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Published: April 2nd 2012
Suit #1 for Matt. Dark blue with gold pinstripes.
We were sad to see Spencer and Jack go, but were looking forward to planning our own adventures in town. It was nice after 5 days of having everything planned for us to be able to sightsee, eat, and shop on our own accord. After a relaxing afternoon and delicious dinner on our first day in Hoi An, we made our way back to the tailor for some good old fashion custom shopping. We had heard from multiple sources that Hoi An was the best spot to get suits made. After only a brief encounter with the town, we realized why – in a city of only 122,000 there were over 200 custom tailor shops. Everyone, everywhere wanted to make clothes for us. We were extremely grateful for Jack’s recommendation of a reputable and reliable tailor. It also happened to be his sister’s shop. We had been introduced to Kimmy earlier in the day and were excited to see what she had to offer. It was evident how well the shop was run based on the number of satisfied customers coming and going. The first step of the process was to sit down and go through hundreds of pictures of suits
Charcoal grey three-piecer. Snazzy red liner is hidden in the picture.
trying to find one or two that Matt liked. Liza had been entrusted by Matt’s parents to make the final decisions. Not knowing quite how the system worked, we went through the pictures and chose a few suits that we liked – mainly based on colours and patterns. We soon realized that the shop was filled with colours, patterns, and materials and that the objective of looking through the pictures was probably aimed at choosing a style, not colour. Not wanting to make another mistake, we sought help from one of the ladies working in the shop. We went through the pictures again, this time knowing what to look for. After finding two different styles Matt liked, we moved onto fabrics. The fabrics had been chosen and as Matt sat down to pick out the colour for the lining of his suits he noticed that Liza had been distracted. Minutes later she sat down next to Matt to pick out the colours for the jacket she had just impulsively bought. With all materials chosen, we both moved onto measurements. Within minutes we had our dimensions on paper, our wallets empty, and a receipt instructing us to return the next day
Liza couldn't resist temptation. Hard to with the mannequin out front flaunting such a beautiful coat.
for our fittings.
We had a late start to the next day but enjoyed the pace of the morning as we had been early risers for the entirety of the Easy Rider trip. As Hoi An is a relatively small town, we took the bustling streets by foot. We explored the local market selling produce, trinkets, clothes, and of course live ducks strung together by their feet (strangely enough they looked quite content hanging upside down). We took in some of the old architecture that had been influenced by the Chinese, Japanese, and French, and enjoyed several cups of delicious Vietnamese coffee overlooking the river. Later in the day we returned to the tailor to check out our new duds. Liza’s jacket was perfect and packaged immediately. Matt’s suits needed minor tweaking but overall looked fantastic. After a nice dinner at a riverside “restaurant” – tables set up on the sidewalk after dark – we retreated for the evening. The next day we rented some bikes to explore the outskirts of town. We rode around the surrounding villages and out along the peninsula which gave us a nice break from the hoards of tourists that frequent downtown Hoi An.
The riverfront came alive once the sun went down, with beautiful illuminations, busy restaurants and live entertainment abound.
We returned to the town centre at 11 for Matt’s second fitting and after a few more adjustments the suits were ready for pick up that evening. After the fitting we made our way to the beach. Despite spending ample time on the beaches in Southern Cambodia, we felt it necessary to take in at least one of the well-known beaches that extend up the east coast of Vietnam. Only 4 km down the main road, the outskirts of Hoi An was filled with surf shops, beach clothes, and sea side restaurants. We stopped at a family run restaurant for lunch where we entrusted our menu choices to the cook (and were extremely pleased) and engaged in a brief language lesson with the man running the tour company next door. We taught him how to say ‘mosquito’ as apparently they are rampant on the tours, and he taught us several phrases which we try to incorporate into our daily lives here. A short walk from the restaurant, the beach seemed to stretch for miles. It was much wider than the beaches we had previously seen and heavily populated with locals and tourists alike. We enjoyed the sun, sand, and surf
It's hard to get caught off guard by anything after spending nearly three months in Asia. A woman carrying live ducks by their legs seemed remarkably normal.
for a few hours before biking back to town. After a brief stint at the guesthouse to wash off the sand and salt we headed back to the tailor for the last fitting. Everything was in order, the suits were beautiful, and we had successfully acquired more things to add to our already bulging luggage that had to accompany us on a bus to Hue the following morning.
With our travel experience growing, we arrived in Hue ready to take on the city. Paying special attention to how we entered the town, we knew exactly where we were on the map and that we needed not be reliant on the moto drivers suffocating us around the bus. We walked ten minutes to the area we were looking for and managed to bargain a $12/night room down to $10 without even really trying. We made the most of the remaining hours left in the day and tried to scratch one to-do off of our list. Hue is a former capital of Vietnam, and was the seat of government for the Nguyen dynasty between 1800 and 1950. Much of this history is preserved in the old walled citadel, similar in concept
Liza biking along the banks of the Thu Bon river on the less travelled Cam Nam island.
to what is seen in Quebec City (for all you Canadians reading). We walked the bridge crossing the Perfume River, which separated the new city from the old. We then passed through the gates to the Citadel and over another body of water, this time in the form of a much smaller moat. Evidence of the precautions taken resulting from centuries of warfare, we had to cross through yet another gate and over another moat before entering the Imperial Enclosure, where the ruling family of the Nguyen Dynasty formerly resided. The Emperor’s private grounds, in one word, were expansive. Immediately upon entry one passes through the main ‘administrative’ building, housing the Emperor’s throne and acting as the receiving area when foreign dignitaries visited. Beyond that building we passed through courtyard after courtyard, each serving a different purpose, but to us looking like nothing more than fields of lush green. To be fair, the Vietnam War was not kind to the Imperial Enclosure with both North Vietnamese and American sides bombarding Hue at different times during the conflict. Many of the buildings that once stood on the hallowed grounds now only exist as foundations. Despite the lack of buildings, it was,
These intimidating gates were no trouble for us to pass though, but 200 years ago things might have been a little more difficult.
for some reason, much easier to imagine what living in this area would have been like during its height than it was at other ruins that we had visited. We passed through courtyards for the Emperor himself, courtyards and housings for the Emperor’s parents, areas housing numerous temples which each served a different purpose, a courtyard where the Emperor’s concubines resided and only eunuchs were allowed entry (so as not to entice them), and an area for the education of princes. There was also a really nice tennis court. Due to the expansive size of the grounds, the tourists become diluted and one is able to walk around in relative peace and silence, which adds infinitely to the experience. We took our time and soaked it in before retiring to our room for the evening.
On the agenda for day two in Hue was to experience some of the ancient structures downstream on the Perfume River. Tradition during the Nguyen dynasty was for Emperor’s to be housed in massive tombs upon their death. These tombs were built one after another along the banks of the river. We had heard that things can get a bit repetitive and expensive if
Plenty of Room
Some structures used to stand in this area, however much space existed for walking around or whatever they did back then.
one tries to take in multiple tombs, so on Spencer’s advice we had singled out one that we wanted to see, called Tu Duc tomb. In addition to the tombs, an ancient pagoda called Thien Mien Pu sits on the Perfume river and is something we were told was a must-visit. As they are slightly removed from downtown Hue, visiting these two sites requires a form of transportation other than our own two feet which we generally try to rely on if possible. We priced out renting motorbikes, or hiring motorbike guides, decided that bicycling ourselves around would be too strenuous, and eventually settled on hiring a boat to take us along the river. We always enjoy when the opportunity to get out on the water presents itself. With the importance of water travel in ancient times, being in a boat on these waterways takes one back to those days in some small way. We felt we had the details of the trip sorted out so we jumped on board. The boat crossed the river to the market, which we had informed the crew (a woman and her husband) that we wanted to peruse for a little while before heading
Enjoying the Calm
Liza sitting on the ruins of what used to be a wall, taking a moment to enjoy the escape from the usual tourist hustle-and-bustle.
out on the river trip. Apparently they had assumed that we wanted to stop at the market to shop for raw materials for them to cook us lunch. When we cleared the air, they told us they weren’t interested in waiting around for us. We probably should have just called it off at that point, but we agreed to start our trip early. We sat out on the front of the boat as we slowly puttered out of town, the new city to our left and the ancient citadel on our right. We crossed paths with tourist boats as well as functioning barges and about fifteen minutes later we were at Thien Mien Pu pagoda. We hopped ashore and wandered up the steps. Situated less than 50 yards from the riverbank was a towering stone structure. We continued past it into the courtyard behind and wandered around the temple structures. Thien Mien Pu was the worshipping pagoda of a well-known monk who lit himself on fire to protest President Diem’s rule in the 1960s. The baby blue car that took him to Saigon on that fateful day is preserved at the pagoda and a popular site for photographs. Back to
Finding a Match
Matt failed to realize that the bridge in front of us was depicted on the bow of our boat, he just thought the picture framed nicely.
the boat we went and we departed for the Tu Duc tomb. When we had bargained for the boat trip and mentioned the two destinations we wanted to see, the lady (speaking essentially no English) said ‘free, free’ pointing to a card that listed the numerous sights along the river. We assumed that meant that our fee for the boat covered the admission for all of our stops. It turns out that we were wrong in that assumption, as we were informed that we would have to pay the admission fee ($2.75 each.. not much, but at this point we were starting to get frustrated with the situation) for the Tu Duc tomb. Obviously it was something we should have clarified beforehand, and at this point we didn’t feel like arguing. On the way over, we were told that upon reaching the shore we would need to take a moto-scooter ride to the tomb and that it would cost 60,000 VND ($3). Tired of the increasing costs, we flat out refused to pay more and said that we would walk. They insisted that the distance was too far to walk and lowered the price for the moto-scooter ride to 40,000
Thien Mu Pagoda
Towering above the river.
VND. Our frustrations being obvious, they went to 20,000 VND fairly quickly ($1) and we relented. Once on the moto-scooter, we realized how far the walk would have been.. likely more than an hour. Upon investigation later on, we realized that the reason for this was that in order to cut fuel costs, our guides had opted to forego a trip further down the river to a spot much closer to the tomb. We reached the tomb, paid our admission, and entered into a tranquil secret garden. Trying to forget the frustrations that had led up to that point, we did our best to enjoy the experience. The grounds were constructed for dual purposes. The emperor built the tomb as his final resting place during his reign, but the structure also served as a second residence, a getaway from the busy life in town. We wandered around a man-made lake, the emperor’s residence, expansive grassy, forested land, finally reaching the tombs at the rear of the complex. One unexpected surprise arrived on our walk to the tombs, when we crossed paths with the parent’s of Liza’s childhood friend Sara Ross. Traveling around southeast Asia on a cruise, they just so
Tu Duc Tomb
The lake looks quite large, but was small relative to the size of the entire grounds. The building on the left is where the concubines hung out.
happened to be wandering through the same tomb as us in the outskirts of Hue, Vietnam on a Friday afternoon. Small world. We stopped and exchanged exasperated pleasantries before continuing along the path. All told we spent close to an hour decompressing in the relaxing greenspace before finding our moto-scooter rides back to the boat. Getting off the bikes, Matt handed his driver a 50,000 VND note, expecting the 10,000 in change. When the driver took the bill and then asked for more, Matt took his money back and nearly kicked him in the head. The driver relented and offered the appropriate change and we walked off, frustrated once again. We hopped back on board our boat and tried to enjoy the peaceful ride back up the Perfume River. We arrived back in the downtown core, said a half-hearted goodbye to our boat guides and went on our way. It is an understandable reality that those in southeast Asia involved in the tourism industry try to get as many dollars out of the tourists as possible. With the discrepancy in the value placed on one US dollar between those coming from the western world and those living in the region
Just Another Moat
Biking through the old city, we stopped to enjoy the mist lying on one of the many moats of the Citadel.
we were in, getting as much money as the purchasing party is willing to give can make a huge difference. We learned quite quickly that it is important before entering into a transaction to know as much as you can about what the service/product is worth, what you are willing to pay, and to be ready to bargain hard for it. What set this day apart from all others during our travels is that this was the first time we felt that we were lied to or mislead about what we were to be provided with, and it gave us a sense that the people of Hue were willing to break the unsaid rules to get that little bit extra. It left a bad taste in our mouths and robbed us of a large portion of the enjoyment we should have had in a very beautiful city.
On our final day in Hue, we decided to get back to one of the things we enjoyed most about traveling. We rented bikes and decided to take on the streets of Hue ourselves. It was a slightly misty, mostly dreary day as we crossed a busy bridge and passed through the
Taking a Break
A monk staring out beyond the entrance at Bao Quoc pagoda.
gates to the old city. Our bikes took us to the areas of the city less frequented by tourists and as we meandered through the neighbourhoods in the citadel we got strange looks from adults and friendly waves from the children. We coasted alongside moats, up dirt roads, and then stopped at a tiny café and enjoyed a drink while watching the kids return home from school. We continued along and followed the road immediately adjacent to the outer wall of the city and upon finding a gate through the wall we crossed back to the more modern areas of Hue. We visited an ancient Buddhist pagoda and a grandiose Catholic church. We braved our way along the busy streets and exhausted from a long day on the roads we returned the bikes and relaxed before our overnight bus ride to Hanoi. Despite having almost two weeks left on our travels, the road to Vietnam’s capital felt to us like the finish line of our four months living without a place to call home. So we boarded the bus, tried to fit ourselves into the half-box sleeping compartments built for people 5’6” or smaller and exhaled with the feeling that
Zigs and Zags
Trying to capture the interesting architecture of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
the end was near.
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