Hoi An, Vietnam

2 Sep

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Hoi An, Vietnam

We arrived in Hoi An, the Vietnamese town known for its tailoring industry, at 7:30am, 1 and a half hours later than we had been told, and made our way to the hotel where we’d made a reservation the night before while on the bus. We weren’t able to check in until 11am but were offered the massive hotel buffet breakfast for only $2 USD and use of the pool while we waited.

After a dip and some breakfast J.J. and I met an American girl from California, Cassi, who had been travelling on her own around the world for the past year. She recommended what to see in Zanzibar and Morocco and also a local tailor, Louise from the family-run Lang Bian. J.J. wanted to have some custom shirts made and I had been compiling a folder of images on our net book of dresses I loved but could never afford at store prices on my backpacker budget.

After we’d checked into our hotel room we set out to visit the tailor Cassi had recommended as well as A Dong Silk which was recommended by Lonely Planet. We examined the samples showcased in both shops before I decided to have 2 skirts and a dress made and J.J. decided to have 5 shirts made at Lang Bian. The prices were cheaper and the craftsmanship and fabrics the same as A Dong Silk. J.J. still liked a number of the materials offered by A Dong Silk though and opted to have them make an additional 4 shirts for him, 7 of 9 of these are plaid. In short, J.J.’s style remains the same as it was when we left Canada in January.

After placing our orders and being measured we explored a bit of Hoi An. The streets are lined with hotels, bars and restaurants, each one decorated with the same paper lanterns, the only difference being how many are used. The number of tailor shops along every single street and in every alleyway is overwhelming. There’s something like 500 tailors in Hoi An! The tailor shops all have their best work displayed on mannequins outside of their storefronts and the clothing consists mostly of men’s suits, men’s and women’s winter dress coats and replicas of the Wedding Party section of J. Crew’s online catalogue.

After wandering around a while we met up with Olivia, Troy and Pato who had finally made it to Hoi An. We visited a local restaurant for some gentle pinting and an early dinner and the boys continued to try to out-do one another at pool. Before we knew it, it was dark. We paid our tab and headed for a walk around town where we enjoyed the lantern-lit streets and people watching along the river which included a newlywed couple having their photo taken in a wooden rowboat as they set candlelit lanterns down in the water.

We found a gelato shop and ate as we continued to wander. Eventually we found ourselves at the busy Now and Then bar frequented by travellers where we had one last drink and a few last games of pool before trying to find our way back to our hotels through the winding streets.

In the morning J.J. and I enjoyed our big buffet breakfast that was included in the cost of our room before borrowing an umbrella from the hotel and hopping in a cab that would take us to Pacific Hospital. My ear was still bothering me from when we had gone diving in Nha Trang and after consulting with my trusty Canadian team of medical professionals (thank you Jenn, Shobhan and Party Marty!) I decided to have it checked out.

After waiting all of 30 seconds I was seen by a doctor who first examined each of my ears using a light and his naked eye. Next I was walked into a room where the doctor used a wand with a light and a camera on the end to look inside each of my ears. The images recorded by the camera were brought up on a computer screen and the doctor allowed J.J. to take photos of them so that we could send them to Jenn and Shobhan back in Toronto. They confirmed what the doctor had said, that I had an ear infection and they OK’d the antibiotics I’d been prescribed. $65 USD later we were on our way back to town for our first fittings at the tailor shops where we’d placed our orders the day before.

We started at Lang Bian. One of the skirts I had ordered fit perfectly right off the bat while the other required only a very minor adjustment. J.J.’s shirts needed to be let out slightly as they were a little too slim fitting. My dress wasn’t ready yet so we headed over to A Dong Silk so that J.J. could try on his other 4 shirts. As at Lang Bian these shirts also needed to be let out slightly. J.J. explained that he’d lost weight travelling but when we return to Canada he’ll be at a desk 5 days a week and may gain a few lbs. The tiny Vietnamese woman at A Dong Silk looked at him and in the stern tone of a teacher’s voice disciplining a naughty child she said “You go to gym.”

It was a gray and rainy day so we took advantage of the complimentary use of umbrellas offered by our hotel and walked around town until it was time for our evening fittings. My dress was ready and fit perfectly and the skirt that had needed to be slightly altered was now ready. While J.J. tried on his 5 plaid shirts at Lang Bian and subsequently his 4 shirts at A Dong Silk I wrote the copy for Louise’s website and flipped through the many books of clothing articles she could sew.

Olivia, Troy and Pato met us at Lang Bian to go to dinner together. We took Louise’s recommendation and followed one of her employees down a series of alleyways to a hidden Vietnamese restaurant. Plastic tables and chairs were set up outside under the bright glow of intense fluorescent lighting and without ordering a thing food began piling up on our table. Our server came over and explained in broken English that we were to eat until we were full. She showed us how to roll everything on the plates into a piece of rice paper. We later learned that they show foreigners to roll more than the locals in hopes that they eat more and since you pay for what you eat, pay a bigger tab at the end of the meal.

Troy, who tends to prefer Western food (he admits to never having liked an Asian dish he’s tried), and Pato, who normally isn’t picky (everything is ‘amazing!’) didn’t think much of the food. Poor Pato had to excuse himself mid-meal to douse his face and hair with water from the sink situated in the middle of the restaurant in an attempt to make himself feel better.

After dinner we again took a walk along the river in search of gelato before heading to Before and Now for a drink and some pool. The boys quickly abandoned Olivia and I for the tables at which point 3 Australian guys took their seats and began talking with us. Eventually they bought Olivia and I a drink. When the boys noticed we were be chatted up we learned how not jealous they are. Troy’s reaction was to sarcastically joke that we looked like we were having the time of our lives before getting back to his pool game while J.J.’s only concern was that he and Troy would be paying for the Aussie boys’ drinks, never thinking maybe the guys had bought us a round.

From Before and Now we hired motorbike drivers to take us to a popular tourist bar where the writing’s literally on the wall (Sharpie markers are provided to customers as they are encouraged to sign what little white space is left on the walls and ceiling), the lights are dim and the pool table is covered and used as a make-shift dance floor. The DJ played music from his iTunes library while sipping beer at the bar and lucky for me (unlucky for J.J.) he had the entire Dr. Dre Chronic 2001 album and some early Eminem and Jay-Z – all of which he played. The short story is I had a rap-off with an Eminem wanna-be from England and wound up voiceless the following morning. CK lives on…

We met Olivia, Troy and Pato by chance for one last lunch before we’d be going our separate ways – J.J. and I taking a 10-hour bus ride to Dong Hoi and the others making the 3-hour trip to Hue.


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