Hội An: Tailored Suits, Cooking Classes & Motorbikes
Another exhausting sleeper train later, and we had arrived in Hội An, a stunning city on the South Central Coast in the Quang Nam province. Our hotel was the best yet; the rooms reminded me of James Bond’s suite in Venice at the end of Casino Royale, with beautiful dark wooden beds and heavy doors leading out onto a balcony overlooking the pool. We had been pleasantly surprised throughout the trip as the itinerary had stated “basic accommodation”. We had been briefed before our arrival; this was the place to buy tailored suits if one so wished.
We were only scheduled for two full days in Hội An, so it was important to get measurements taken as soon as possible. The city is a little inland, so even the short walk from the hotel to the tailors seemed an epic journey in the sweltering heat. Out of the 13 of us on the tour, 12 decided to have something made, whether it be for work, leisure or both. The attraction is so great because the quality of the clothing is faultless, the service is so fast and, of course, it’s very cheap.
Those who know me personally may claim that I am little flamboyant, and I suppose they’re right. The percentage of new people I meet who think I’m gay is probably proof that I’m a tad camp. I didn’t help my case by being a little daft with my choice of jacket and waistcoat linings, but I’ll come back to that in a bit…
That afternoon, we were booked in at the Tam Tam Café for a Vietnamese cuisine cooking class. Adorned with conical hats, we followed our bubbly guide into Hội An’s food market, where she explained what she was getting and what it would be used for. We walked the short distance back to the restaurant laden with everything from rice grass and pork to peanuts and banana leaf. Over the next hour, meat was shredded, added to salad, tossed, seasoned and wrapped in the leaf in which it would be cooked, spring rolls were wrapped delicately and fried, and tomato skins were peeled in a singular helix and wrapped tightly to create a rose decoration.
The best part of the day? We were to eat the fruits of our labour for dinner that evening. We tucked in to the feast on offer, devouring spring rolls and being pleasantly surprised at how well our variation on Chinese Zongzi had turned out. When we had finished, we thanked our hosts and departed.
We had been told to return to the tailors for around 8pm, so the next hour was spent wandering aimlessly down to the Thu Bồn River and taking photos on the famous bridge. We had gotten used to the street sellers now; a young boy was attempting to attract passers-by with candles in floating holders that can be placed on the river, but was not garnering much interest.
After a brief visit to the tailors for a couple of adjustments to be noted, a good night’s sleep in comfortable beds and an early breakfast, we were on our way to the motorcycle hire shop. I had never driven a motorcycle before that day and had no idea what to expect, so, once perched on the saddle of my 50cc moped, with a Burberry-esque helmet, flip flops shamefully taken from the previous hotel’s bathroom and borrowed ladies’ sunglasses (my $2 market ones had surprisingly broken), I was ready to pick up a passenger and head the five kilometres to the beach.
Fifteen terrifying minutes later and we were sat on the sand in the blazing sun and cool sea breeze, listening to iPods and reading books on Kindles, and there we stayed for the next three hours. With some expert sand sculpting, Bendik became a mermaid while Kirstin was transformed into a muscle man, complete with rather impressive sand package. Immaturity is undeniably promulgated in numbers.
The afternoon brought clouds with it, and the temperature drop meant we were soon off the beach and heading back to the tailors for one last visit to try and collect our new clothes. I was finally going to see my suit in the fabric as it were, and I was not disappointed. I had ordered a made-to-measure, three-piece pinstripe suit, six shirts (mostly in loud colours and all with double cuffs) and four ties, all for the total sum of US$200 (£130).
But the pièce de résistance, masterpiece and magnum opus was the tricolour silk lining I had chosen. I completely understand if you hate it, but I believe my personality is perfectly personified in those three panels.
Hội An is a beautiful city and yet another place I wouldn’t hesitate in revisiting if I were given half the chance. The city is known for its tailors, and although there are plenty of “up-market” options (A Dong Silk springs to mind), I recommend the one we used whole-heartedly. The women are friendly, helpful, relaxed, open to haggling, and keep your details on record for three years in case you want anything else made. Like most tailors, they also offer a handy postage service for a little extra cost, so your clothes can be waiting for you at home when you get back from your travels. Thông Phi tailors; remember the name.
With our new clothes packed and shipped, we had one more night in Hội An before a three hour bus journey the following morning to Huế…