Edit Blog Post
Published: March 7th 2007
We reached the Mecca of tailored clothes in the afternoon of February 22nd after an overnight train ride from Saigon. As some of you may know, I have greatly anticipated our stop here since I first heard of the small town on the Vietnamese coast where suits can be tailored, and shoes cobbled in the blink of an eye, and for a fraction of the cost! I heard many stories, over the years, of this magical place that time forgot, where the pace is slow, the food is delicious, the prices are low, and the silk is fine.
Hoi An was, for a long time, a major trading port for goods moving between Asia and Europe. As larger port facilities were needed to accomodate the increasing size of the cargo ships, Hoi An fell off the map. Minimally affected by the wars which took place around it during the 20th century, the city retains some of the old town charm and architecture which best reflect what we imagine rural Vietnam to be; the city has strict regulations with regards to the height that buildings can reach.
Narrow streets, low buildings, tile rooftops, a riverfront market, and an economy based
on artisanal production: what could be better?
1) Now, the bad news:
Unfortunately, Hoi An has become yet another victim of tourism. Like most too-good-to-be-true destinations, it was only a matter of time before success became a curse rather than a blessing. In a matter of five years, from all reports we have gathered, Hoi An has gone from a town where one would have spent a month relaxing and soaking in Vietnam at its best, to a two or three night stop-over on a tour of the country. It must have all seemed so easy for any Vietnamese who saw how well the businesses in the town were doing! A tailor shop must have seemed like having a license to print money! How hard could it be? The trouble is, evryone had the same idea, at the same time.
The town is littered with would-be tailors (and all other types of shops/hotels/restaurants) who offer inferior products at inferior prices. For a few years, I'm told, things were much worse than what we witnessed first-hand; touts would follow you and harass you for blocks. To stem the tide, the town imposed restrictions on touts who can no
longer (legally) approach you beyond the perimeter of their shops. The result is that they stand in their shops and try to draw you in the only way they know how: "SIR, YOU COME LOOK MY SHOP!!!"
Most shops are void of customers, and this at the peak of high season. The staples of Hoi An business do well, but many who have invested in the dream of making a good living sit idle in front of empty shops. The market will no doubt self-correct, and before long many shops will either consolidate, be absorbed, or go out of business.
2) That said, you can still get a fine suit for a good price:
Very little research is required to figure out who the big guns are in the Hoi An tailoring game. The prices are a little higher, often double that of the competition, but the product is well worth it. If you plan on having a suit which will last more than one trip to the cleaners, than pay the extra. I don't actually know that my clothes will last, but I made the most informed decision possible by talking to customers, and reading reviews.
Irrigating the Paddies, Old School
Taken from a moving minibus on a highway near Hanoi, this photograph has turned out to be my favourite, so far.
It took four days and several fittings to have four suits, two jackets, one waistcoat, and the funkiest pair of dress shoes you'll ever see made; I spent what I had planned to; I got fewer suits made than expected, but I'm happy with the cut, fit, and feel of my clothes (suits and shoes). You don't pay until you are happy, and (trickier, still) the tailor is happy.
From Hoi An we moved north to Hue (Hoo-ay), from which it is best to book a tour of the infamous DeMilitarized Zone (DMZ). We've all heard about it, so we couldn't drive past without stopping for a look. The day trip to the area covers the sites of American military bases, the Ben Hai River (used arbitrarily to delineate the border between North Vietnam and South Vietnam), and the Vin Moc Tunnels.
The winners write the history, and our tour guide certainly made use of that prerogative. I felt uncomfortable for any Americans on the bus. The "English Speaking Tour Guide" had a limited vocabulary, and as such he freely made use of the words he did know; words like "hate", "victim", and "puppet government" peppered
his descriptions of every era of Vietnamese history. Fair enough, but when asked, he admitted that he had never been to Saigon (which, from Hue to Hanoi, people quickly and pointedly remind you is now called Ho Chi Minh City), and had no idea that some Vietnamese suffered from the Northern army's "Liberation" of South Vietnam.
Anyhoo, we got to see stuff you only ever see on tv or in books, so the 12 hour Bus Re-education Tour was probably worth it. The tunnels were cool enough: an undergroud town consisting of 41 kilometres of tunneel, on three levels, just north of the DMZ, carved out of rock over a period of two years, in which 300 people (including northern troops in transit towards the south) lived for six years. Can't be missed.
From Hue, it was off to Hanoi, where I am presently sitting. We saw a water puppet show (just look at the pictures, I don't really want to try to describe it), we visited Halong Bay (best bus/boat junket EVER! See pictures.), and we are getting ready to fly to the Philippines (via Hong Kong).
There!!! I'm caught up!!!
Waiting For The Laundry Lady
The author, photographed by the Hue Laundry Lady's Daughter
write again from the Philippines. Ciao for now!
Tot: 2.422s; Tpl: 0.059s; cc: 17; qc: 73; dbt: 0.054s; 2; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.5mb