Hoi An is what was described to us as a "beach town". Tucked on the north-east coast between Da Nang and Tam Ky, it is a bustling, busy tourism spot with buildings three-floors full of souvenir markets and tailoring shops by the handfuls, each identical and including a satisfaction guarantee (we caved and bought boots).
Backpackers flood the endless variety of hostels and cheap travel accomodation, lying by impeccably clean pools like sleepy cats and drinking dirt-cheap beers from midday onwards. There are bars scattered along the outskirts of the town, as well as shack street-food and buffalo with nowhere to be, tied on the side of the road.
The markets themselves are an obstacle unlike anything we'd yet to see in Vietnam. Jam-packed with merchants and tourists, each bartering and sliding past one another in the cramped space like sardines. Outdoor markets are made up of fresh vegetables stacked in plastic boxes, lined along the streets and drenched in the smell of herbs and a sheet of damp humidity.
The buildings are a burst of colour, yellow walls and blue doors, handpainted paper lanterns srtung across alleys from the rooftops and rainbow boats lined up along the edge of the river, each with a persistent woman calling out to us, offering us a ride for a price.
We avoided restaurants after mediocre experiences previously, and instead opted for street food on plastic chairs that barely reached our knees, and shacks set up with tarp and single lamps on the edge of empty roads. The best food we tasted in all of Vietnam was at these places.
6.a.m found us at a fisherman's markets, packed with only locals, scaling, sorting and selling fish caught that morning. As the only Caucasian people within a four-mile radius, we relied on our sweet guide, a young girl who explained to us the abstruse scenes found on the inside of what was the most authentic depiction of Vietnamese culture we'd seen. Bargaining prices of fish and breakfast rice, the strong scent of dirty nets and ocean food, alongside caged geese and children helping their grandmothers sort through produce.
What passed as a beach was a short strip of sandbags, met with a clear blue sea, a huge horizon and a handful of uniformed security officers and weedy banks, all within a short bike ride from the township. Rice fields line the roads and dogs sit outside the homesteads with a more-bark-than-bite attitude (much to my relief, atop a bike that would hardly stand a chance in a fight to the death with a four-legged beast of any kind).
After dark, the daylight merchants of fresh produce and paper fans disappear, and Hoi An becomes a well-lit circus - music, warm lanterns and women persistantly selling tealights in paper casing to dip into a canal that runs through the centre of the town. The smell of charred meat cooking on hotplates is in every alleyway, and locals on corners fly plastic birds that squeal through the air by the mechanics of rubber bands and narrowly miss the heads of tourists.
The streets are clean and the cafes upscale and westernised, but we'd both still highly recommend any food establishments that make you marginally question how many diseases they host (within obvious reason). Oddly, quality is primarily found in poorly-lit rooms with handwritten signs and can only be described in an afterthought as "that place with the tarp for a roof".