Hoi An is a tourist favourite in Vietnam. It’s an inviting river side city with nice a mixture of old French and Chinese architecture, renowned for amazing food and it’s legion of tailors who claim they can whip you up any garments you can imagine, usually within 24 hours. Indeed you cant walk down a street without having restaurant touts shouting out invitations and random women accosting you with demands of “you buy some clothes from my shop!”. The most common things people get made are suits and shirts, and I had grand plans of my own. But first we were hungry after our long bike ride into town. Simon and Carla (from our Halong bay cruise) had given glowing recommendations for a place known as Mermaid Restaurant, so Sophie, Doug and I decided to track it down and spoil ourselves with our first expensive meal. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who had heard good things because the place was packed. I ordered a dish of squid stuffed with pork and glazed with a delicious honey and chili sauce. It was one of the tastiest things I have eaten.
After dinner we went back to the hotel, which was already closing up at only 10pm, and scoured the Internet for pictures of suits to try and get made for me while also reading reviews of tailors in Hoi An on Trip Advisor. We ended up finding an amazing suit in a Tom Ford catalogue, and one tailor which consistently got good reviews for suits was Mr Xe. The next day we headed down to Mr Xe and showed them the Tom Ford suit (of course the coolest thing about the suit was the fabric, which we couldn’t get here). I wanted a 3 piece suit and chose out a dark charcoal cashmere fabric with some pimping pale pink silk for the lining. After choosing the material Mr Xe himself showed up to take my measurements. He turned out to be an amazing character, a diminutive, incredibly camp Vietnamese man who was very good at making suits.
I had to wait a day for my first fitting, so went off to find another tailor recommended by Simon get some shirts made. I ended up finding the right shop number but on the wrong street and ended up at a place called Nu Ni where I commissioned some cotton shirts, a brown pinstripe waistcoat, a brown wool trench coat and a long black skirt for a friend. From here the next two days were essentially spent running back and forth between these two tailors for fittings and getting my clothes adjusted. They all tended to be way too tight on first fitting, but after some alterations I was happy with all the end products.
While waiting for the clothes to be made we tried to find some fun places to drink in the apparently quite city. Our plan to find a place was to walk to the center of the old quarter an wait for club touts to find us, and sure enough it wasn’t long before some dodgy looking guys on motorbikes came past waving flyers for a place called Why Not Bar and offering a free moto taxi ride there. We jumped on (incidentally it seems every city in Vietnam has a Why Not bar, cafe, shop and kitchen sink). It turned out to be a dirty dive bar on the out skirts of town which was pretty full of backpackers. I bought a pint of beer which came with a free vodka redbull bucket and headed upstairs where I bumped into Owen and Chantel from the DMZ tour in Hue.
After finishing our drinks an adding some graffiti to the pen scared walls we decided to bounce and started on the long walk back to town. On the way there we were jumped by more motorbike touts and this time got ferried off to a place called The Sun Bar. On the way there the moto boys took us across the river to a part of the city we hadn’t been to, and then down some dark and sketchy looking back alleys. I began to think “oh shit, there is no sun bar and we’re about to get robbed”, but just then we rounded the corner to the garish red neon lights of the Sun Bar. This place was full of more backpackers and had a computer in the corner where you could pick your own tunes to play. The bar staff was also pretty excitable, dancing away behind the bar all night. They seemed to have a thing for Owen and dragged him behind the bar for a dance too.
We had turned up with an old conical vietnamese straw hat Sophie had found on the street, and during the night some other people found it at the side of the club and started dancing with it. Sophie went up to them and said “um excuse me, but my friend needs his hat back”, and pointed to Doug, who they assumed was Vietnamese and embarrassedly handed the hat back to. The next day Sophie had to head back north to Hanoi to catch a flight to India, and Doug and I said our groggy hungover goodbyes to our traveling companion of the past week.
After spending the day running back and forth between my two tailors in the sweltering heat, trying on stupidly warm suits and sticky silk shirts we met back up with Owen and Chantel for dinner and more drinking. There was a row of restaurants along the river with 4000 dong Bia Hoi (25 cent beers). We went to the first one and ordered a round. While sitting with our cheap beers the hawkers started rolling up to sell their wares. There was one particular funny moment when an excessively cute young girl came buy selling bracelets. Doug, Owen and I being heartless bastards refused to look, but sensing weakness the young girl locked onto Chantel and zoomed up to her side and began pressing junky plastic jewel bracelets into her face, making puppy dog eyes and murmuring “mew mew mew please”. We all broke down laughing as Chantel writhed with guilt and slowly broke down to the girls passive aggressive selling tactics. Eventually she cracked and bought an overpriced piece of junk bracelet and the girl promptly vanished into the night.
Taking that little incident as our cue to leave we moved next door for the next round of cheap drinks. Here our next visitor was a jittery, bug-eyed Dutch guy who turned out an acquaintance if Owen and Chantel’s. He strutted over and said “do you mind if I join you”. We said no problem. Dutch Kevin, as he came to be known, turned out to be slightly peculiar. Another restaurant and another round of beers later and our next hawker came by trying to sell Chinese zodiac crap for the upcoming Chinese mid-autumn festival. The wares were really badly made clay whistles in shapes which vaguely resembled deformed versions of the Chinese zodiac. The opening price was 3 for a dollar. She left without a deal. About 20 minutes later the same lady (I think) came back with glazed versions of the clay whistles. Just for fun we decided to haggle and we ended up becoming the proud owners of 10 deformed zodiac animal whistles for one dollar.
We lined the whistles up on our table and a few amused vietnamese passers by had a look and laughed as Owen asked “You buy? Good price!”. Dutch Kevin then decided to get in on the action and started shouting manically “You buy! You buy!” at every passing buy Vietnamese person in a bad Vietnamese-English accent. The rest of us cringed and awkwardly looked at each other as this went on far past the point of of humor and started to get a little racist. By this point we were starting to get some dark looks directed our way and decided to bounce back over to The Sun Bar before we got jumped.
The sun bar wasn’t as happening as the previous night, and the dancing bartenders look forced and fatigued. We decided to put on some tunes. Dutch Kevin drew his final straw with me by pulling the despicable party foul of stopping someones tune mid song, leaving an awkward pause, then changing it to his own track. To make it worse he did it to our tune The Smiths – Panic on the Streets of London, which Owen had queued up, and swapped it to Jason Maraz.
At about this time Owen came up to me and said he just realized I was wearing a Bear Vs. Shark t-shirt and that they were one of his favorite bands. We talked about them for awhile and I told him my favorite song of theirs was The Great Dinosaurs With Fifties Section and we decided to play it and see what happened. We had been joking earlier about playing some music that would clear the bar, and after we rocked out on the dance floor alone to this song we looked up and saw everyone making a beeline for the exit and the bar was indeed empty. We laughed at a successful mission and then decided to leg it too, before the bar tenders could get angry at us. Outside we found Dutch Kevin had ditched us for some other Dutchies that he had found in the bar, and that they were looking for somewhere to go do Karaoke. We left them to their hopeless search (by this time everything that wasn’t a backpacker bar was closed) and went home.
On my last morning in Hoi An I did my tailor run and collected all my clothes. As I was leaving Mr Xe’s he bought me a beer before he took off into the distance on his bike like Vietnam’s own queer eye for the straight guy after a job well done.