More from Vietnam

The first night in Hoi An was fairly uneventful. We had a terrible meal because I insisted we just stop at the first café we saw and we hadn’t had any time to look for recommendations. We’d’ forgotten to bring along bug spray or long pants for Jess, so I made Grant go back to the hotel to fetch them so we could stay out and explore the delightful town of Hoi An.

The main industry in Hoi An is tailoring. In this small town there are something like 200 tailors. In fact, our cab driver had stopped at his sister’s shop before taking us to our hotel so we could pick up her card. We’’d already had a recommendation from some Canadians we’’d met in Fiji, so we were looking for a particular tailor called Long Silk. Easier said than done! It took us ages to find the shop, and when we did, I wasn’t all that impressed. The ladies were certainly nice, and not pushy like some others, but there just wasn’t much on display as they’’d sold most of their display goods recently. I wasn’t too sure what I really wanted and was uncertain about just choosing from a book. Somewhat disappointed, we headed out to cruise through some other shops. I wanted to pick a tailor that night so that we could order stuff the next morning, and I was getting equally excited and frustrated by the sheer volume of options!

We spotted a few likely options and took some business cards. On the way home we found a small children’s amusement park that was to become a regular stop en route to our hotel. It had this cute little carousel that was powered by a fan, a fishing game, a playground, etc. I’’m not sure what time it actually closed, because it seemed to be open and full of little kids no matter how late we stopped by.

The following day we ended up back at Long Silk because I just couldn’t decide amongst the other tailors. So, having had one or two recommendations for Long Silk, we figured we might as well go there. I spent a long time pouring over the catalogs they had available, and finally ordered a TON of clothes! By mid-afternoon, our order looked something like this:

Tammy:

  • Four cashmere suits with pants & jacket; two with matching skirts and one vest
  • Four cotton long sleeve button down dress shirts
  • Three sleeveless Asian-style silk tops
  • One winter weight cashmere blazer/jacket
  • One traditional Vietnamese outfit (long silk shirt and pants)
  • One silk Chinese style full length dress
  • One pair of silk PJs

Grant:

  • One cashmere suit
  • Two pairs casual cashmere trousers
  • Two corduroy jackets
  • Two cotton short sleeve button down shirts
  • One pair of silk PJs
  • One pair of Cargo pants
  • One cotton long sleeve button down shirt

I can’t remember the exact total for all of this –- but it was something like $700 US. I know mine was under $500 for everything because that’’s the approximate budget I’’d set. We left with heads spinning and second guessed our way back to the hotel as we passed shop after shop with stuff we liked in it. We kept saying: “Oh, I wish I’’d seen THAT jacket, or THOSE pants –- why didn’t we go to THIS shop? They have more on display….”

We had a recommendation for Café 96 so we tried them for dinner. We ran into some fellow Canadians who had been robbed in Cambodia and they told us an amazing story about how they had to bribe the Cambodian police for a report to give to their insurance company. Remembering our own sadly uninsured and electronics-burdened state, we shuddered and instantly started worrying about the guest house we booked in Phnom Penh! The food was excellent, but they never brought my meal. Jessica was sleeping on my lap by this point so we just left. The funny thing was that we fully planned to go back because the food we did receive was rather nice. In Canada, I’’d have been so angry at not getting my food, I’’d have never returned! We went back for lunch later in the week, sat down and ordered drinks. Then a lady came over from the only other table in there and warned us not to eat the food as what she’d just been served wasn’t fresh. Now what to do? We ended up leaving without getting food and BOY was the owner annoyed!

The next morning, I went out to try and get a massage. I walked down the street to a hair salon that had some tables set up in the back so I figured they did massage as well – most of them seemed to. So I asked the lady if she did massage and she didn’t speak much English. Another woman jumped off one of the tables where she was getting a facial and came over to help me. I assumed she worked there? She asked if I wanted a foot massage and pedicure and I mimed rubbing my arms and shoulders and said: “”no, body massage.”” She said OK $5. That sounded about right so I sat down where she motioned for me to wait and she jumped back onto one of the tables to resume her facial. Hmmmm.

I sat there for a few moments, until an older lady on the other table was finished and the first lady motioned for me to get up there. No mention of removing my shirt, and the curtain doesn’t look as though it will screen me from the road outside so I’’m cool with that! The table is grubby and the lady before me has left a clump of hair on it. Ewww. I kind of flick it off, and the shop lady saw me looking and replaced the head towel for me, with a clean-ish one. I lay down and she hauls out some cream, pushes my sleeves up, and proceeds to rub my arms. Meanwhile, I’’m looking around me and realizing how truly filthy this place is. The English speaking woman is still laying on the other table and keeps asking me if I’’m OK. The lady rubs my arms for about five minutes and then my head and neck for about three minutes. Then she is finished! (I am secretly glad because my skin is crawling and I want out of there) I think I must have misunderstood the price, but nope, the English speaking lady insists I owe the shop $5. I pay and leave, vowing to be more careful in the future and I’’m sure they laughed their heads off at me.

I came back to the hotel where Jessica and Grant were happily swimming in the pool. Grant decided to head out to get a haircut. He had almost an identical experience to mine! First, they let a little girl at his hair, and then an older lady came over to help. They snipped two or three times and didn’t really do much but make it uneven rather than shorter or thinner. Then they charged him for the “haircut.” He came back in an equally frustrated mood and we headed back to Long Silk for our fittings.

Amazingly, they had almost everything fully completed! I was led into the back room -– which had an open door and window right into the front of the shop. It was 30 plus degrees and we’’d been walking around quite a bit that morning so, as you can imagine, I was –- erm –- shall we say “glowing” a wee bit. The shop was not air-conditioned. I am standing there in my knickers and bra trying on cashmere. Not only am I hot and disgustingly sticky, people of both sexes keep walking in and out of the room! Modesty went out the window pretty quickly. One poor man wanted to wash his hands before touching some of the silk and the ladies brought him into the back where the sink was. Of course, there’’s me standing there mostly naked. He went an interesting shade of pink, and by that time I’’d been seen by so many people I just laughed it off.

I could not believe the quality that they can turn out in such a short time. There were a few mistakes that they quite happily rectified, and I wasn’t terribly impressed with the dress shirts. They were only OK -– mostly due to the quality of the cotton. Good enough for the price, though. I would say that, unless you’’re one of those people who is hard to fit off the rack, don’’t bother with the dress shirts. One lady was back there trying on her shirts and was SO excited because she’d NEVER been able to find a button down shirt to fit her bust-line. (some of us don’’t have this particular problem!) As for the suits, the zippers seemed a bit cheaper than they would at home, but the material and the workmanship was generally excellent. Both Grant and I had a list of changes, and both of us ordered a couple extra things. He didn’t like the cargo pants –- again the cotton just wasn’t the kind of quality stuff you’’d buy at the Gap! They looked like the kind of thing your Grandmother might make you when you ask her for cargo pants – pockets in all the correct places, but a very distinct “home-made” look about them! He had them made into shorts and ended up leaving them in the hotel because he just didn’t like them. I didn’t like how the silk dress looked on me, but they changed it into a shirt and trouser set for me that was more flattering.

After our fitting, we went for a late lunch. If memory serves, we ate at the Mermaid café. They make really good white roses –- a local delicacy that is sort of a shrimp filled dumpling. Mmmmmmmm. Then we decided to do a tour of the old town by cyclo. Jessica must have overheard what we were planning, because, before we had even left the doorway of the café, she had flagged down not one but two passing cyclos for us! She is figuring out pretty quickly how to get a ride when she’’s tired of walking, and it cracks me up that cyclo drivers stop for her and go where she directs them. Once she and I were just taking a quick spin to the ATM (yes, we spent way too much cash in Hoi An) and back, and the driver suddenly pulls over in front of this shop. I told him no, we wanted to go to the Japanese bridge, and he said: ““the baby wants to shop here!””

We toured the old town for about an hour and a half and checked out an old house, a silk factory, a museum, a temple, and the Japanese bridge. My driver was fantastic –- he saw me taking photos and every time I raised the camera, he’’d pause so I could get a steadier shot. Jessica loved the silk worms she got to pick some up and watch them crawl around. That was the highlight of her day and we heard about the worms and the sugared coconut that they fed her during our tour of the old house for a while afterwards.

The silk factory had a whole bunch of women working there making embroidered pictures. Forget everything you know about embroidery and all your preconceived notions of flowery “Home Sweet Home” samplers hanging on the wall.  These pictures were amazing! From a distance, they looked like paintings or photographs. You had to get your nose a few inches away to see that they were in fact individual stitches. We were so tempted to buy one, and they were reasonably priced when you considered the amount of work that went into each one. They ranged anywhere from about $200 to $2000 depending on the size and level of detail. The one we liked would have taken something like four months to make and was only about $350.  But, we didn’t see a picture that both of us loved enough, and we also figured we’’d see lots of them later. We did, however not of the same quality. I would highly recommend checking out the silk factory in Hoi An if you’’re in the market for either a tablecloth or an embroidered picture.

On the fourth day in Hoi An, I had booked us onto a bus tour to go out to My Son. But, when I tried to get Grant and Jess out of bed, nobody was interested in getting up early. So, I went by myself and they stayed in the pool. The hotel didn’t even charge me for their tour even though I cancelled about a half hour before departure. They met another family with young kids so Jessica had some English-speaking playmates for the first time in a couple of weeks, which was nice.

My Son was amazing, but I’’d say if you’’re only interested in doing one ancient temple sort of thing in South East Asia, then go to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. They’’re both worth seeing, though. I had a blast wandering amongst the ruins and taking photos without having to watch Jessica, and as ever I enjoyed the bus ride out there and back. I am amazed at just how much I am enjoying riding around the Vietnamese countryside. Usually bus rides for me are a necessary evil and, unless the scenery is particularly spectacular, I’’m generally sleeping. Vietnam, however, is a different story. I LOVE just driving around watching the daily life happen all around me. There is always something interesting happening, and the countryside is beautiful.

That afternoon, after a much needed swim for Mommy, we headed back to Long Silk for more fittings. Grant ordered yet more stuff and we went off again to do supper and some shopping while they finished the last minute alterations to our clothes. The shop had offered to have a friend from the post office come to the store to ship our things for us, AND they told us to bring all our souvenirs along as well to put in the box. So, we rushed around like mad for the last couple of hours buying all the things we “needed” to get from Hoi An. We ended up shipping 20kg home for only just over $50! The ladies packed it up and hauled it all away for us, and we filled out the paperwork using the shop as a return address, which is nice in case there are issues with customs.  Exhausted and broke we headed back to the hotel – stopping off at the kiddie amusement park first, of course!

We also stopped at the little drinks stall next door to our hotel for some drinks. The lady there tried to give Jessica a cookie, but she didn’t like it and (tired and grumpy) threw it on the ground. Well, I thought it was rude and was just in the midst of scolding her, when the guy behind us smacked her smartly on the bum! I was gobsmacked! She thought I had spanked her and then wouldn’t believe me later when I said it wasn’t me. Good thing Grant didn’t see that or he would’ve been livid – as I was!

Our final day in Hoi An was pretty laid back. For once we didn’t have to go for fittings, and we’’d decided to take in China Beach and Marble Mountains on the way to Hue, so I spent the morning catching up on the blog, and then we went shopping – again – in the afternoon buying last minute presents for my Mom and Dad. At lunch, Jessica was begging us to unroll a spring roll for her (something she dearly loves to do) so she could see what was inside. Well, these ones were really good so we didn’t want to undo one. Finally we were full and there was one left so we unrolled it to let her examine the insides. We weren’t really paying attention as she listed out the things she could see inside because we’’d heard this before. (she likes to examine what we are eating and I think she takes in nutrition by osmosis because she certainly doesn’t put anything in her MOUTH.) Anyway, she’’s listing contents and I think I hear “ant.” I laugh, and say -– silly girl there’’s no ants in spring rolls. She says oh yes there is and sure enough there’s an ant crawling around and had very obviously been rolled up inside…… and we had eaten the rest of the plate full! Eep.

That afternoon, as we were waiting for the tailor to finish up some presents we were buying for people, Grant decided to have another go at a haircut. He walked into this tiny shack on the outskirts of Old Town. He got THE most amazingly thorough haircut. The guy clipped with electric clippers, than scissors, then manual clippers, then scissors again. Grant was so impressed with the guy he asked him to sort out his beard, too. (a SURE sign of trust) The guy tilts him back in the chair and shaves him, trims his eyebrows, trims hair out of his ears, and then grabs a big long silver stick and rams it down Grant’s ears to clean them out! HE was in there over an hour and came out looking more hair-free than I’ve ever seen him. I almost wanted the guy to do my eyebrows!

All in all, our Hoi An experience was fantastic. Aside from a few minor belly-aches about the hotel, we really loved it there and would like to go back sometime. There were a few power outages while we were downtown and BOY is it dark without the lights. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face – literally! The food was the best of anywhere in Vietnam, and we especially loved the white roses and Cau Lao (sp?). I had some amazing Cuban black bean soup at the Cargo club on our last day there and they make some fantastic pastries as well. Old Town is a beautiful and fun place to explore and seems to ooze charm and character out of every pore. Just sitting in a café and watching the world go by is a truly lovely way to spend the afternoon. Of course, the extensive amounts of retail therapy didn’t hurt, either!

Jessica loved shopping and kept buying –- and breaking –- tiny teapot sets and beaded bracelets. Finally she refused to buy any more breakable tea pots – no mommy, I need a plastic one…. Thankfully, they were cheap! She has developed her queen wave and sits atop Grant’s shoulders as he walks through the crowd and waves at everyone –- or waves from the cyclo. She adores the little green taxis and is starting to refuse to walk anywhere, which is a bit of a bummer with no stroller. She also insists on stopping in every little shrine in every store to check out the Buddha. I think she’s on her way to becoming Buddhist! People adore her here and are constantly giving her presents –- most notably some very annoyingly loud whistles. She has learned to say hello and thank you in Vietnamese and the shopkeepers love it when she says thank you.

Well, I think that about wraps up Hoi An…..and I am late to meet Grant after his cooking lesson in Laos – he’s supposed to be cooking me lunch!

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