Hanoi's vibrant energy can sometimes be overwhelming. In Hanoi, my brother and I struggled to cross the crowded streets constantly bustling with motorbike and people traffic. At first, we found ourselves hesitating on the equally-crowded sidewalks before darting across the roads when there was finally a small break in moto traffic. After a few (nervous) practice runs, we finally got the hang of it. Don't panic, don't look, but most of all, don't hesitate. By keeping a steady pace, motos can maneuver around you—at least, that's what we kept telling ourselves.
We enjoyed our time exploring the Old Quarter in Hanoi, where the architecture shows its French influence. The Hoan Kiem Lake area is particularly beautiful. The expansive, still black waters of Hoan Kiem reflect the golden tortoise monument in the middle of the lake. The “tortoise” lacks any resemblance to an animal, as far as I could tell, but it’s a charming focal point nonetheless. One night, we took a late night stroll through the dark city park that surrounds the lake. We attempted to let the many affectionate couples have their privacy on the darkened benches as we meandered around the beautifully landscaped park. We stopped and watched a group of women exercise to musical hits from the ‘80s. It was a great escape from the busy streets.
After a short plane ride, my brother and I soon found ourselves in Hoi An. As confusingly similar as their names are, Hoi An felt like a whole different world from Hanoi. Hoi An is a much smaller city, and it certainly feels that way; this city has a enchanting, peaceful character.
Hoi An especially appealed to me because of the hundreds of tailor shops lining the streets. Rows upon rows of colourful clothes beckoned to me from all angles. Storekeepers kept calling out for us to enter their particular shop, as if they could offer something no other store could. Hoi An’s reputation for producing excellent quality garments is well deserved, but it is difficult to imagine that there’s a demand for all those similar clothing shops. Any style of clothing you can ask for can be made by the next day, in your chosen fabric with your personal measurements. It’s a shopper’s dream! Jackets, suits, dresses, tops, skirts—I wanted it all. Luckily my brother kept me in check and I left Hoi An with only two shirts and a jacket.
In addition to the clothing galleries, there were dozens of art galleries, too. As a painter myself, I found the artwork even harder to ignore. And unfortunately the good quality paintings weren’t as easy on the wallet as my new clothes were.
When I wasn’t shopping (or trying to convince my brother to let me shop a little bit longer), a variety of delicious restaurants provided us with a nice retreat. We walked, shopped, and dined in Hoi An for several days, enjoying every moment this attractive and captivating little town had to offer us. We were so satisfied with the city that we forgot to explore the historical sites of Old Town; we just kept to the quiet streets and didn’t realize we were missing noted sites. But we really didn’t miss them at all.