Fashion and Food in Hoi An

Kelly walking around town in the rain, while tri-shaw men hide out under their bike canopies.

Hoi An is a super popular tourist city in central Vietnam. It has some of the best preserved architecture and gets its street cred with travelers by having the world’s cheapest tailors who can make clothing to fit to your body (anything you want, like a wedding dress, jeans, a suit, or a coat). It also is the gastronomic hot spot of Vietnam, as it has a couple of specialties that can only be found in Hoi An. Add to this all a pretty good beach, just a 15 minute bike ride away from the center of town, which is best not in the rainy season, unfortunately for us, and you have a cool, although heavily-touristed, city

On our way to Hoi An, we embarked on our very first sleeper bus. Everything was going fine. We had our own individual berths and then, suddenly, a brick came flying through the darkness and crashed into the window next to Ellie’s head. Ellie was luckily not in her berth, as she was thoughtfully and patiently, listening to me whine about the Vietnamese music blasting next to my brain. (If only I knew that, just how used to this music I would become.) Regardless, our bus stopped for about 2 hours on the side of the road, while men put loads and loads of tape on the window and essentially did nothing about the problem at all.

Getting to Hoi An in the pouring rain was another challenge, but we quickly found a clean hotel room and began our immense pleasure for Hoi An food immediately after throwing down our bags. We spent our time, eating a huge amount of food, walking around the picturesque streets that have twinkling cafes and beautiful lanterns at night-time, and taking any nice weather we had to ride our bike to the beach and sightsee.

Kelly in front of the Japanese covered bridge.

A snack on our bike ride home. A nice view and a shrimp and orange salad.

The Hoi An market in the center of town is an aromatic chaotic place. Women race by with whole fish, men try to get you to buy their herbs, and grannies sell the famous Vietnamese coffee grounds. We visited the market as part of a cooking course we signed up for with the Red Bridge cooking school. Their cooking school is a few kilometers down the river by boat at a very lush property where they unveil the secrets of Vietnamese cooking.

In Vietnam, many women chew on betelnut which is similar to chewing tobacco and addictive. It turns their teeth an unsightly shade as though they got punched in the mouth.

Kelly on the boat to the cooking class.

Our chef in the gardens of the Red Bridge Cooking School.

Studying our notes and recipes with the rest of the cooking class.

Kelly, proud with her Vietnamese spring rolls from scratch, even the rice paper. This was maybe the first thing she has ever cooked besides toast.

Ellie with a shrimp Vietnamese pancake. Yum.

Eggplant in a Claypot

Spicy seafood salad in a pineapple with fruit

After eating all of that food at the cooking course, it wasn’t very logical to get clothes tailor-made, but we’re not very logical anyway. The women were not very tactful at times about “adding” extra material for a Western woman, but I quickly grew a tough exterior about it. I got a pair of jeans made and Ellie got a dress and some shorts and pants made. It’s all really affordable. My jeans cost 15 USD. I will say that they weren’t exactly what I wanted, but after 3 fittings, I figured they were good enough.

Our tailor looks ever so enthused about making our garments. Most Vietnamese look this enthused on a regular basis though.

So once, we had finished our clothes, we decided that it went well enough to try for a cheap pair of shoes. I always had this dream of custom-making Nike high-tops, but on the Nike website, they’re obscenely expensive. I thought Hoi An was a good place for some custom high-tops and Ellie wanted some leather shoes. I chose my grey leather, paid (after being told I had to pay in advance) and hoped for the best. I should have hoped harder. My shoes came back blue. I tried to politely ask the shop-owner who hadn’t been there yesterday if we could change the color to the original one I chose the swatch of. He grew very agitated and nervous about something quickly. The shopkeepers began pulling the shoe displays off the front porch and acting suspicious. Maybe they were about to get busted, as everyone on the whole block was doing the same. Suddenly, the man’s aggravation got turned towards me. He started screaming at the top of his lungs, veins popped from his red neck and he threw a chair against a wall, muttering expletives at us the whole time. Some girls we had been chatting with were i the backroom, trying to makr complaints about their wrong shoes as well and the shop-owner wouldn’t let us speak with them. He literally cornered them in the back-room. Then came the last straw, he threw the Nike’s at Ellie’s head. We decided he had reached some kind of point in his anger, where it was best for us to leave and forget about the 12 dollars lost.

Lesson is: Never go to this shoe-shop while in Hoi-An.

The shop-owner retreating in rage.

Disclaimer: While our last couple of blogs haven’t shed the Vietnamese in such a positive light, with the money stealing and the shoe-throwing (and most of the time, they’re not much better than that anyway), the country is still really beautiful, the food amazing and there are “some” nice people. Don’t let our commentary scare you if you try to visit. Just be on your guard and try to ignore there demeanors. Don’t take it personally.

The new pants.

The new shoes.

The new shorts.

After our bad afternoon, the rain had figuratively and literally cleared and we decided to move on from the bad time. There are these food stalls in Hoi An, which produce the most amazing food at really cheap prices. The people who run the family stalls are incredibly friendly and willing to help. They even helped us when our 500,000 dong bill ripped in half. In Vietnam, if a bill has a rip in it, they won’t accept it and you have to take it to the bank. It was a weekend and it was our biggest bill. The owners slyly taped it up for us to pass on somewhere else. While we ate spicy lemongrass tofu and the special Hoi An wontons, we spotted Sophia and Paula, the girls who were marooned in the shoe-shop after we left. They spoke of being scared of the shop-owner, but being released after we left. We drank beer with them and then followed a flyer to the other side of the bridge to go to a bar that was promising free drinks all night, just so they could get more tourists in the desolate joint.

Food Stalls

Kelly's first Motorbike ride (and driver) to the bar, mostly because it was a free ride. Safety first, of course.

Free White Russians! Wait, what is that red stuff at the bottom. Possibly the worst drink in Vietnam. It tasted like pepto-bismol and puke. No wonder it was free drinks all night.

Hoi An is famous for their lantern-making as well.

Even though, the people were almost worse in Hoi An than Hanoi, I would go back in an instant to the charming, well-preserved town, with the best food in Vietnam.


1 Response to “Fashion and Food in Hoi An”

  1. 1 G March 5, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    So glad the “crazy horrible shoe throwing man” story has finally made it on….love the way you tell it! xoxoxo

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