One of the highlights of our trip to Vietnam was our time in Hoi An, in the heart of the country. This used to be a traders’ town visited by merchants from all over the world especially the Chinese and Japanese. Today it’s a slice of old Vietnam-a UNESCO heritage list town with more than 800 old buildings. What the town is better known as is a place where you can get custom made clothes and footwear ! The main street, Tran Phu, has more than 100 shops filled with material, design, catalogues (they are master copiers!) and a willing- to- please staff! Most of the tailoring is carried on in sweat shops outside the town and quite often a svelte evening dress is delivered in 2 hours!
The other thing that the town is famous for, are the handmade silk lanterns that it makes which are foldable. More than 10, 000 lanterns are exported every year. At night the town is a magical sight lit by the soft glow of the lanterns and a stroll along the Thu Bon River is a must! Every 14th of the month, the residents switch off electric lights even street lights and the only light is provided by these lanterns. Traditional games, food and music are on the itinerary- what an innovative idea to go back in to time:)
Well how do you go about getting a dress or a suit or winter jacket made? You can browse the catalogues or if you have done your homework and brought your own designs, they can copy that for you. Choose from the bolts of colourful silk, chiffon, knits and cotton stacked in the shops. Generally the cost of a dress varies between 20-30USD. You are measured and called for a fitting in about 2 hours. If the fitting is ok you get the dress immediately otherwise it’s sent back to the factory for adjustments. There are up-market shops like Yaley and A Dong Silk which are a bit expensive and other mid -range shops. We used a shop called Hugo II on Tran Phu street. My daughter had a dress made in chiffon- really good fit!
The local tourist office sells a ‘five attractions’ ticket which entitles you to visit five ancient buildings of your choice. We visited an old Chinese assembly hall now a temple, and some exquisite old homes where the owners give you a guided tour. The Old Town is completely closed to motorized traffic and is a pleasure to stroll through. There are art galleries filled with colourful lacquer work and paintings- worth a splurge!!
Our stay at Life Heritage Resort on the river was another highlight. Wonderful rooms with daybeds outside, overlooking a garden and a spanking new Spa in the heart of town was a great experience. There are bikes provided by the hotel which you can use and a host of restaurants in town provide an eclectic choice ranging from Indian to Italian.
The day trip from Hoi An to My Son, the ruins of the Cham Kingdom from the 7th to the 12th centuries was a revelation. Hindu gods and goddesses, Shiva lingams, all in the bowl like valley surrounded by misty mountains- truly our Indian Jones experience of the trip! There are groups of ruins and an outdoor theatre with a sensuous Apsara dance. Very atmospheric! In all Hoi An is a great destination and should be on every one’s Vietnam itinerary.