Our first priority was to check in and then explore the tailors in Hoi An. “Hello Mr Ben and Miss Nicole,” we were enthusiastically greeted as we walked past our hotel reception in Hoi An, Vietnam. The service for our budget hotel, Hai Au Hotel, was impeccable. As we wandered out the hotel on our first adventure, the 35 degree heat hit us like a brick wall.
Ben and I stopped in our tracks; we looked at each other, and promptly walked back into the comfort of the hotel air conditioning. For the first time in our travels so far, our hotel had a swimming pool. It didn’t take long for us to don our bathers and jump into the refreshing water. We had been saved from the oppressive heat. For the rest of the afternoon we alternated from the sun lounger to the cool water, leaving only briefly to get another beer.
Later in the day, feeling only a little guilty, we walked down to the old town area to have a look around. This was the star attraction of Hoi An. The streets were narrow and shops crowded into the sidewalks. We were called out to repeatedly, “pants, ma’am?”, “scarf for you, mister?” A long winding river sat next to the old town, with restaurants either side. A fruit and vegetable market sat at one end of the town, which had an offensive smell that carried in the warm air. There didn’t seem to be many other people wandering around.
One shop we walked past had an array of leather sandals for sale. Before we knew it, Ben had opted to have handmade leather sandals tailored to his size 13 feet for only a few USD. We had to pick them up the next day. Our next stop was Bebe, one of the tailors that Hoi An is famous for. Walking through the door, we were whisked away to an air conditioned table and given an array of books to select designs and materials of whatever we could imagine. Ben chose six shirts and two pairs of pants, while I selected one dress and one pair of pants. They took our measurements and we were out the door before we knew it, being told to return the next day for a fitting.
That evening we went to meet our friends, Sarah and Shaun, for dinner next to the river. The dark night was lit up with colorful lanterns hanging from string that zigzagged the top of the alleys. Out of what felt like nowhere, millions of tourists lined the streets. The town that was sleepy before was now alive with the pulse of tourists. I would not have believed the town could have housed this many people during the day had I not seen it myself. Restaurants expected reservations for a Monday night. We were lucky to get into one of the better known restaurants, Cargo Club, for dinner. The Vietnamese dishes were amazing, the food had certainly improved the further we moved down the country. The specialties included little white rose dumplings, tasty “three best friend” spring rolls and cau lau (noodles). We tried all three and can confirm they are delicious.
After dinner we went to the Dive Bar, according to the Lonely Planet, the “best bar in town”. We had numerous cocktails and swapped tales of the day’s adventures. Before we knew it the bar was closing as it was midnight and we were turfed out onto the street. We didn’t have far to walk home, but unfortunately we did have to walk past the now closed food market, overrun with rats and cockroaches, and past some scary looking dogs. I screamed more than once, but thankfully my cocktail cardigan was keeping me from completely freaking out.
The next morning we were a little slow to get going. We had another swim in the pool and took it easy. At lunchtime we headed back to the town and met up with an old colleague of mine, Nicola, and her family. They happened to be vacationing in Hoi An at the same time as us. We shared a few Bia Hoi (local beer) and caught up on the past four years. I am very lucky to have worked for a firm that was more like a family than a place of work. It was like being reunited with a cousin that I hadn’t seen for a long time, which bought with it a sense of belonging which was nice to have so far from home.
The next few days were a repeat of the above. We went back for two fittings for our tailored clothes. Ben finally had dapper business clothes that reached all the way to his ankles and wrists. His days of crop tops and three quarter pants are over. We went out for dinner and drinks in the quaint town, but this time going home by “curfew” (which is actually real for locals) at 10pm. We ate more delicious food and swam in the pool many times. It was a lifestyle I was quite enjoying and I was more than a little sad when it was time to leave.
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