Hoi An: The Tale of Two Bridges.
Hoi An is a picturesque town located 5km inland near the central coast of Vietnam, and we arrived in Hoi An via 12+ hour overnight train from Nha Trang on March 7th. My dad, a former railroad man back in college, asked me about the trains we’ve been taking, so this one’s for you dad (we assume it’s diesel since we hear no steam, and the trains smell like gas fumes).
To get to Hoi An, we got two beds in the nicest sleeper cabin available. Unfortunately the ‘nicest’ sleeper cabin on this train each slept six people in a room the size of your bathroom … your small bathroom.
We were in the middle berths, meaning there were berths this size both above us and below us. The berth looks so much larger with Kiran in it!
We stayed in Hoi An for five nights, and left for Hanoi via another overnight on March 12th.
Hoi An has been inhabited by various groups of people for over 2000 years, probably longer, and the Cham people (Hindu) were the first to ‘put the town on the map’ during the 7th-10th centuries, making Hoi An a well known trading town. Traditionally, Hoi An has been perhaps best known as home to a 400 year old Japanese covered bridge.
Soon after the bridge was built, the emperor called all Japanese back to Japan for some reason or another, war I presume, and the Chinese soon moved in. Here’s the Tan Ky house, a classic example of a Chinese merchant’s home from the 1700s
The same house at night, from our new favorite restaurant (aside from Melisse) Morning Glory.
Foodie Hint: The chef who started Morning Glory, Ms. Vy, has a cookbook called Morning Glory The Taste of Vietnam which we strongly recommend.
This storefront could have been built in the 1790s or the 1990s honestly, I’m not really sure. The old (maintained/restored) and the new (created for tourists) in Hoi An can be difficult to separate at times.
Basically, if you imagine Disney created a 300 year old Chinese fishing/trading port theme park, well, it would be Hoi An, minus the rides. And you can definitely see architectural similarities in Hoi An and Old Town Lanta, the Chinese trading/fishing port we visited in Koh Lanta, Thailand.
Admittedly, there was a grand scheme for this post. I wanted to use the 400 year old Japanese covered bridge and the far more popular ‘new bridge,’ recently decorated for New Year’s celebrations in 2013, as metaphors on which to comment how much Hoi An has changed recently.
I had to wait forever for the crowds to clear to get this picture of Kiran.
But I sit here writing this in Laos. Kiran sleeps beside me and isn’t feeling well currently. We head to Malaysia in a couple of days, and the Philippines 36 hours after that, and we’re already about six posts behind. I therefore need to channel my inner fraternity brother David DuVarney, and just “get-r-done.”
And I find it really interesting that the new bridge has tons more visitors than does the old bridge, despite its amazing history.
And, speaking of history, Hoi An has Chinese-influenced history dating back hundreds of years (including Chinese tailoring), but nowadays, do people come to learn about the amazing history? Of course not, we come for the clothes!
In the 1990s, as mass tourism was just starting in Hoi An, there were roughly 100 tailors/tailoring shops in Hoi An; currently there are almost 700 (thanks to mostly tourists who know nothing about clothes/tailoring whatsoever).
Most guys come to Hoi An thinking they can get a custom suit made overnight for $100-$300 dollars. Please recognize, a true custom (bespoke) suit is handsewn, takes three to four weeks and 90 manhours to complete, and generally costs $1000-$4000 per suit, depending on the material and where the suit is made (Singapore vs London for example). That said, if you want an inexpensive, good fitting, made-to-measure suit that may or may not last more than a year or two (depending on which shop you choose, I’ll let you know how mine ultimately turn out), Hoi An is definitely the place to go.
After much research, we ended up choosing two tailors (Kimmy Tailor and Miss Forget-Me-Not), and happened upon a third (Bi Hanh). The suits I saw made by Bi Hanh looked mostly pretty bad, except this one guy’s pimp white mobster suit, so I only had a couple of shirts made there. Kiran however had several blouses, a romper, and a tweed blazer made at Bi Hanh and they all turned out great. We definitely recommend Bi Hanh for women, for men, not so much.
Kimmy herself told us her parents gave her some seed money which allowed her to buy the land on which her tailoring shop currently sits. This allows Kimmy to charge slightly less than other high end tailors in Hoi An, as other shops have to pay the government $1000 per month for rent in this most expensive area.
I had several suits, a tweed blazer, tons of dress shirts, and even a Peacoat made at Kimmy Tailor (the Peacoat in case we move to Portland or San Francisco upon our return), and everything turned out great. Of course the true test will come when I get back to the States and wear this stuff for a while.
Also at Kimmy, Kiran had two pantsuits, some dress pants, a dress shirt, and also a Peacoat made and she is happy with them as well.
I’m not sure what the guy is doing with those high heels.
On the other end of the tailoring spectrum is Miss Forget-Me-Not. Miss Forget-Me-Not runs stall #20 in the rat-infested central market (there are rats EVERYWHERE in Hoi An FYI, not just in the central market, these Buddhists refuse to kill them), and both she and her signage announce she is the best tailor in Hoi An.
Using some wool I bought in Saigon, Miss Forget-Me-Not made me dress pants for $15/per pair. Using the linen I brought her, she made me a linen suit with an extra pair of pants for $50. Inspired by Christian Grey, I also had several linen dress shirts made for about $17 dollars each, after factoring in the cost of the material. Everything fit perfectly, and the clothes were nearly as good as the clothes I had made by Kimmy, fabric selection notwithstanding.
Miss Forget-Me-Not insisted on a prom photo, but Kiran still regrets it to this day. Personally, I think it’s a cute photo.
Most of our trip to Hoi An was consumed by visiting tailors and completing the multiple fittings each garment required, and of course eating at great restaurants in between. Kiran wrote out our fitting schedule one day:
10:30am – Arrived at miss forget me not. Scott tried on his shirt and liked it. He made minor changes and we were asked to return at 4pm for another fitting
11:06am – Left miss forget me not
11:15am – Arrived at Kimmy tailor – Scott tried on 1 suit, 1 shirt, 2 pants. I tried on 1 suit, 2 pants, 1 shirt and 1 peacoat. Minor changes were made to my clothes on the spot and a few adjustments were made to Scott’s clothes and noted for the rest of his order (which is BIG). We were going to return at 8pm but that got moved to the following afternoon
12:34 – Left Kimmy tailor
12:37 – Arrived at Bi Hanh – Scott tried on 3 shirts and I tried on 3 tops and a romper. After asking for minor changes we were asked to return at 6pm
1:15pm – Left bi hanh for lunch – we needed a break.
2:15pm – Finished lunch
In our freetime we shopped around for a tailor that could make a fun smoking jacket for Scott, north face jacket knock offs and a winter coat for me. We didn’t buy anything. Luckily.
3:05pm – Arrived at my shoe store but the shoes were not ready yet. We were asked to come back in 15 minutes
3:23pm – Stopped at a cafe for a much needed cool drink. It was a very hot day.
3:50pm – Returned to my shoe store to try on the custom leather ballet flats. They need to be tighter so I will pick them up tomorrow once fixed
4:00 – Showed up at miss forget-me-not. Scott tried on his linen suit and adjusted shirt. I tried on a pants and ordered two more. I tried on a dress shirt and made adjustments and ordered 6 more. I also tried on my dress to get adjusted. We will come back tomorrow for another fitting.
6:06pm – Left miss forget me not. She asked us to return at 11am the following day.
6:15pm – Arrived at Bi Hanh. Scott struggled with getting his shirt collars perfect and I loved my shirt so much that I ordered another one of the same plus a tweed blazer.
6:57pm – Left Bi hanh. They asked us to return at 8pm but we were tired and hungry so we told them that we would return the next day. We needed to go home.
7:10pm – Walking home, we passed another tailor and I found a dress that I liked on a mannequin and travel zipoff pants that Scott liked. We ordered two of each. It’s an addiction.
I, Scott, would like to make two important points. First, we recognize it’s a little crazy getting all these clothes made when y’all know we ain’t got no jobs. But Kiran now has the wardrobe to run event marketing for the Portland Trailblazers (somehow she got away with jeans in LA), and if I’m unemployed, at least I can be looking good in the welfare line.Second, to those of you who have been kind enough to contribute to our trip (most recently a big thanks/shout out to Bryce Carter), we promise none of your money went towards these frivolous purchases. We worked our asses off in our jobs, quitting just weeks before we left to afford these clothes, so no mom, your money did not go towards this.
That said, we did manage to experience a little more than merely getting clothes made for ourselves in Hoi An.
We were the only tourists one night in a large group of Vietnamese playing Bai Choi, a game sort of like Bingo except there’s a storyline. The guy sings something, the girl sings something back, one of them eventually pulls out a card containing a specific symbol, and if your card has that symbol, you get a flag. Whoever has the most flags at the end of the game wins. We didn’t win, but before the game started, we were announced as special guests from the United States and wished extra luck, so we thought that was a nice consolation prize.
Per our norm, we rented a little 125cc motorbike and went about exploring the countryside
We went up to Da Nang, which you may know from the Vietnam War or from the 1980s television show China Beach.
And as we came upon and past DaNang, this enormous statue came into our view, so you know we had to go check it out.
We learned this is the Goddess of Mercy, people pray to her for good luck when opening a business or prior to a major life event.
In Southeast Asia, there’s a really annoying habit of charging tourists exorbitant (relatively speaking) entrance fees to attractions, and letting your own countrymen in for free. Can you imagine us charging the Chinese a $20 entrance fee to the Smithsonian while we let people in from New Jersey for free? Sorry, it’s just so easy.
Well, I pulled a sneak attack of my own and snuck up the backside of the monument for free, even though we now think it may been free in the first place. Those stairs were VERY steep.
The view from the top.
Lastly, we never made it to Hue Tina, sorry to Hue-st your time, but thanks to your mom regardless.