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Suited and booted in Hoi An

VIETNAM | Sunday, 31 May 2009 | Views [2309]

We lucked out with the bus to Hoi An – it was quite a bit more modern and seemed to have been designed with passengers in mind unlike its previous incarnations. This time there was a space for your bag rather than having to find a between the legs storage spot. It was still, however impossible to sleep so when we arrived at bleary o'clock in the morning we plumped for the suggested guest house so we could put our heads down immediately.

Rested and refreshed we rented some bikes to explore. Hoi An is yet another UNESCO world heritage site and THE place to get clothes tailor made. Cloth shops and bespoke tailors are literally everywhere and seem to cater for every taste and bank balance. One boasts the Queen of Spain as a regular customer while another will cut you a suit for $40 and have it ready in less than a day.

The town centre itself is very pretty and atmospheric and neon lights are remarkably absent. One street is even pedestrianised, or at least says that only primitive transport is allowed. I took this to mean that cyclos and bikes are allowed but of course, like everywhere in Vietnam, 2 wheels good 4 wheels bad so the mopeds weave in and out too. There's also a very picturesque Japanese bridge over a tributary of the river which runs through town. A pair of dogs, revered with altars adorn one end with monkeys at the other indicating that the bridge was started in the year of the dog and ended in that of the monkey. Although it's known as the Japanese bridge, it was becoming clear that Chinese influence was becoming more evident the further north we travelled. As we cycled about it became apparent that our guest house was not ideal – it was a bit out of town, more than a bit tired and lacked internet so we booked the more centrally located Thanh Van Hotel, which was HI affliated, had a pool, internet and a free breakfast for just a few dollars more.

In the evening after our cycle we sat down for a beer and a bite of the tasty local delicacies Cao Lac, pork and veg with noodles and deep fried wontons. We sat outside and opposite was a cloth shop, A Dong Silk, which seemed to be one of the better ones. Well it looked nice anyway so as were planning to get a few things made we decided to give it a go the next day.

Once checked into the new place we made for A Dong Silk. Neither of us have ever had anything bespoke made for us so it was all a new experience. We were sat down, given cold water and asked what we wanted. The problem was we only had a vague idea. I wanted a suit or two, maybe more and Claire wanted an oriental style dress.

The pretty attendants dumped a few Next directories and Cosmos in front of us and we flicked through. Not finding much in the magazines, we described what we wanted and then the process began. We were seperated to discuss style, fabric, cut, inners, outers, linings and all sorts. After 2 hours we left with potential orders for 2 suits, shirts and pairs of trousers for me, 2 dresses for Claire and a best price of $490 – I had managed to haggle down to this from $515. Either bad haggling or a bad discount but either way not great, especially with P&P excluded.

We weren't particularly impressed with the service and felt a bit ... not rushed but somehow taken for a bit of a ride, although I must point out that this was only a hunch. Claire chose about 10 types of silk she liked for her dress but was told sorry not enough every time before going for what felt like a second best option. I got the same about suit fabrics – they only seemed to have the more expensive fabrics in stock. Finally the bill was a lot more than I had been expecting – we could have got some decent enough stuff at M&S for less – even without my old employee discount! Then there was the postage home – it seemed quite steep compared to Bolivia, Argentina, New Zealand or Thailand.

We decided to see if there were any recommendations on the Internet, a few places kept coming up but one was consistently there for both quality and price – Tony's Tailors. We rented some bikes (it's a bit further out of town), grabbed some lunch and made for it. En route we bumped into Nick, our nearly-got-roped-into-busting-a-casino-friend. We joked about a middle aged Japanese man with a suitcase asking for him at the hotel in Nha Ttang and made arrangements to meet later on.

As soon as we walked into Tony's it felt different. Yes we got water and a load of magazines at the start but once we explained what we wanted the attentive staff did what I assumed they were supposed to: guide us through an unfamiliar process as experts and give us advice when we needed it. Tony, the patriarch sat at the head of the table and watched as we were whizzed around by his family choosing fabrics and the rest. I was concerned about price again and wanted to get to negotiations quickly so as not to waste anyone's time and ensure we were in the right ballpark. Tony calmly sat me down at the table and we chatted. The quote for the same items with the same if not better quality fabrics (to my untrained eye) was considerably lower. Even the price list for delivery to the UK was a good percentage less expensive. We were in and out in about an hour and felt much more comfortable with the whole experience. We would have a fitting the next evening.

With the tailoring thing out of the way we could get on with enjoying what Hoi An had to offer. We met Nick at the Japanese bridge, A great man for finding a cheap beer we went straight to a collection of open air restaurants, somewhere in between street food and a cafe. The beers were good and went down well and the food was excellent - we had some great spring rolls and noodles and then Nick suggested a hot pot – none of us had ever tried it before. They brought along a little gas stove identical to the one which fed us all the way through our camping trip in NZ and a plate of greens and raw beef and a dish of noodles. A big pot was placed on the stove and we cooked the rest ourselves. It was easily the tastiest thing we had had in Vietnam, all added to by the novelty of cooking for ourselves.

Just as we finished we heard the sickening thud of 2 mopeds colliding. It was surprising that is was the first time we had seen a moped crash. It looked bad – one rider wasn't moving. A crowd quickly gathered but after a few minutes the drivers dusted themselves off and moved on, laughing it off, No hassle or fuss, no police, no swapping of insurance details and no blame – just one of those things. They do things differently in Asia, no doubt and we were starting to admire them for it,

Flyers given to us over dinner lead the three of us to The Reggae Bar across the river offering free drinks between 10 and 11. How could we refuse? The bar was empty when we arrived but soon filled up with a load of surly teenagers wearing beer lao singlets – so we left for a competitor. This one was empty so we sat at the bar. The manager was English and one of the most uninteresting people I have ever met. He had ended up in Hoi An two years previously and had absolutely nothing of consequence to say – strange for an ex-pat but there you go. A Canadian and some Germans joined us at the bar and the free drinks flowed (this bar had a happy hour too). A great night was had. We ended back in The Reggae Bar for some reason towards the end where they were serving rum and cokes to people without any rum. For an an extra few thousand dong you could order a bacardi, prepared under the bar of course to ensure the punter doesn't see it's Vietnam's finest rather than Puerto Rico's. Nick pointed this out to the barman and got kicked out, but only temporarily.

In order to clear our heads the day afterwards, a scorcher, we rented some bikes and met Nick to head to Cua Dai beach, about 5km away from town. By the time we arrived we were sweltering. We jumped straight into the warm water with the locals and they all joined in to our game of frisbee. The Vietnamese just love practicing their English with foreigners – the main question of the day focussed on whether our respective countries were more beautiful than Vietnam. Well if rain is beautiful, Ireland wins but my vote is for Vietnam. The hawkers were out in force. We bought “lucky” bracelets from one whose English was great and had such a wonderful sense of humour it was impossible to turn her down.

On the way home Claire disappeared. I thought puncture immediately – it's happened enough times! I cycled back around a corner and spotted her walking the bike along, dejectedly holding a pedal. We swapped bikes and I finished off the trip in one-legged-push-jump-cycling style which provoked a few mopeds-by to offer a shoulder to hang on to. Enjoying the exercise, I declined, but was shattered by the time we got back.

We had another hotpot for lunch-dinner and then visited Tony's to make sure the clothes actually fit. Claire's dresses came out first. One was perfect but the Oriental style had an indecently long slit at the side which needed to be fixed. My trousers were lovely but a little tight and the one suit that was ready was fine, just a few adjustments needed. The shirts looked and felt great so I ordered another 3 and we arranged to come back the following evening to check again. Amazing that Tony the Tailor was able to turn it all around in less than a day with only a few adjustments needed. Tony had recommended a place to get some shoes made down the road so we went down to see what they said. half an hour later we had ordered a pair of all leather brown shoes for me and a pair of heels for Claire to match the fabric in her Chinese dress. It was time to get out of there soon – the bespoke clothing bills were adding up (to not too much admittedly).

We knew the time for sending packages home was soon approaching so we took the opportunity in the morning to walk around the markets and stalls and buy some tat to put it in the box with the newly tailored clothes. To it I added the heavy chess set which had been making by rucksack all the more ungainly since it was bought in Laos. The second fitting went well – all the shirts were fine and Claire's dresses and new top also checked out. I had a few more problems with the tightness of the trousers and suit but they were running out the door to the factory with notes made before we even left the shop.

We had an hour to kill before the adjusted clothes came back so we visited the shoe shop to see how they were getting on. They were getting on very well as it turns out – both our orders were finished, fit perfectly and looked great (They're called The First Shoes Shop if anyone's interested).

Back to Tony's and all the final adjustments had been made and we were happy with everything. Best of all they took all of the tat off our hands, including the heave chess set. They would package everything up for us and send it on. We didn't even need to deal with the post office! All that was left was the issue of payment. It was approaching $500 for the lot, including postage so I wanted to pay by credit card. Tony's machine wasn't working. I jumped on the back of his daughter's moped (mode of transport number 35, a while since we had a new one and nice and unexpected!). We stopped at the shoe shop but there's wasn't working either. We were running out of options – I couldn't take that amount of cash out of the ATM in one day .... that would mean 2 more days in Hoi An which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world but not ideal. We found a third way by jumping back on the bike and heading for another of the gazillion tailors in town. Thankfully their's worked. We left all our stuff in Tony and his family's care and booked the next open tour bus with seconds to spare.

Tags: beach, bike, tailor


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