From Hue’s rainy imperial city we took the train to Da Nang. Da Nang is the nearest railway station to Hoi An, our next destination. Once we arrived in Da Nang we just had to ignore the five taxi offers and walk to the bus stop. The bus between Da Nang and Hoi An was supposedly set up by the government to encourage tourists to visit Da Nang and is of course the cheapest option. We were quickly learning that tourists often get overcharged and the same was the case on this bus. The conductor asked for 50,000VND each but we stuck to the actual price and in the end paid the right price 25,000VND. The conductor was sneaky enough to take money off the locals and not give them any change until we had paid. This way he could pretend they had paid the high price he was asking for. We don’t mind tourist prices and local prices too much, but when someone is being so dishonest and quite rude we tend to stand up for ourselves. There’s a split in tourists opinions on this matter. On one hand you can argue that it’s only $1 more for us and gives people on low wages a better life. On the other hand you can stick to your principles and discourage scamming practices, especially when you realise the conductor and driver are splitting the overcharged money and all the money for transporting parcels for locals.
Once at the bus station we didn’t have far to walk to our hotel. We were treating ourselves with a break for Christmas and staying in Hoi An for five nights. We were only 20 minutes walk from the old town, so that’s where we went first.
Hoi An is an old merchants town with traditional houses lining the river and a small area around it. This makes it a nice place to wander around and get an impression of an older Vietnamese city. Hoi An is also famous for it’s tailors and this is one of the main reason tourists visit. On every street there are tailors shops offering bespoke suits, shirts, dresses, leather goods and almost anything else you could want. The choice is overwhelming, even without ladies jumping off motorbikes to try and drum up trade for a certain shop and earn a commision. We were still thinking about whether we would buy anything, but since it was Christmas eve we decided to enjoy the atmosphere of the waterfront and meet a friend in the Irish pub. We had a lovely relaxed evening listening to a live band and catching up. Hoi An is a great city to just watch the world go by.
Our first married Christmas will certainly be different to those that follow. We had decided to find a tailor to make Matthias a suit or two. We looked a little online and picked out a few to visit, based on Tripadvisor, blogs and which tailors have their own workshop. We visited 6 or 7 and eventually decided on Kimmys, a Vietnamese-Canadian owned outfit with their own workshop. The staff were friendly and knowledgeable but gave us time to make decisions about fit and fabrics. All measured up we had to wait two days until the first fitting. When we returned the suit was almost a finished product except for the buttons and sleeve hems. It needed some adjustments to be a little more comfortable and when we returned the next day it was just right.
By accident Zoë spotted a mens tweed jacket in another tailors called A Dong Silk, which we returned to, to see what they could do. They were happy to make a womens version and within 24 hours we were back for a fitting. All being well, we returned 90 minutes later to pick up the finished jacket.
It is amazing how fast clothes are made in Hoi An, especially thinking back to Zoë getting her wedding dress altered and having to wait 6 weeks simple adjustments. Most of the material comes from China, England and Italy, but it is the labour costs that really bring the price of clothing down. For this reason we have a responsibility to use reputable businesses, that pay staff fairly but finding out this information is difficult. Most reviews consider only cost, service and customer satisfaction. We can only hope that the staff of the companies we used are looked after but saying that many large clothing companies use labour in Vietnam to reduce the cost price of their products and make a larger profit.
Aside from the tailoring industry, Hoi An is a beautiful city at night. Every evening as the lights fade the lanterns are switched on and paper lanterns start to float along the river. The traditional silk lanterns add colour and light to the dark streets. Walking along the river to the calls of restaurant staff and boat ride sellers isn’t as relaxing as it could be, but is still enjoyable. Officially visitors are supposed to buy a ticket for the old town costing 120,000 per stay. The ticket give access to up to five of the 22 merchants houses and temples and is supposed to contribute to the maintenance of the old town. We only once got asked for a ticket in 5 days and their ability to police the policy is severely restricted due to the number of routes in and out. We were having a break and not really sightseeing so didn’t visit any of the houses but guess it is worth it to buy the ticket if you want to. After a hard day shopping we made some calls to family and retired to the pub for another relaxing evening. Christmas dinner was available, but rather than be disappointed we had a simple dinner while the rain poured down outside.
The rain was the start of the remnants of typhoon tembin which caused so many casualties and deaths in the Philippines. We spent a few rainy days catching up on emails and resting. In a break between rain showers we borrowed some bikes and cycled to the beach. Hoi An has two beaches but we chose the one which is rumoured to be nicer, An Bang. The ride through the rice paddies past colonial style villas and orange trees was quite nice despite the grey weather. When we arrived some ladies tried to get us to park our bikes with them for 20000 VND but we opted to leave them at one of the cafes for ‘free’ if we had a drink. Bikes parked we went for a walk along the beach. It is a nice sandy beach but the waves were fierce and the views a little restricted. We still had a lovely barefoot walk and dipped our feet in the sea. We can imagine it would be a great place to go in summer.
Soon our break was over and we tucked into our final breakfast buffet before departing for Nha Trang.