip of the island. Here, even the villages have disappeared and there is naught but wind-blown palm trees and completely secluded beaches. Ever filled with regret at having sent home our tent, we're especially kicking ourselves for the decision now. This island is filled with amazing free-camping opportunities!
I don't care where we go or how often we use it; we're never leaving home without our tent again! Instead of spending the night in our idyllic surroundings as we wish we could do, we settle for a skinny dip instead. We strip down and go for a swim in our own secluded stretch of beach. The feeling of bare skin slipping into cool sea water is one of the best sensations!
Heading back northwards up the dusty main road, we stop much less often than we did on the way down. However, when Tara spots a beguilingly simple palm shack by the seaside, shining in the sun, beckoning us with a row of inviting hammocks and pretty garlands of shells, we wheel over to investigate.
A smiling woman spots us approaching, and runs over to greet us and hand us menus. I get squid fried rice and an order of spring rolls for us to share, along with two glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice.
As we wait for our orders, we make ourselves at home on the hammocks. Leaning back, settling in, we realize something: this is comfortable. Really comfortable.
So comfortable, in fact, that we can imagine ourselves having a good night's sleep on them. Maybe we could free-camp after all, if we just bought a couple of hammocks! We'd have to find some sort of mosquito net, or cover ourselves completely from head to toe to avoid being eaten alive, but it could be done.
As we eat our lunch, we mull over the possibilities, fantasizing about beachside free-camps, imagining ourselves rocking back and forth to sleep while listening to the waves. Cycling back over the dirt road towards our bungalow, we can't get the idea out of our heads.
We'll just have to keep our eyes peeled for some hammocks!