Hoi An was the place I was most excited about going to in Vietnam. Not only, I’d heard, was it a gorgeous, quaint old town (a world heritage site, no less) with apparently the best beach in Vietnam, but it was also the epicentre of all that I hold sacred – namely, clothes and shoes. Yes, I really am that shallow.
Getting there, as always, was an experience. Dean, Pete, James and I had booked on the overnight bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An, about 12 hours. If you’ve read my blogs from India and China you’ll know what a very special place night buses have in my heart. This was to be no exception. On a couple of buses so far, we’ve ended up with two seats each, and when Dean and I were picked up, it looked as if it was heading that way. However, by the time we’d got to the last stop – Pete and James’ hotel, it was chockablock, with people in the aisles, so we were grateful to have the four seats between four of us. Could have been a lot worse. I still didn’t get much sleep – gone, alas, are the days when I could sleep on a clothesline – but after a couple of hours of bouncing my head off the window, sleep was a blessed – if brief – relief.
By the time we arrived in Hoi An and found a hotel, it was 7ish in the morning, so all of us went for a much-needed breakfast and then decided to experience the real Vietnam, and go for a swim in our hotel’s sister pool. Being blatant backpackers, we were definitely getting sneered at, none more so than one young French guy who Pete mistakenly thought worked at the hotel and asked if it was alright to smoke at the pool. For the rest of our time there he sat, shooting daggers at us, arms crossed, and I swear at one point he was actually muttering. If I were Pete, I’d be extra careful everytime I stepped into the already-crazy Vietnamese traffic from now on. (Incidentally, the way to cross roads in Vietnam, is to slowly walk across. The motorbikes are relentless and drive at you, but if you keep walking, slowly, they at least make some attempt to miss you).
The guys are on a much shorter time frame than I am, visa-wise, so were only staying in Hoi An for one night. They set off on a walking tour while I set off to do what I do best…shop! I already had a couple of outfits in mind – a chocolate brown and pink creation that I dreamt up (with a little bit of help from lovely Lou) for Andy and Sam’s wedding next year, and I’d also decided I wanted an Ao Dai, the Vietnamese national dress that is just stunning – wide silk trousers worn with a long, fitted, silk tunic. I ordered these, and was told to come back the next day for a fitting.
I also wanted some more casual things that I can keep with me – four months of wearing the same clothes over and over again has done neither me nor the clothes any favours, so the time had come to splash out. On my way up to the posh silk shop before, I had passed a shop, called Diem Diem (which I later found out means Lovely Lovely), with loads of signs outside written by previous happy customers. That seemed to me as good a recommendation as any, and so I ventured inside. This was one of the best decisions so far on this trip (maybe so far in my life). I was met by the gorgeous, young, funky Diem, who knew exactly the kinds of clothes I needed and had the beautiful fabric all ready to make creations with. I went for a black and white summer dress, a pair of tailored shorts, a blue and white vest top, and a black pencil fitted dress. I was measured and the fabric dispatched in no time, and I was instructed to come back at 7.30 that evening for a fitting. Before I left I mentioned shoes, and Diem walked me along to their sister shop, where I had a fitting for three pairs of shoes that would be ready the next day. Just to give an idea of how reasonable the prices were – the two dresses, top, and shorts were $59 (less than 30 pounds), and the shoes were a tenner each.
I arranged to meet the guys at Bamboo Bar for dinner after my fitting, so they went along there for a drink while I was being pampered. However, after I tried on the first dress (perfect), I found a bottle of beer waiting for me. “You drink” instructed Papa Diem. I didn’t argue. After the next outfit (yet again perfect), I found a big plate of delicious fish curry waiting for me. “You eat”, I was told by Mama Diem. Again, I was wolfing down the food before an objection could form in my mouth. Hurrying along the road to the ATM, I passed the guys and told them to go ahead and order, as I’d already been fed. I could see that this was the kind of shopping that guys could get on board with – if only they had more time.
Clothes collected, I slipped into my new black and white dress for a night out in Hoi An. By this time we’d met back up with Doireann and El, the guys had got talking to an Aussie girl, Ashley, and soon we saw Mike and Charlotte from Nha Trang walking along the road – they joined us for dinner again. Yet more familiar faces! Hoi An shuts up pretty early, so seven of us piled back to James and Pete’s room. At 5am I made my escape, having arranged to meet Doireann for a day of more fitting and shopping. I waved the guys off on their bus to Hue – they were on major fast-track now and the next time I would see them would be in Hanoi, just before they left – and my new shopping buddy and I set off for the day.
We both had previous fittings to sort out – my wedding outfit was ready and lovely, thank god – but Doireann wanted some more clothes made, so I took her along to Diem Diem, where I was greeted like an old friend. She was fitted for a dress, a skirt, and two tops, while I got a new pair of combats – my old pair were truly on their last legs. Same story as the day before - we were told to come back later for my trousers. I collected my shoes and they were a perfect fit (doesn’t often happen on account of my fat feet). At the allocated time, we headed back to the shop where we were sat down and given a bottle of beer. After a couple of sips, I asked about my trousers. “Oh, I’m sorry, they won’t be ready until tomorrow morning”. “No problem. So we’re just here to drink beer?” “Yes!”
The next day, again, centred around Diem Diem; we’d been asked back for breakfast (a delicious bowl of noodle soup), and we’d both been promised that we could get boots made in just one day – we were planning to leave the next morning, it seemed the only way that we could stop the spending. Over breakfast I asked for a wrap-over white shirt. Again, Diem knew exactly what I wanted. By this time, more and more freebies kept coming our way – purses, bags, so much stuff. She even altered my jeans for me that had been too long since Beijing – for free. Such a total sweetheart. They told us to come back for lunch as well – at this rate, we’d never pay for a meal in Hoi An. Again, over lunch, I saw a dress in a magazine that I fell in love with, and Diem promised it would be ready for that evening. It was, and it was just as lovely as I’d imagined. And my boots – one pair is gorgeous soft brown leather and the other pair has to be seen to be believed! Knee high turquoise suede. I was sad already thinking soon I’d be separated from them when I had to post them home.
After a final stop in Diem Diem, we waddled along to the post office with our multitude of bags, ready for the serious damage of the postal charges. And let me say now – posting 7 kilos home from Vietnam – not cheap! Still, cheaper than buying another case and a mule to carry all of it round with me for the rest of my trip. I took photos of me wearing all my haul (not at the same time, alas!), so I won’t forget it all.
Papa Diem had made us promise to go round to see them and say goodbye over breakfast before we left the next morning. We were getting so sad at the thought of leaving them – we had truly been welcomed into the family, and felt like old friends. Yet another big bowl of noodle soup was waiting for us, along with even more presents – necklaces, more purses, along with tons of hugs and kisses. The kindness they showed us was outstanding, and, if you ever visit Hoi An in the future, go and see Diem and the lovely lovely family. Before we left we asked if we could write a sign for them to add to their collection outside. I think this sums up what we felt:
“COME IN HERE! Not only are the clothes gorgeous, fabulous, and well-fitting, but the family are the most hospitable, welcoming people we have EVER met. This shop is our favourite place in Vietnam! We love the clothes and we love the family. Suzanne (England) and Doireann (Ireland)”
Rarely has shopping been such a pleasure – and not just because of the clothes.