Walking through Hoi An of an evening brought a much calmer and more sophisticated feel than we had encountered in many of our previous Vietnamese destinations.
The consistent car horns and bustling streets of Hanoi (and even the smaller towns of Sapa and Tam Coc) suddenly seemed a distant memory.
Amidst the dark sky, lanterns of red, white, blue and green hung from rooftops and lampposts, creating artistic walkways.
The streets were lined with the traditional tailor shops that Hoi An is so famous for; amongst them, bars and restaurants hid behind their own lantern displays, offering a more relaxed evening meal than the majority of Hanoi eateries.
Walking in Hoi An was enjoyable and, despite the inevitable dodging of scooters and some taxis, quite quiet. The majority of pedestrians milled around quite happily, faces to the sky as they tried to snap pictures of the bright lantern lights.
By the time we reached the river, I thought the novelty of the lanterns had worn off. But, as I looked across the black water, an even prettier display was offered.
Rowing boats sat waiting for paying customers, decorated with the traditional lights so that the reflection on the water was quite magical against the dark backdrop.
Across the bridge, ladies sold paper boats holding candles- some of which already floated across the river delicately.
For me, the feel of Hoi An was immediately quite different: a more suave and elegant aura filled the air. There were frequent quiet moments and space in the roads to wander freely.
Even the night market, which undeniably hosted a repetitive and souvenir-based stock, was more reminiscent of markets I had walked through by the French sea-side, than those I had come across in Vietnam… It was even complete with slight inflated beer prices.
Of course, that didn’t stop us from making a detour into some of the bars.
Having fallen asleep to a thunderstorm and woken up to another, we headed out to the beach under a bright and hot midday sun. Rickety bikes loaned to us by our hotel were the chosen form of transport.
Even in the day time, the roads were more enjoyable. Although the sound of scooter horns was still frequent, Hoi An seemed to be a much more modern and spacious place. The roads were wider, smoother, and less cramped.
In convoy, we cycled around four kilometres (past some rather pretty paddy fields) to reach the beach.
When we finally reached our destination, I was not disappointed. The sun beamed down and the air was fresh. Waves tumbled in onto flat and smooth sand and the water was a pleasant, refreshing temperature.
Further out, a jet skier whizzed past. The odd parasailer flew by.
It seemed like, after weeks of witnessing how busy Vietnam can be, we had finally found some peace and quiet- not to mention a new variety of seafood on the menu.
I had the most delicious fish, but I forgot to photograph it, so you’ll just have to imagine that one for yourself.
It is hard to draw comparisons between different cities when they are so different and the wants and needs of every tourist are so subjective. But, I can say with confidence, for me the pretty and peaceful Hoi An has the edge on the bustling buzz of Hanoi.
Of course, if you have the chance, you should visit both… but if you’re short on time and want to catch that real I’m-on-holiday feel?
Well, don’t miss Hoi An.