Suits You Sir!

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End May 01, 2011

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, February 6, 2011

Upon reaching Hoi An, our guide offered to give us a quick tour of the city before dropping us off at our hotel. He had been fantastic in Hue and so we gladly accepted his offer and drove into the old part of the city which is actually a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site and, as a result, requires a payment of 90,000 Dong (3) to enter. My first impression of Hoi An was that it was the most beautiful town we had seen in Vietnam (since leaving the country this is still the view Rachael and I share). Out of all the destinations of Anne and Paul's 3-and-a-half week tour, Hoi An was the only one which they had been to already, having been captivated by it on a previous holiday.

The town possessed an instant relaxed vibe, something which we had not yet experienced in Vietnam, and was akin to the tranquility of Luang Prabang in Laos. The streets featured buildings of various colours although my memory paints most of the town in a mild yellow. Vietnamese locals, and Western tourists alike, gently cruised down the streets on bicycles. Beautiful lanterns and paper sculptures were gently rocked by the breeze along the riverside. Most of the buildings are dominated by cafes and artisan craft stores, however, most people who have visited Hoi An will comment that the primary trade in the town is tailored clothing. On each street there are a dozen tailors showcasing very fashionable clothes for both men and women. We were lead past one such tailor called Yaly and told that, if we were interested, Yaly were by far the best to go to in terms of the materials they use in their clothing. We didn’t go inside but, as Tuan was impartial, we took his advice on board.

 We visited one of the most impressive temples in the town, and were told about the different Buddhas that are worshipped and the various donations made to the temple, especially at the start of a new year. From the ceiling were giant spiral incense sticks, slowly burning away, each of which was bought by a family and will continue to burn for a month, bringing them good luck for the coming year. It was beautiful but about five minutes in there and you felt like you’d inhaled enough incense smoke to turn your lungs into pot pourri!

Next Tuan took us to an 'old house’ of which there are several you can visit in Hoi An. An ‘old house’ is a traditional Vietnamese house, still in use today by the family which has resided there for generations and we were given a tour by one of the younger family members but introduced to one of the oldest and shown pictures of previous generations. The whole house is made of wood and in the wet season everything, which is on the ground floor, is hoisted up by pulleys onto the first floor because each year the streets are flooded from the river. They had various markers on the wall showing us how high the water had risen in previous years and I found it amazing the house is still standing, being made from wood.

Finally we visited the Japanese covered-bridge, a unique wooden structure built by the Japanese (obviously) during their brief occupation. It contained two dog statues at one end, and two monkeys at the other, indicating the year in which the building of the bridge was begun and in which it was completed. From the bridge we returned to our car to go what would be our home for the next five days, the Nam Hai Hotel. Here, Rach and I were to enjoy the third and final installment of our belated Xmas presents from Paul and Anne. We said our goodbyes to Tuan and the driver and were greeted at the reception area by the general manager, a smart looking German man called John. We were soon whisked off in electric buggies and taken to our villa where we were greeted by a very pleasant surprise.

The villa was luxury beyond measure; the entrance path led past a pond and up into a large communal area with a huge 50 inch plasma TV, Bose home entertainment system and bar. This led down a few steps to a patio area which had a table, chairs, sun loungers and long swimming pool all of which was right on the beach where the ocean could be seen crashing against the shore. The villa was good enough to make most people’s eyes emerge on stalks but, for two weary backpackers who generally felt lucky to get given a towel and a fan, it was absolute heaven. We hadn’t even seen the bedrooms yet!

The bedrooms were equally as impressive - the bed was on a raised platform in the centre of the room with a small plasma TV on an oscillating stand. There was a bathtub, couches, mini bar and a set of double doors which lead out onto another mini patio area. The bathroom was pristine and featured two sinks, a rain shower and an optional outdoor shower.  Again there was a Bose stereo system linked to an iPod dock for music and they had even provided an iPod full of music in case you did not have your own. It was amazing. Our guided tour of the villa complex was given to us by a man named Thuong, who was to be the personal butler for our stay. He assured us that anything we wanted he would arrange and gave us the good news that the mini bar was totally complimentary and refilled every morning. Needless to say we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the villa and, in the evening, took a buggy to the main restaurant and enjoyed a lovely 3-course dinner.

After spending our first full day refusing to leave the villa walls, we eventually dragged ourselves away and went back into Hoi An. After a quick coffee stop we visited Yaly to have a look at some of their options. Paul and I eventually ended up surrounded by young Vietnamese ladies taking our measurements while Anne and Rachael selected fabrics and styles for some dresses in the ladies section. We picked our materials and customized the outfit by selecting the style, the pockets, how many buttons it would have, the type of crease, etc. and once this was done the information was taken into the back where the suits were crafted.

As it happened the material I had selected was Gucci and predominately cashmere wool, which was lighter and would crease less. Despite being one of the more expensive materials available, it only cost $175 (120), which for a custom tailored Gucci suit is very, very good – I would hate to think how much that would cost back home! One of the great things about it was not actually the final product but the process of the creation. The place was bustling and alive with people getting fitted, the staff were professional, friendly and meticulous with their measurements. The whole experience was really exciting and knowing you were going to get a custom suit at the end was a definite bonus.

Paul and I were now sorted which left us time to give our opinions on the fabrics and dress styles our respective ladies were choosing. Rach and Anne had selected fabric s of various colours in very elegant, Oriental styles, it was difficult to give an opinion, having not seen the finished article, but they knew what they were doing and before we knew it their measurements had been taken. We had a further wander around Hoi An and saw some pictures which we really liked the look of, we also visited a picture shop which specialized in embroidered pictures, some of which beggared belief with the level of detail and shading involved.

For the rest of our stay in the Nam Hai we split our time between enjoying the villa and heading back into town to eat lunch and have our outfits tweaked at the tailors. Each time they got closer and closer to the finished article and, again, the staff displayed their perfectionism by making the slightest of adjustments each time and often gathering a second, or third, opinion from other staff members. At one point I was in a changing room with Rach and four women all fussing around her with tape measures and pins.

It was a blissful five days but, unfortunately, extremely upsetting for us when Anne and Paul left for Siam Reap and cast us back into the gloomy world of smelly bathrooms, simple breakfasts and unclean bedsheets. Our remaining time in Hoi An was a little bit sorrowful as we adjusted to backpacker standards and reflected on saying farewell to the only two faces we have seen from back home in over 9 months. We stayed for two more days and popped back to Yaly to complete the transaction by confirming the shipment of our clothes (fingers crossed they arrive!), before organizing a bus to our next stop – Nha Trang.
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