Suit you sir, suit you

Hoi An Travel Blog

 › entry 5 of 10 › view all entries

It took a long while to get to sleep, but actually it wasn't that bad, there seems to be a reduced level of hooting overnight.  It was still overnight travel though and obviously we didn't arrive in Hoi An fully refreshed.  Somewhat against our better judgement we ended up in the HI hostel which, as explained before in previous blogs, are usually terrible.  This one was actually quite nice.  Our room was up in the roof space and had a trail of ants running through it, but apart from that it was good.

Hoi An is famous for its tailors, it has hundreds of different tailor shops lining the streets of the old town willing to whip you up a new suit in a matter of hours for a very reasonable price.  Its safe to say the city has a certain reputation for this and it is justly proud.  So we decided that First things first, it was definitely wise to get in on the suit action early so that there was enough time for the thing to be made and fitted with adjustments before we left.  So after breakfast (there are priorities and then there are priorities) we wandered through the streets and chose a tailor fairly at random, mainly because they had a big shop, and a bigger shop means more choices of fabrics right?

Choosing all the fabrics and linings for suits and shirts and then getting fitted was actually great fun.  Though it was with some caution that I choose the fabrics as I'm aware I don't have that much taste, but with some guidance I've actually got some good stuff.  Got a few fitted shirts to go with and separatly too.  For choosing the suit and shirt styles they both advise you and also let you leaf through catalogues to find different styles you like, notably they seem to always show you the Next catalogue, which I found amusing.  Then came my moment of weakness.  Leafing through the catalogue my eyes spent too long on the leather jacket page.  With their acute Vietnamese business acumen the woman who was serving me instantly was trying to sell me a leather jacket, showing me different kinds of leather and such.  I may well have let her and ended up buying one!!  But it was so much fun!  Along with this they were always pushing the idea of getting "just one more", "you buy one more, get good discount", it was a little relentless but if you take it with good spirit then its just part of the process.  Then it came to some haggling over the price, they definitely weren't keen to budge, but knowing how much was in my bank account I was a tad worried about how much it was going to come to.  And instead of lowering the price when it came to haggling, they simply threw in more clothes.  So instead of paying less, I just bought more (a second pair of trousers and a linen shirt to be precise) and my haggling skills are never the best.  But in the end I got a fairly good deal, especially as it was all tailored.  We had to go back the following day to try stuff on and get adjustments made which on tailored stuff, is definitely important.  All in all though, the result was great, and I got a tailored leather jacket for about 100 quid (which I think is very reasonable).

That afternoon it was raining and being rather pagoda'd out and a bit bored of the same old sights we decided it was best for a rest afternoon, a chance to recharge instead of endlessly wandering around the old town looking at old buildings and pagodas all afternoon.  That evening we continued our culinary exploration of Hoi An.  Hoi An is a city renowned for its food as well as its tailors and produces many specialities such as prawn packcakes which you wrap up in rice paper to make spring rolls, crispy fried wanton, and a good pork and noodle thing (Cao Lau).  All very nice stuff.

The following day we headed for the Cham ruins of My Son, a UNESCO sight close to Hoi An.  Some people call them the Angkor Wat, though they are much smaller, in more ruins and of a different culture.  But they are much much older, dating back well over a millenium.  ANd to be fair, a fair amount of their destruction over the last five hundred years since the fall of the Cham empire was caused by American bombs rather than the ravages of time.  There are still many brick towers (no one knows exactly what mortar they used because there doesn't appear to be any!) to be seen with intricate carvings and statues.  Overall about twenty to thirty brick red towers survive, rising out from the green grassy undergowth and surrounded by quite dense jungle.  There were probably about seventy originally.  Though of course, there may be more out in the jungly hills in which they reside (seems to be the perfect place to hide ruins for hundreds of years).  It was a beautiful sight but not quite oh my god inspiring, and really it was done and dusted in an hour of looking round.  But well worth the visit.

In the afternoon we got round to exploring some of the city of Hoi An.  The city was one of those not bombed to high heaven during the American war being fairly small and relatively (if not historically) insignificant.  It was probably under their control but I can't be sure, it certainly wasn't like the city of Hue a few hours to the North (but still in the south as it were!) which got bombed to high heaven, mainly because the VietCong held the city for a few days and the americans were of the opinion that if they couldn't have the city, then no-one could, so proceeded to destroy it.  But thats a diversionary point (basically just think of it as the Vietnamese version of comparing Oxford to Coventry).  Hoi An is an old city, with old buildings dating back a hundred and fifty years or so, also protected by UNESCO.  Painted yellow in the colonial style these old timber frame buildings are great to wander round.  You can even pay to have a look in some of the oldest ones, but, we felt that just having lunch in the not so old, now restaurant ones was better than what we could see through the window!  Also, as a consequence its a very low city with no high-rises over it, and the centre is also car free which makes it possible to walk down the streets in relative comfort.  Still a fair few motorbikes though.  We visited the old Japanese bridge, wandered along the waterfront, and purchased a very cheap hold-all to stow all our new goods in, until we got home.  It was very cheap and the first strap broke within about ten minutes of it being loaded up!  The water front overlooking the river was also pretty even if it did get a tad flooded during high tide.  But the bars and cafes provided a welcome late afternoon beer, and dinner.  During which Alex helped the owner with her English homework, and I got to grips with how to make a compact camera actually take good photos.  If you play around with enough settings it is actually possible!

The next day was yet another big travelling day as we said goodbye to the south and headed towards north Vietnam.  But first we had a bit of off the beaten track exploring to do.  Since we heard that Danang to Hue was a fairly impressive train journey we hired a driver and a car to get us to Danang, rather than catch the tourist bus to Hue.  So we thought we might as well look at the sights along the way and managed to get to a tourist attraction without the crowds (hooray!).  The attraction in question was the marble mountains, five big lumps of marble sticking up out of the rice paddies and dunes just north from Hoi An along the somewhat famous China Beach. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Beach with Riki Lake apparently!).  We visited the biggest one and climbed the steep flight of steps up the near vertical walls to a level section about halfway up where they had, as the Vietnamese tend to do, placed a few pagodas.  There were also several caves inside the mountain,mainy with natural skylights which were rather cool.  And into them a few shrines had been placed along with the obligatory incense burners so they were very smoky and atmospheric.  There was a Pagoda and a Buddha or two perched on the steep hillside, and some amazing views from the top.  After this we spent ten minutes on the beach itself, apparently a top surfing location, before heading into the city of Danang.  From there we had a couple of bowls of steaming Pho (traditional soupy noodly chickeny, spring oniony, soupy thing - very delicious) and boarded the train for what we were expecting to be a memorable journey.

And it was!  The views were stunning as the train wound its way up and over hills and round the coast at the same time.  Not particularly photographic views and they were on the otherside of the train so I had to position myself in the washroom next to the smokers in order to get a good window and full view, but they were very good views.  In three very short hours we found ourselves in the ancient capital of Vietnam (for a couple of centuries just before the French arrived).  Unfortunatly we didn't have much time to explore this city as we had to head pretty much straight to the where our second overnight bus was to take us all the way to Hanoi.  We managed to get better beds on this one which was good, but no curtains, and the driver still seemed desperate to use his horn all the time and not drive more carefully to avoid the bumps in the road. Oh well.  Till next time.

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Hoi An