Our next stop, the ancient city of Hoi An, turned out to be even more picturesque than Cat Ba. Set in the middle of a small village between the main city and a beach, our homestay was by far the best accommodation that we’ve stayed in during our Asian journey. We also gave in to the tailoring and shoemaking frenzy, and suddenly the stories of people who came here for a ridiculous amount of clothes began to sound familiar, rather than absurd. Shamelessly, we spent most of our time enjoying the fine beaches, immersing in the magical atmosphere of the evenings in the old parts of the city and wandering from one tailor store to another.
Hoi An is mostly famous for its well-preserved port and old city, charming, omnipresent lanterns of all kinds, delicious cuisine and remarkably skilled tailors. Shortly after our arrival, we were already convinced that all of this was true. Even though the way to (and through) the cloth market might be a bit tricky – the extremely persistent, undeterred by your refusals saleswomen lurk on every corner, ready to grab and forcefully drag you to their stall – it’s still really worth the effort. Just smile and push forward – this method also works with the shouting advertisers of local bars, blocking the way through the bridge that leads to the night market. If you don’t really feel like “getting wasted in the happy hour, maaan!” (“pay for 1 and get 2 beers, yo!”), you can surely skip it and enjoy the magical views around – as the sun goes down, the streets light up with the colourful lanterns hanging all over the place. In this picture-perfect setup, you can haggle with the local vendors who are usually nice and willing to go extremely low with the price (especially if you leave without buying anything, which can get a bit awkward if you really want to go away and not just use it as a haggling trick; that, of course, happened a lot). The only thing that spoils the moment is the not-so-local Kanye West, loudly blasting from the speakers of the neighbouring bars – but as you go on, these weird clashes of Western and traditional culture become a familiar sight and you stop paying much attention to it. Somehow, the city still retains its charm.
Another thing to see here is the beautiful coast where you can sunbathe on the almost empty beaches – outside the season it’s enough to go a bit to the right from the An Bang beach to enjoy a huge space only for yourself. In the rainy months, however, you need to watch out as the waves get pretty dangerous and you might encounter a “No Swimming” sign.
Don’t Be Clueless:
If you ask, the first parking lady on the An Bang beach will tell you that the spot costs 1 usd (about 23 .000 vnd). If you tell her that you know it’s cheaper, she’ll give it to you for 10.000 vnd (still too much). Better drive until the end of the road, go to the second one and simply hand her the 5.000 bill (which is the right price). She’ll accept it right away.
Also, don’t be fooled by the sales girls in the stores and at the market – it’s definitely not a “special price for you”, and you’re surely not their “first client this day”. We thought we scored a pretty good deal when we brought the price of a plush mascot down from 200.000 to 150.000 – it seemed quite reasonable, considering that it was a handmade product. Later on, we saw the same toys for 70.000… at the airport, where everything tends to be more expensive than in the city. So don’t fall for the friendliness – it’s mostly a sales technique. The items that you’re trying to buy are usually way, way cheaper, and you’ll quickly find it out as soon as you leave the stall, hearing the seller screaming a price that’s 70% lower than the one he quoted before. (This doesn’t mean that no one is genuinely friendly – it’s just that in most cases, it’s simply a part of the culture to haggle and justify your prices.)
After a relaxing day by the water, you cannot help but find yourself in the city. As soon as you start walking the narrow streets, you mindlessly drift towards the tailor stores… and there are plenty of them. Having made a lot of clothes (meaning: enough to be forced to send them home in a package) and a lot of mistakes (mostly with the prices), we came up with…
A Quick Guide to the Hoi An’s Tailors
Picking the right tailor is never easy – it’s a lot of time devoted to haggling, looking around and searching for the perfect fabric. If you follow some basic rules, however, it becomes much easier.
- Check the online reviews
Even though they won’t always correspond with your experience (like in case of the Friendly Shoe Shop, which turned out to be the least friendly place that we visited during our whole stay), portals like TripAdvisor are still a pretty good resource for finding a couple of places that you might like, without leaving home. You can read other people’s opinions, check out their pictures and find out whether the tailor shares your visions.
- Go out & look around
There’s no better way of assessing the clothes than seeing how they look like in reality – so head out to the streets, go to different stores and look at what they have to offer (you can find some really good ones on Trần Phú and Lê Lợi). There, you can examine the quality by yourself and try some of the clothes before you decide to make something. You can also ask about the price – and in many cases bring it down. A short dress can cost from $15 to $55 – it all depends on you and the tailor.
- Know what you want
If you want great quality, it might be better to choose a more expensive place. They may have a broader selection of fabrics and they will let you do as many fittings as you need (we’re picky, so it took us about 5 of them to finally be satisfied; sometimes we’re the horrible clients). You should recognize it already by the number of measurements that they are taking – the more, the better (especially if you didn’t know that such a measurement exists).For things like summer dresses and comfy pants, go to wherever you feel like. The quality, as well as the materials for these items are usually the same in every store, so there’s no need to pay double the price.
- Pick the right fabric
Devote some time to finding the fabric that looks and feels good. Check the material and see how the pattern fits to what you’re making – for a long dress, a pattern full of small flowers might be too heavy-looking. Always take a big piece of the material (samples are usually presented on tiny scraps) and put it to your body to see how it would present itself on the final product.
- Want to change something? Say it.
We have the tendency to be overly polite. Most people from Poland or Switzerland (probably) wouldn’t admit that the soup they ordered tastes like boiled socks, especially when asked by the waitress if they enjoyed their meal. We would smile politely, mumble something like “mhm, very good, very good” and then complain about it for the next hour. At home.
Even if it seems rude to always change something – it’s better to say it out loud than to be left with a coat or pants that don’t fit. It’s the tailor’s job to tailor it for you, but they won’t do it right without your input.
- Be ready for some fittings
If you want it perfect, you’ll need at least 3-4 days (or 2 for the shoes). At the first fitting, everything is usually a bit too big (even though they might tell you that it already fits). If you make it tighter, some other issues might come to light. You might want it shorter and cut 2 cm of your skirt, but then it turns out that it’s not enough. There’s almost always something to be fixed – so take your time.
And finally, if you want to visit some of the places that we’ve been to, here’s where we got our best clothes from:
- Canali – most expensive (about $200 for a three-piece suit and $90 for a long dress), but great for making official clothes (suits, gala dresses, coats). They are professional, reliable and really care about the clients.
- VIC, 66 Trần Phú – quite cheap ($18-20 for a short summer dress, around $20-28 for a good quality shirt) and really good. The shirt that they made didn’t need any adjustments, and the ones to the dress were done in 1 day.
- Linh Shoe Shop – best place to get your shoes made. It’s right next to the popular Friendly Shop, but it offers nicer service and cheaper products of the same (maybe even better) quality. Elegant men’s shoes can cost about $40-55 and the ones that we had made were perfect – no adjustments needed. Also the service is very likeable!