Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Suit Up!

The first thing you hear about Hoi An is that it is Vietnam's premiere destination for suit shopping. It certainly lives up to it's reputation. But before I go into any detail about my time in Hoi An so far let me tell you how I got here...

He's a big lad
Sunday was my last day in Nha Trang. The trip to Hoi An from Nha Trang takes 12 hours so the best choice is to take a sleeper bus overnight. This also saves on a night's accommodation. Sunday arrived as Sundays do, after Saturday and 24 hours before Monday (Rebecca Black would be pleased at my understanding of the days of the week.) I set off in the morning and booked my bus ticket for that evening along with four other Englishmen I'd met while traveling. The bus was leaving at 19h30 so I had another full day in Nha Trang. I had yet to see the giant, seated Buddha statue and decided it would be best to head straight there.

So to the giant Buddha I went (well, Gad and I went, but typing 'I' is so much simpler.) The Buddha is perched on a hill overlooking Nha Trang and there are some fantastic views from the top. To get to the seated  Buddha you must walk past a pagoda, a sleeping Buddha and a giant bell which weighs one and a half tons. I was told that if you stand at the bell the monks would pray for you so I was quite keen to put their prayers to the test. Unfortunately we arrived during the monks' afternoon nap and not a single prayer was heard. Not particularly fussed, we walked the rest of the steps up to the seated Buddha and milled around on the top of the hill, taking pictures and looking like typical tourists. Craving coffee, we headed back down and found the pagoda was being opened. Wanting to take pictures, we asked if we could go in. A monk explained that we could not take pictures until we had done three 'wais' in front of the Buddha statue in the pagoda. A 'wai' is merely a dip of the head and torso with the palms of your hands pressed together in front of your chest. We did our 'wais', snapped some photos and headed off to the nearest coffee shop, 30 metres away.

After a great day on our feet in Nha Trang it was time to lift them and hit the sleeper bus. All five of our group had been put at the back of the bus with no aisle between sleeping berths. The berths aren't exactly very wide so a lot of spooning went down on the trip to Hoi An. It wasn't uncomfortable, but the road wasn't exactly smooth and every bridge is slightly raised above the road level and acts as an extended speed bump. Everyone on the bus would be asleep and the bus would cross a bridge, everyone would be flung a foot above their berths and be rudely woken by the landing. We probably crossed twenty bridges that night.

This kinda makes up for the spooning
Hoi An is an amazing place. I would cross all those bridges twice to get here and still be pleased. The ancient town's architecture is stunning, the market is alive with activity and the whole place lights up at night like no other place in Vietnam. Everywhere you go the streets are lined with shops for suits, dresses and shoes. It's little wonder why Hoi An has been attracting tourists for years.

Gad had come to Hoi An with a single goal in mind: to get a tailored suit. He'd been preparing since Da Lat and was really eager to get going. So, after checking into a hotel, we set off to scout for a good place to buy a suit. Scouting for a suit shop in Hoi An is simple, close your eyes and point in any direction - you will be pointing at a suit shop when you open your eyes. Being sensible people we didn't just walk into any suit shop, we spent about half the day comparing prices and suit quality and pretending to know more than we actually do about suits and how they should look. At this point I would like to add that I'm not getting a suit, not yet at least. When Chris joins me for a month in June we'll be stopping off in Hoi An to do our suit shopping together.

Gad trying on his tailor-made suit
Gad settled on a place run by the famous Mr Xe, an incredibly flamboyant and openly gay Vietnamese man with a really good reputation for making fine suits. I will never buy a suit anywhere but in Vietnam. The prices are so cheap they make everywhere else's prices cry in shame in a dark corner. Gad is getting a cashmere suit with 2 extra pairs of pants, a waistcoat, 2 pure cotton shirts, a trenchcoat and 6 ties for under $300. And it takes only 2 days for everything to be ready. He's picking it up tomorrow morning, having been measured for it yesterday.

It's impossible to talk about Hoi An and not talk about suits, but I'll try add something extra. Hoi An severely lacks a night life. The entire town shuts down after 11PM, but that actually turns out to be a good thing. Very few people are out on the streets at night which means you're able to enjoy the beauty of the place with no other tourists around. And believe me Hoi An is ten times more amazing at night.

Lights start coming on around 5PM and more and more lights flicker into life as it gets darker. By 8 o'clock the town is lit almost entirely by lanterns and takes on a warm, yellow tone. After going to a night club, the walk back to our hotel was breathtaking. There was nobody out and it felt like the entire town was ours. The streets were quiet and the whole of Vietnam seemed, for once, to be resting. It was magnificent.

The market in Hoi An

This certainly makes up for the spooning!

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