I arrived in Hoi An on a sleeper bus at 8am, a 12 hour trip from Nha Trang. I stayed at Hoa Binh Hotel downtown with my Celtic crew. It’s a social hostel with an indoor pool and buffet breakfast. The dorms are cramped but it’s only 6 people with a private bath so it was fine.
Hoi An is a tiny historic city along the river. Once heavily populated by the Japanese and Chinese, the Old Town is now tailor shops, wine bars, and restaurants converted from merchant houses, temples and tea warehouses. For tourists Hoi An is most known for it’s tailor shops, which are literally everywhere. Suits, dresses and coats are on display as options but you can have absolutely anything made that your heart desires, just show a photo.
The city reminds me of Old Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang a bit. Cute buildings and cafes, one after another. There are a few traditional dishes to the city. The two I really wanted to try were White Rose (steamed shrimp dumplings,) and Coa Lau (noodles with pork slices and croutons in a bit of savory liquid.) At our first restaurant stop (the morning we got in) I tried Coa Lau, which was delicious and definitely savory. The pork is tender and the noodles are denser and chewier than the typical pho noodles.
I was recommended Yen Dung Tailor Shop by a friend and after seeing hundreds of positive reviews on TripAdvisor I had no doubt of going there. Before hand I found photos online of all the clothes I wanted made. The shop is a tiny open-faced store a little less than a mile from downtown. The store owner Lien was incredibly sweet and sassy. She knows style and exactly what she’s doing, and for the most part I trusted her taste. My first day at the store we spent almost two hours looking at my photos, choosing fabrics and taking my measurements.
Our first night we went out to the little island right in the canal next to town. It’s connected to the Ancient Town by a few bridges. Walking through the city at night is spectacular. It’s a law that all shops must hang lanterns at night, which makes for a colorful happy nightlife. Along the river women and children sell floating lanterns for the canal, and the bridges are also all lite up.
We ate dinner, had a few drinks at Infinity, then went to Cheap & Easy. This is a town of flyers and promoters- free shots, free shisha, unlimited cocktails, etc. The walls are white covered in writing, and there’s a black light to make the whole place (a tiny rectangle) look electric. For $4 you get unlimited drinks until 2am. However, at midnight, after all the customers had paid the owner told us the cops were coming and to get out. It was a trick, as usual. Now that he had our money he didn’t need us there anymore. When we were all outside there were a bunch of motorbikes waiting to take us to another bar. Also a scam. Luckily I knew it was a scam ahead of time. The bikes take you to some bar far out of town and leave you there. Instead we went to Why Not Bar, the only bar still open in town. The place was incredibly sketchy and I ended up not even going in.
The next day I woke up and rented a bicycle solo. First I rode to the Tra Que Vegetable Village. While riding through the rows of herbs my bike chain fell off the wheel. I stopped at what I thought was someone’s house/cooking school to ask for help and possibly coffee. The woman who greeted me was really sweet and told me some handsome man would fix my bike, then she led me around the house to a restaurant. I sat on the bamboo terrace, which overlooked the herb fields, and enjoyed a coffee and sautéed water spinach.
After I biked over to Cua Dai beach. The beach is on a peninsula. I had heard that it was already built up with resorts and beach bars but I didn’t find that. The entire strip was one construction project after another of huge resorts. I biked to the light house at the end and walked out along the beach in the ocean. The beach itself was very dirty with rubbish. It had already started to rain and it’s a bit cooler here so it felt like an early fall day on Fire Island; not very tropical but I still loved it. Across the ocean are mountains which made for a nice view.
I stopped to get a massage near the beach. After I biked back to town a different and faster route. I went down to the Ancient Town, through the Central food market, along the river, over the Japanese bridge and down the “walking and biking street.” The ancient town is beautiful and what makes Hoi An a UNESCO site. Again I felt like I was in a small town in Europe.
I stopped at Mermaid Restaurant (recommended by Lonely Planet) to try the traditional White Rose dumplings. Like everything else they were too oily. I thought I’d really like them since they’re steamed shrimp dumplings but they were bland.
At 5pm I went back to the tailor for fitting and alterations. I couldn’t believe in a little over 24 hours she was able to make so much clothing, and I am only one of many customers. I was the last customer of the day and soon realized that a few different people are making the clothes. Randomly people started showing up on motorbikes bringing my clothes and listening to what alterations need to be made.
That night I went out to dinner with the crew then took it easy. The next day I woke up sick again. I went to the market to pick up a papaya and dragon fruit then got back into bed. At 4pm I went back to the tailor. All the dresses were perfect, but a few items still needed to be fixed. That night I took it easy again with the crew. We had a early dinner and played pool at the restaurant next to our hostel, then later on we went for baguettes at a local place across the street from our hostel. After eating we discovered that there was mouse droppings in the cart holding the bread. Lovely.
The next morning I woke up and Lien, the tailor, picked me up on her motorbike. With her husband and 17 year old son on the motorbike behind us we sped off into town. We ate breakfast on a side street that I’ve passed on a daily basis and never noticed. The skinny lane has a few local restaurants and a few clothing factories. We each got our own bowl of Vietnamese beef curry with a baguette. The curry was very oily (like everything) but delicious. It’s different than Thai curry; it’s more like a stew. It’s also darker in color and more flavorful because the spices simmer longer. For four of us the total was 10,000 Dong. 2,000 Dong a person for a meal, about 10 cents. As a tourist a curry would cost anywhere between $2-5.
The entire meal Lien and I talked while her husband and son sat quietly. They don’t speak English but I have a feeling they are always quite. Lien is definitely the head of the household. She runs the tailor shop with her sister, and her husband and son work for her making clothes and doing fabric deliveries.
After curry we went to a local coffee shop. When we sat down we were served tea and toasted watermelon seeds which are eaten the same way as pumpkin seeds- you eat just the inside. Unlike pumpkin seeds the watermelon seeds are tiny and I found it almost impossible to crack them open. We got our coffee and Lien and I continued to chat. I learned that her 11 year old daughter still sleeps in the same bed as her and her husband, in the middle, with one hand on her moms bare breast and one hand on her dads arm. Apparently this is normal. Her 17 year old son also just started sleeping in his own room, even though both kids have had their own room since they were very young. There are a lot of cultural differences but as far as I’m concerned it’s not okay that an 11 year old is still sleeping with her parents holding her moms breast.
While we were sipping coffee a local woman placed lottery tickets on our table. Although Lien doesn’t usually play her whole family played for a while to show me. Lien ended up winning 10,000 Dong on one ticket but she didn’t collect the money.
After coffee we went back to the clothing shop for my final fitting before my bus. Everything looked great and we made piles of what I’m taking vs shipping. Lien’s sister then took me to the tiny factory in town to change the button on my jeans before she brought me back to my hostel- I was in a rush to get back to check out.
For $550 (after negotiating the first day) I got:
1 long wool coat w/ a hood
2 tank tops
1 denim shirt
2 silk trousers
1 cotton pants
1 skinny jeans
1 Jean shorts
1 lace chiffon gown
1 little black cotton dress
2 long dresses
1 short dress
1 beach cover-up
I also got a custom real leather jacket for $180. The weight for the clothing being shipped is 7 kilos, and the cost for 3-4 month delivery is $50. So total cost $780.