Before Hoi An, El and I were averaging 2 nights per destination, fitting as much in as humanly possible. Hoi An was meant to be 3 days, a relatively long period of time when you consider we only spent 1 day in Hue. I had then decided on an overnight bus (11 hours) to Mui Ne/Nha Trang, for 3 days, and then overnight train to Ho Chi Minh City. However, because Hoi An was such a nice peaceful place and we could lounge by the pool and beach, and because I didn’t fancy another two nights on public transport, I decided to extend our stay and booked a Jetstar flight direct from Danang (45 minutes away) to HCMC. In retrospect, I wish we had ventured to Danang for a night or two rather than spent the whole time in Hoi An, as it does look like quite a cool place. Next trip!
Tourists come to Hoi An mainly for the clothes. Hoi An has tailor shop after tailor shop, all with manikins out front wearing various outfits, trying to entice you inside. Tailor shops are everywhere, even in the markets by the riverfront. It is a rather overwhelming experience really. Far too many competing stores. How do you even begin to choose!? I decided against the well known Lonely Planet recommended stores, and decided on a shop at 48 Tran Hung Dao street called “SU”. The owner was really nice and lovely. The clothes on display were well done, they had double hems, invisible zippers and were all shaped quite well.
The process of getting clothes made in Hoi An goes somewhat like this: Presented with numerous catalogs. Look through catalogs. Stick post-it notes on pages you like. Decide that is enough. Show them the catalogs. Look at fabric. Choose fabric. Motorbike to another store to look at fabric. Choose more fabric. Return to tailor shop. Be measured. Be measured again. And again. Be measured for every individual piece of clothing, rather than just measurements in general. Sit down and negotiate a price. Pay a deposit. Come in 24 hours later for a fitting. (I know, 24 hours, to make my 8 items). Make adjustments. Another fitting. Hope that it all works well. Pay. Be happy (or so we hope. See my tips on getting clothes tailored).
I decided upon a 3 piece suit, 2 work dresses, a skirt, and a more playful party dress. We had 3 fittings, because we had enough time, and because I make clothes myself so know what to look for in terms of hems, zippers, finishings and how the seams line up. Apart from one dress, where I hope the fabric will soften after washing in order for the neck to fall how I want it to, I am incredibly happy with my orders. I never wear pants – be jeans, trousers, leggings, whatever – and I loved my suit pants. I got two more pairs made, in navy and black! I loved the dresses, and the top actually turned out really well, despite being a last minute decision. The suit is beautiful, and some of my dresses look like they cost $200, when in fact I only paid $50.
Apart from having clothes made, we spent quite a lot of time at the beach and exploring the town. I find it sad when people go to Hoi An only for tailoring, spending just enough time there to order clothes and fit in a single fitting before moving on. The town is so beautiful and calm. It is quiet and is a great city to explore on foot or by bike. The old town area has beautiful lanterns at night along the river, a night market selling souvenirs, and so many restaurants and lounge bars. Our hotel had free bicycles so we biked to the beach in the morning, back for lunch, and all around. Luckily, bicycling was recommended by my doctor as therapy for patella-femoral syndrome, so I was able to bike and feel like it was helping my knee, instead of injuring it further.
Hoi An is very quiet compared to Hanoi and HCMC, and even compared to Hue. People are much more relaxed. However, it is still a big foreign city, which you tend to forget when you feel comfortable. Bags still get snatched, and you still don’t want to walk the streets by yourself late at night. I felt completely safe and secure in the city until one night when El disappeared and I was left in town at 2:30am by myself. At that point, biking back to the hotel, I realized how dark the streets were and how sketchy the situation was. Luckily I biked quickly and with purpose, and got back to the hotel safe and sound. But it did make me worry. You never want to be by yourself in a foreign city, especially as a Western tourist. Whether you have lots of money or not, you are viewed as being rich. Always have to be careful.
We had some fantastic food in Hoi An, partly due to our cooking class with Van, but also because of the abundance of local Vietnamese restaurants serving up Hoi An specialties. White rose, cau lau and mi quang are all local dishes. White rose is basically shrimp dumplings, but with more dumpling than shrimp. Cau lau is a noodle dish with pork, herbs and fried noodle chips on top, with a really delicious 5 spice sauce (which the pork is cooked in) on top. And mi quang, I sadly never had a chance to try, is a vegetarian noodle dish.
Apart from the food, there are two gorgeous beaches, one to the north and one to the east. Out of the two beaches, An Bang was probably my favorite. It is the more local beach, north of Hoi An but closer to our hotel. It has only 5-6 restaurants on it and one morning we were the only tourists there. There is a bit of a scam to the lounge chairs on the beach though – they are free, as long as you buy a meal. If you don’t, they are 30,000. They don’t tell you this upfront though, they say ‘free free!’. So make sure it is actually free, and you don’t have to buy anything. Even if you spend all day drinking there, that doesn’t allow you to sit for free. So at An Bang, we refused to give in and set up our towels on the sand. On our second to last day though, we discovered La Plage, a French restaurant and bar, where we could lounge all day on their chairs, even if we only bought a 10,000 dong water (50 cents). I also discovered this little roadside stall selling fried goods, including donuts!!! It was this amazing greasy coconut filled donut, amongst other fried treats (whole fried crab as well!).
The best meal we had was at Bale Well, a restaurant similar to the one in Hue, where you are served a huge variety of plates, and you make your own rice paper rolls. Bale Well was busy with locals and tourists alike, and we got the last table available. We were presented with rice paper, herbs, a kim chi type dish, dipping sauce, pork satay skewers and sausage skewers. And shortly after, we were presented with fried spring rolls and omelets. Which, brilliantly, you put in the spring roll!! Our waitress was incredibly friendly, and in showing us exactly how to do everything, she wrapped up a spring roll, dipped it in the sauce, and fed me!! Only in Vietnam.
Sadly I write this post already having left Vietnam. I was in Ho Chi Minh for 4 1/2 days, with the plan to meet Andy and venture into the Mekong Delta. However things don’t always go to plan, and this turn of events means I am in Changi Airport in Singapore, waiting for my 11pm flight to Frankfurt, and then to London. England will be incredibly different from my last 35 days. Instead of staying in hostels, I will be staying with family, and catching up with relatives I have not seen since I was younger. I am actually really looking forward to it, and so thankful that it was easy enough to change my round the world ticket and book new flights, to make sure I can still go visit everyone. I still have a few Vietnam posts to put up, so a few more Asia related posts will still come, however so will some photos of English countryside, and bustling London. Gotta mix it up a bit.