Category Archives: Hoi An

Tailoring in Hoi An: A Stich in No Time!

Hoi An may boast World Heritage historical houses, temples, and nearby beaches, but one of its main draws is getting custom fitted clothes in any style imaginable.
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Misha and I definitely came with tailoring largely in mind.  There are tailors in Lao, and I have done some tailoring here, but most only really do traditional Lao outfits for ladies, and men’s work clothing.  Tailors who make styles other than tightly-fitting silk tops are harder to come by, slow (a month or more), and most importantly, there is no variety of quality fabric (aside from those for the traditional dress).  I knew Hoi An, with fabric in multitudes of textures and colors, was going to be overwhelming.

And it certainly was… In Hoi An there is an impression that everyone in the town is somehow involved in the tailoring industry.  If you meet someone who isn’t a tailor themselves, you can bet their brother/wife/cousin/sister-in-law/best friend/niece is.  Every third shop is a tailor shop, with someone calling out to you sweetly from the doorway.  The range is extreme, with some fancy high-end stores with uniformed staff, their own labels, and waiting courtyard areas.  Meanwhile, others are just one-room affairs, with a few family members running the show.  With this overwhelming amount of choice, it was essential for us to strategize and plan ahead–what we wanted, and how much we were willing to spend.  There were so many details to consider: fabric type, texture, weight, color, zipper style and placement, seams, neckline, buttons, lining, sleeves, length, and so on.  Who knew that getting custom made clothes could actually be so stressful!? (But hey, I’m not complaining).  In Hoi An, it feels like sky is the limit–winter coats, sundresses, ball gowns, suits, shorts, even shoes (from Converse, to strappy sandals, to knee-high boots)–it all can be made in a day or two.

Approaching the cloth market.

Approaching the cloth market.

Inside the cloth market.

Inside the cloth market.

A stall inside the cloth market.

A stall inside the cloth market.

In the end, after a day of scouting, sketching, price comparing, and feeling fabric, we decided to go for a combination, getting a few key items (a nice dress and jacket in my case) at an expensive designer store, and more standard items (copies of shirts and shorts already in my wardrobe) at a stall in the cloth market.  And of course–shoes (just boots and wedges, in an act of incredible restraint).

The interior of one of the fancier tailor shops.

The interior of one of the fancier tailor shops.

Truly, the most astounding part of the whole undertaking is the speed.  On our last day, we ordered a last-minute pair of shoes at 10am…which were ready, stitched-soles and all, by 8pm.  Perhaps it’s a good thing this isn’t more common as it would be sorely tempting…don’t know what to wear tonight?  Make something new!

Picking out colors at the shoe tailor.

Picking out colors at the shoe tailor.

The boot aisle at the shoe tailor.

The boot aisle at the shoe tailor.

Indeed, tailoring and eating took up most of our time, but occasionally we did manage to have moments for more tranquil and cultural activities, like walking along the harbor in the old town, and visiting the famous Japanese covered bridge.  One day, we even left downtown for the beach, walking a sweltering few miles to An Bang, the slightly less touristy beach.  We “rented” umbrellas and chairs for free, in return for patronizing an astoundingly mediocre beachside restaurant, and admired the strage circular rowboats docked on shore.

The circular boats on An Bang beach.

The circular boats on An Bang beach.

Between fittings and feasting on cao lau, the four days in Hoi An flew by, and soon we found ourselves back en route to Vientiane, with full suitcases and full stomachs to show for our week in Vietnam.

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Hungry in Hoi An

Touching down in Danang and driving the one hour to Hoi An, on Vietnam’s Central Coast, seemed quiet after the hectic streets of HCMC.
japanese covered bridge
Our main destination for the trip was Hội An, formerly knowns as Faifo (most everywhere in this part of the world has more than one name, it seems), a historic UNESCO World Heritage town of around 120,000.  Hoi An was historically a trading town, strategically located on the river, near the sea, and the architecture and fortunes of the city were strongly influenced by past merchants and settlers, especially from China and Japan.  Undamaged during the war, the town is an extremely popular tourist spot today, known for its beaches, architecture, food, and tailors.
boats in Hoi An
hoi an
Just like Luang Prabang in Laos, Hoi An is one of those places that remarkably retains its charm despite the influx of tourists.  Every third person on the street is a tourist, rather than a local, and it seems like nearly everything is geared to attract their dong (the local currency, the name of which is predictably the butt of many jokes and bawdy t-shirts).  The calls of “Miss you want bicycle? Come into my shop? Just looking? You eat here?” and so on, do get annoying, but the appeal of Hoi An manages still to transcend the touristy fanfare.  The downtown area has narrow streets, open only to motorbikes, push bikes and pedestrians, and the buildings are all a beautiful mustard yellow, with vines and blossoms cascading over their walls.  Rice farmer hats and paper lanterns abound, and narrow alleys reveal crumbling and dignified porches.
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lanterns
Before this trip, my Asian food allegiance was solidly in the camp of Lao and Thai food, but in Hoi An, Vietnamese food stole my heart.  Back in the US, most of my experiences with Vietnamese food seemed nearly identical to Chinese food in the States.  Whether this is because I didn’t know what to order before, or because all exported Asian food ends up looking the same after awhile, I’m not sure.  But now, my impressions are of a light, flavorful, often quite healthy, cuisine.

Some highlights:

Vietnamese drip coffee: The rocket fuel of Asian coffees, which I always order “white.”  The secret is that it’s really just like drinking highly-caffeinated sweetened condensed milk.  It’s necessary to take a little break from caffeine after drinking this everyday for a week.
drip coffee
Cao Lau: A Hoi An specialty, served in many different styles around the town, but always with: pork, thick noodles, greens (often mint, lettuce, and sprouts), and a mystery sauce that is light and salty.
Cao Lau
Salads: Creative mixtures of meat or tofu with peanuts, bamboo and other fresh veggies.  I don’t actually know what they’re called in Vietnamese but all sorts of delicious varieties crossed our plates.

Beef salad and Vietnamese iced tea.

Beef salad and Vietnamese iced tea.

Pho: Ah pho, an old friend.  Although I can eat this all over Laos, it’s just not quite the same as in its homeland of Vietnam.  A cheap, salty bowl of rice noodles and meat, known to be tastier the more brackish looking the broth is (it means that the bones have been boiling for longer).  Add fresh lime, chili sauce/flakes, mint, sugar to taste.  I’m sure there are posh Manhattan fusion restaurants that sell it for $14, but I’ll never be willing to spend more than $1.
pho
Spring rolls: Another ubiquitous Asian food that just seems better in Vietnam, perhaps for the sheer variety. Tofu, BBQ beef, shrimp, fish, egg, pork, you name it.  Freshly wrapped in rice paper with sweet peanut sauce for dipping.

Spring rolls eaten on the street.

Spring rolls eaten on the street.

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