Oooh! Suit You, Sir!

2nd November, Hoi An, Vietnam

Ian writes:

After that hellishly long stay on the bus I was not in quite as good a state as Manda. I had barely had a wink of sleep, for the same reasons that she found the journey unpleasant, and to top it all off, I was experiencing the kind of headache pain that felt like Freddie Krueger was randomly stabbing the back of my right eyeball, particularly when I was talking to someone and trying to concentrate on the task in hand. Like checking in to the hotel, for example. 3 paracetamol and a couple of hours of proper sleep soon brought me back to something resembling a human.

I could quite easily have slept in all morning but it seemed silly to waste the time that we had gained by travelling through the night. So, by 10am we were up and about, checking out Hoi An and all it had to offer.

This town was recommended by numerous people because of its architecture and also because of its reputation as a place to get good clothes made for dirt cheap prices. We weren't sure about the tailoring aspect yet - we might not be in town long enough to place an order and pick it up - but we soon found out that the rumours were all true. Every second shop was a cloth shop/tailors (or some variation on that theme), and every third shop was selling art. I can't really use the term art gallery, because many of the pieces were the same from shop-to-shop. Regardless, it was a change from the usual collection of tourist tat. That's not to say that the people here were not wise to tourists' propensity for spending; there were still loads of hawkers latching on at every available opportunity to sell postcards, lighters and so on.

A street hawker, selling food of some description, goes about her business in Hoi An.

So, we walked around the streets of Hoi An looking out for and avoiding hawkers, but not cars - in many of the streets in the old part of town, cars are forbidden. Those mopeds can be pretty darn dangerous, though! All the same, it felt very quiet around the old part of town, and added to the fact that there were so many old-fashioned buildings it did feel a bit like we'd been transported back in time. We visited 300-year-old family homes that were open to the public (for a price), several Chinese assembly halls, and just took in the low tiled roofs of all the other buildings in the town. At the eastern end of town is a covered Japanese Bridge which we walked up to and through. Like the rest of Hoi An, it looked rough around the edges and was showing its age, but this was what gave the buildings here such character.

The view from inside the Japanese Bridge, Hoi An.

There are guidelines for any new building here that have helped preserve the old-style feel of Hoi An, and this is reinforced by Unesco listing it as a World Heritage Site.

Since we were here, and since we'd walked the circuit and seen all the nice old buildings, we had to at least ask about the price of a suit ...

A few minutes later, Manda had placed an order for a black business-like suit (jacket and skirt, lined) and a Chinese dress. The cost? $32 US for the lot. Moments ago, there were two rolls of fabric on a shelf, but already a young assistant was cutting the rolls to the basic dimensions required. Within 4 hours, the fabric would be made-to-measure clothing. You couldn't buy a pair of jeans for that in the UK!

Manda gets measured up for a jacket/skirt suit combo. A few hours later, the fabric she chose was a suit.

I'm not much of a suit wearer. I don't need to at work, and the occasions that I need to wear something smart for a social event are pretty rare too. But I know I don't have a suit that fits me, and as we walked away from the shop it seemed silly not to get one made up. I might not need it for a while (so let's hope I don't balloon in size), but when I do, I know that I'd kick myself if I had to go out and find an off-the-shelf suit for for £150 when I could have got one made-to-measure for £15. So, I placed an order too.

We went back to the hotel room - an amazing room that got thrown in as part of the $16 bus ticket deal from Saigon to Hanoi - to chill out while the tailors did their thing, then collected them at 5:30pm. Manda tried her dress on first. There was a moment's trepidation for us both - would they be any good? Better than that, the dress fitted perfectly, as did her suit. I tried mine on and found the same attention to detail. Incredible: two suits and a dress - five items - measured, cut, tailored and delivered in under 5 hours. Manda immediately wondered whether we should change the itinerary again so that we'd have some more time to place more orders! This was just such a good deal. But time is limited, and these clothes all need to be carried around or mailed back, so we decided to stick with the plan. We'd got a bargain, we could move on for more adventures ... but that fabric over there would look great as a shirt!