Charming Hoi An – beaches, tailors, and funny english

Hoi An is a charmingly unique Vietnamese city.  It lacks the busy traffic and aggressive pushiness that you find at most other touristy places in Vietnam.

It is laid back and colorful, quite literally.

The theme in Hoi An is light blue and yellow.  San Diego Chargers fans would feel right at home.

Buildings most strongly contributing to the theme…

…but even boats get in on the color coordination.

It is a nice town just to walk around in.  Northern Asia’s influence can be felt all over Hoi An, starting with the Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An’s Old Town…

…and going all the way over to the Chinese Quan Cong Temple.  In between these two monuments and all along Tran Phu Street you can see lots of little Chinese and Japanese courtyards.

On the south part of Hoi An bordering the Thu Bon River there are markets aplenty, demonstrating again SE Asia’s favorite technique – copycat.  First you have shoes.

And lots of green veggies.

“This better not go on facebook….”

And loads of freshly caught seafood.

The vendors will demonstrate the liveliness of their catch if you are look inquisitively enough.

But Hoi An’s true specialty is tailored clothing.  You see lots of shops like this up and down each street.

When Hoi An became known for good tailored clothing lots of copycats sprung up.  And I mean lots.

Every resident of Hoi An has a side job as a tailor and this is about the only spot where people, mostly women, can get pushy with you.  Random women will stop you on the street and ask you if they can tailor shirts for you.  Its ridiculous.  Can everyone be a good tailor?  The answer is, of course, no.  With over 4-5 hundred something tailors choosing the best place for you can be a daunting experience.  The owner of our first and second guesthouses both suggested “Kimmy Custom Tailor”, one of the bigger, more well-known shops in town.

A cursory look on tripadvisor confirmed that Kimmy’s did some solid work – the only catch was you had to pay a little more for it.  But its worth it to pay more if you know the finished product will be good, especially considering what we paid was 1/5 of what we would have paid for the same custom tailored clothing in the U.S.  I got two “Italian-style” suits, four shirts, and two ties.  I guess by doing this I am acknowledging that I will be returning to the professional workforce at some point in my future.  My brother got a suit and a shirt.  We both had three fitting sessions where we worked with a designer and tailor to get the suit to the best fit. By the end of the process my suits and shirts looked great and fit me great – far better than the loose ill-fitting stuff I got from Kohl’s before I started my job.

A picture with me and my designer/tailor. She was a sweetheart and put up with my picky suggestions while giving me lots of her own.

It was a sometimes stressful experience – I’m not a huge fan of trying on clothing, especially multiple times in a row – but the end result was worth it.  Our suits, shirts, and ties are currently on a ship heading towards the U.S.

But there is a darker side to our otherwise great experience.  Many of the original talented tailors that made Hoi An famous are getting put out of business by the bigger, more “corporate”, shops such as Kimmy’s.  A referral service exists where hotels and guesthouses recommend places such as Kimmy’s (just as both of our guesthouses recommended Kimmy’s to us) and then rewards the referrers with commissions of up to 50%, a cost which is passed on to the customer.  There is more on this phenomenon here and while I am sorry that I may have contributed to the problem I still have to admit that I am happy with my suits.

But there is more to Hoi An than just blue-yellow buildings and tailors.  There are also a couple nice nearby beaches and a good nightlife.  Ben rented a moto for a couple days and on one of those days we rode to a nearby beach to play frisbee.  Is was a perfectly windy day for frisbee, allowing us to launch the frisbee and give it 7-10 seconds of airtime.  It was such a spectacle that a couple Chinese tourists stopped to take videos of our game for about five minutes.  After frisbee we stopped by a beach-side restaurant for some fresh shrimp.

Ben shared his meal with the little puppy that was hanging out near our table.

It was great to have a meal with the waves coming in about 30 meters away.

That same night we wandered down near the An Hoi footbridge which crosses the Thu Bon River.

It is quite an active place down there at night – music, Chinese lanterns, street vendors, vendors on the river, restaurants, and a lively bar scene.  Click here for a little sample of the action.  Ben scouted out a couple of meat sticks for a riverside snack that night.

We closed the night at “Why Not?”, a bar that is extremely popular with backpackers.  Some writing on the wall at the bar indicated that the backpacker community was generally pleased with the results of the 2012 presidential election.

The line of motos outside the bar ready to take home drunk backpackers was a testament to the bar’s popularity.

The next night we grabbed some dinner and realized that just about every restaurant in Hoi An has a menu that denotes the pizza menu/page as “Pizza Corner”.  Not sure what that’s about but it was humorous.

Ben has discovered that ordering a pizza in SE Asia can be quite the gamble and usually a losing one.  Pizza with ketchup as “tomato sauce”, with ‘substitute’ pseudo cheese, with terrible crust – he’s experienced the spectrum of mistakes that SE Asians make while making pizza.  And even the best pizza over here doesn’t compare to his hometown Chicago’s deepdish stuff.  I myself will just wait until I get back to Chicago and get myself some freshly baked Lou Malnati’s. Until then I’m sticking to what SE Asia is good at – rice, noodles, and soup.

With the “Pizza Corner” as just one example it is quite clear that there is not much thought given to english translations in SE Asia.  I’m guessing the strategy is just grab the nearest local English-speaking person, pay them a few bucks, and presto – english translations for the menu!  It can often result in unintentionally hilarious translations.  The lack of “english-translation” forethought can also produce some pretty funny restaurant names.

It wasn’t actually lame.

The last night we spent in Hoi An we made another trip down to the An Hoi footbridge and enjoyed some beers on the riverside.

We grabbed some “fast food” later that night.

Yosemite was a big supporter of their food so it had to be good.  He was right – it was tasty.  We also made sure to stock up on our “Coco Balls” and “Frosties.”

They’reeeee differently labeled!

The next day we took an “open bus” to Hue which we didn’t realize was a “sleeper” bus. We’ve heard nightmare stories about these things – at least with regards to the overnight rides people take on them. Thankfully ours was just a four hour day ride to Hue.

But the sleeper seats ended up being pretty comfortable despite being designed for the height of a Vietnamese man, roughly 5’6”.  Ben was even able to catch some shuteye as we cruised to Hue.


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