Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 62 - 67: Hoi An (Suits You, Sir!)

Hoi An has a reputation for being the place in Vietnam (and indeed, SE Asia) to go for tailor-made clothes. There are literally hundreds of tailor shops packed into a radius of about 2 square kilometres. With so much choice, it's pretty difficult to know which are good and which are awful. A mere glance at one of the items outside a shop will cause one of the staff to come rushing out to accost you and to try and drag you into their store. The majority of stores are actually just fronts for a factory service; you pick the item and the fabric/colour you want; they measure you up; they send the measurements and the fabric to the factory; it comes back and you try it on; you ask for any adjustments; it goes back to the factory; it comes back and you try it on; you're hopefully happy with it.

I already knew I was going to get a suit or two from Yaly. They had a reputation for being the best tailor in town, and we'd also had recommendations from other people who'd been there. It also turns out that this is where the Top Gear guys came on the motorbike tour to Vietnam. Think I missed that episode.

After being dropped off by the bus outside An Phu hotel who was offering $10 rooms in 3-star accommodation (result!), we were fortunate enough to find that Yaly was on the same road. The place is massive. They do all of their tailoring on-site, and the range of materials on offer is mind-blowing. They can do anything: you have a favourite dress/shirt/pair of shoes? They can replicate it, and probably with better quality material and stitching. You see something you like in a catalogue or online? They will make it for you. When our lottery numbers come in, I'm going to come here for a month and get an entire wardrobe or two made up. The materials are all clearly marked with prices so there's no need for haggling as you'll get in many, many other stores. You can spend anything from $78 to $500 on a suit, and from $17 to $150 on a shirt - with everything in between. We arrived and were greeted by a lovely, smiling girl named Genia. She took us around the shop, pointing out the fabrics for shirts and suits, and then left me to make a decision.

I own two suits. One is an off-the-rack ill-fitting thing that I got from Burton around 12 years ago and have used for everything since: interviews, funerals, weddings, you name it. The other is a dinner suit with a 28" waist that I can just about squeeze into. I thought it prudent to buy two suits here - one for work stuff, and one for more casual events and whatnot.

I picked out a grey material for the work suit, and opted for a $200 blend of cashmere and wool. For a black suit, I went for a wool, cotton and polyester mix for $100. I also thought it worth getting some shirts - three Italian cotton shirts for $34 a piece seemed reasonable: one navy for evening wear, one white for all-purpose events, and one white with blue/pink stripes to go with the grey suit. Genia measured me up, and told me to come back for the first fitting the following day. They work fast in these places.

With that out of the way, it was over to Gilly to try and find something she liked. Genia freely admitted that women's clothes would be cheaper elsewhere, and probably of a similar quality. Unfortunately, the amount of clothing on offer around Hoi An short-circuited the shopping lobe in Gilly's brain, and she wandered around the town drooling. By the next day she would have adapted to the situation, but the first day was a write-off.

For dinner we went to the fantastic Miss Ly restaurant to try some of the specialty Hoi An dishes. The main treats are Cao Lau (noodles mixed with pork, pork crackling and lettuce in a sauce), White Rose (steamed dumplings containing a mix of prawn, chilli and lime, with crispy onions on top), and fried wontons with some sort of salsa with hot prawns on top. We ordered all three, and they were superb. In fact, we didn't manage to find a place that did all three dishes as well in the entire time we were in Hoi An.


White Rose:

Afterwards, with room to spare, we decided to take Julie and Lev's advice and head to Cargo. They had been talking up the desserts here, as had Tom and Holly, so we thought it would be rude not to. We weren't disappointed:

Mango pavlova:

Chocolate brownie cheesecake:

The next day we had lunch at the interestingly named "Lame Cafe" (fantastic rice pancakes, and a glass of draught beer is 3000 dong....or about 11p) and then wandered about town. Hoi An is a lovely little place, with lots of French influence apparent in all of the buildings, and a nice view over the river. It's like the word "quaint" was invented for this place.

I went for my first suit fitting, and was pretty impressed with their first attempt. The jacket for the grey suit was perfect, but the trousers were a little loose. With the black suit, the jacket was a little tight but the trousers were great. Genia got on the microphone and summoned up a tailor, who then went around me marking places on the clothes in chalk, before disappearing downstairs again. And with that, the first fitting was complete. This outfit of tailors is very professional.

Gilly plucked up the courage as we traversed the narrow streets to have a look at some dresses. She found a lovely purple dress in one tailor for $25 and got measured up; then she found a place that did both a great evening dress and a work suit for a total of $40. Find me a place in the UK that does tailor-made clothing at this price, and I will be a happy man.

Fittings over, we met up with Scott and Hannah for dinner at Faifoo and had a lovely meal in the evening. Of course, we had room for more Cargo desserts:

Chocolate mousse cake:

Chocolate Truffle cake:

On our third day we decided to explore the town a bit. Hoi An has a ticket scheme where you buy a ticket which gets you into 5 different places out of a possible 18 around the town, over the course of three days. On our first day we went to Tan Ky House (one of the oldest houses in Hoi An), the Handicraft Workshop (which hosted a traditional music and dance performance) and the Museum of History (a fairly limited selection of exhibits with some bad translations). Hoi An, we learned, used to be a prosperous port town, but the advent of other towns and cities along the coast doing better business coupled with a tendency for the river to flood each year meant that pretty much all major trade ceased to the town. The height of the floodwater was staggering - Tan Ky house had measurements of the water levels over the years:

The chalk mark just above Gilly's head was from a month ago(!) whilst the very top yellow label is the height reached in 1964. Unsurprisingly, when the floods are expected everyone moves all of their belongings to the top floors....

After a morning of sites, we went to Bale Well for lunch. They gave us a mountain of food: pork satay, rolled pork with rice paper, rice pancakes filled with shrimp, and spring rolls. All with an amazing sauce and about 3kg of salad to go with it. It was a tremendous meal, and we were thoroughly stuffed.

The afternoon saw us back in Yaly to check the adjustments on the suits. Everything fitted superbly. I felt a bit like James Bond. Getting back into my backpacker clothes (t-shirt and convertible trousers) was a little depressing. Still, we were cheered up by the news that a couple of our Canadian friends - Cayleigh and Patrick, whom we met over all-you-can-eat ice cream in Hanoi - were in town, so we arranged to meet up for dinner along with Scott and Hannah.

We crossed over the Japanese Covered Bridge and went gift shopping. Hoi An has a massive array of shops all selling a huge variety of presents. Chopsticks, lacquerware, fans, linens, coasters...pretty much anything you'd like to send home. The constant pleading of the owners (pretty much all female) to get you to go into their store can wear after a while, but you soon learn to zone it out. "You buy something!" and "Looking!" and "Come in here you!" seem to be the stock phrases most employ, as if the town was some sort of cartel who agreed to restrict formalities to three greetings with which they can entice the punters. Woe betide the maverick who branches out to learn a politer introduction.

Gilly picked up her dresses, and everything looked tip-top for both of us:

We headed to White Sail for dinner; I fancied something a little more Thai so opted for chicken with chilli and garlic, whilst everyone else tried the Hoi An dishes. None of us came away disappointed. Cayleigh and Patrick recommended a great bar to head to afterwards: the Sunshine Cafe, run by a lady who embodied the name of the establishment. She advised us that every hour was happy hour, so we got a few 12p beers before moving on to mojitos. We may have been the largest group of people to visit her little cafe for some time, bless her. After a few rounds of Uno, time had slipped by unnoticed and before we knew it the clock was hitting 11pm. The walk home was wet, but deathly quiet. The entire town shuts down at 11, and it was refreshing not to get offered a bicycle or some food as we trudged back to the hotel.

The following day we packed up all our gifts and new clothes along with some odds and ends we had picked up in our first two and a half months on the road, and went to the post office to ship them home. An hour later, and they were packaged in a box that was taped within an inch of its life and ready to head back to Blighty. My wonderful sister will be taking good care of the goodies until next October.

We had a couple of visits left on our tickets, so we went to a couple of Assembly Halls. Essentially, these are courtyards mixed with temples which are used for special events and are decorated in the style of the country who owned the hall. For instance, the Cantonese Assembly Hall had dragons and Chinese script all over.

We went back to Lame for lunch. We weren't as impressed with their wontons; I think we'd been spoiled by the quality elsewhere. After a few beers, we wandered around some of the galleries in town as well as the Museum of Folk which, like the other museum we'd been in, didn't really have much to offer. We fancied a change from Vietnamese food so went to Ganesh in the evening. It had the exact same menu as  Omar's in Hue, and we later found out that the company who runs them have a Ganesh or Omar's in pretty much every town in Vietnam. The food appears to be consistent though: it was as good, if not better than our meal in Hue. After a few games of cards in Cargo over dessert with Scott and Hannah, we walked back to the hotel in a downpour, the like of which I'd not seen since Bangkok. Luckily, the hotel supplied us with an umbrella in our room - a nice touch, which Gilly had sensibly thought to grab on the way out.


On our final day we met up with Patrick and Cayleigh in the morning and said goodbye, as they are heading over to Thailand for Christmas. They've kindly offered to host us when we hit Toronto though, so it wasn't a sad farewell.

We decided to go to Miss Ly and end on a positive note for lunch with the best Hoi An food in the town. A trip over the bridge to Cham Island was uneventful and there was none of the charm, ambience or indeed activity of the old town, so we headed back half an hour later. A final dessert in Cargo rounded off the afternoon, and we opted to share the awesome Gourmet Chocolate Plate:

A sleeper bus to Nha Trang awaited us at 6pm, for another 12 hour journey. Nha Trang is a beach town. The weather in Hoi An ranged from cloudy to bucketing down, possibly due to a tropical storm which may be sweeping the area, so we have no idea what the sky is going to look like when we stagger off the bus in the morning.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It looks like you took our desert recommendation. We still dream about it :)
The Russians