We arrived in Hoi An after a short night on the bus. Short of sleep that is to say. The tour company we had booked our tickets through (Sinh Cafe, who has carried us throughout all of Vietnam) dropped us at a hotel on the outskirts of town. Tired and annoyed, we started the walk towards the center, fending off moto taxis and hotel proprietors all the way. After about 20 minutes, we came to a desirable location and started looking for a room in our budget…quite easy to find. The previous occupants had just left, so we went for breakfast while they cleaned our room. Then we unpacked, showered and sat down for a rest. Both of us were anxious to start the day. Hoi An is famous for it’s tailors, literally hundreds of tailor shops within a few square kilometers, and well-known for their high-quality fabrics and reasonable prices. We were armed with recommendations from other travelers, and I had a special project in mind, the bridesmaid dresses and my wedding dress.
By lunch time I had chosen a style and the fabric for my wedding dress, commisioned the making of the bridesmaid dresses and Fabien had 2 suits in the making. Not bad for a Friday morning. The afternoon was free (before all of the fittings) for a little sightseeing. The historic quarter of Hoi An is a Unesco Heritage Site, and there are numerous temples and old houses to visit. It is a charming area next to a little river that used to be an important port in Vietnam,frequented by Chinese and Japanese traders. As the ecology of the river changed making it difficult for large boats to enter, the port was moved to nearby Danang. This was a blessing later during the Vietnam War, as Hoi An was spared any bombing and it remains one of the oldest and most well-preserved towns in Vietnam. The Japanese and Chinese cultural influence remained as well. We began our tour of the old town with a visit to a typical house, which featured a little chapel honoring the family’s ancestors. We took a French tour (the Vietnamese French accent was a bit difficult for me in the beginning) where we learned about a number of customs including the use of coins representing Yin on one side and Yang on the other side to ask questions about the future. If you you got two Yings or two Yangs, the answer was yes. If you got one of each, it was no. They kept urns for each of their ancestors in which they leave offerings and they buried the umbilical cords of the new babies in jars in the garden. The house was full of beautiful pottery which is produced in a nearby village.
After a short afternoon of sightseeing we found a very hip cafe to enjoy a couple of happy hour beers before an excellent dinner. We chose a “sampler” of local foods including a rice noodle dish, a curry fish, shrimp on a bamboo stick, pork and shrimp wontons and an excellent fruit salad complete with dragon fruit. After this feast, it was time for Fabien to try on his suits. They were extremely well made with only a little alteration in the waist (but that’s hardly surprising after our dinner.) Satisfied with our first items of clothing and exhausted, we turned in early. (My first dress fitting was to be the following evening.)
The next morning began with a trip to the tailor. I wanted to have some other casual clothes made and Fabien wanted to choose a suit for the wedding. It took quite a long time, and Fabien seemed to be quite burnt out by the end. So we pulled ourselves away and returned to visiting the old town, which included a visit to the Japanese bridge, a couple of town meeting halls in Chinese style (the ceramic work was gorgeous with dragons and turtles), pagodas and the tiny history museum. In the mean time, I also found a beautiful Vietnamese dress and had shoes made to match.
After a day of sightseeing, I took a quick shower and went to the tailors for the big moment, the first dress fitting. I was quite nervous after our visit to the bridal shop in Hoi An. All of the dresses were decked out in flowers, beeds and bows. “Kitch” is putting it lightly, but I have to admit for the cost, I knew I could always go to plan B. Luckily, these women are artists and they understood what I wanted. They created a beautiful dress, simple and elegant just like I wanted. It was a bit funny trying on a brilliant white wedding dress after wearing the same dirty, ragged clothes for the last 8 months. (I’m not going to give the details now, but we’ll surely put pictures up of the finished product when we get married in October.)
After a much better night of sleep, we started our third day in Hoi An. Another morning at the tailor shop…more fittings. This morning was a bit rough; Fabien tried on the suit he had had made for the wedding and although it was well made, he didn’t like it all. In fact, it just didn’t suit his style and his response was, “I can picture myself being buried in this, not married in this.” (We had chosen the style from a catalogue.) So he was quite disappointed. I had them retailor the suit so he could wear it for work (it actually turned out fine in the end) and Fab went to the beach to relax. It was a bit too much shopping for him in this short period of time and I knew we had another day left for them to finish my dress.
Fourth day, both of us were exhausted, we finally had all of the clothes (with the exception of the wrap for my wedding dress) and we were ready to go to the post office. One box by air to the U.S.A. One by air to France. One by sea to France. 1.5 hours and $120 later we were 20kg lighter and on our way to the beach for an afternoon of r & r.
Overall, we had a great time in Hoi An; the town was beautiful and the food was great. I was very satisfied with the tailoring work; in the end I had the following made: my wedding dress with a wrap, 3 bridesmaid dresses, 1 skirt, 2 pairs of pants, two blouses, 1 vietnamese style dress, a pair of shoes, and a wool coat and Fabien had 3 suits and 3 shirts made. We spent around $700 in total. Just pray for us that everything arrives….
From Hoi An, we continued north. Next stop Hue.