Suited and booted in charming Hoi An

by Seb.King

The Vietnamese town of Hoi An is the place to head for an abundance of sunshine, untouched beaches and tailor-made clothes to suit all tastes and desires

Narrow winding streets, idyllic beaches, and tailor-made suits are just a few aspects of what upholds Hoi An as one of Vietnam’s most elegant locations. At night the Old Town of Hoi An is particularly atmospheric, with quaint local shops selling anything from beautiful paper lanterns to antique Vietnamese coffee tables. However, Hoi An cannot simply be defined by just its eccentric craft boutique stalls.
 
Local life
 
Compared to the non-stop traffic of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, the relatively deserted roads of Hoi An are the ideal place to get used to the Vietnamese way of the road. In short, as the woman we rented the bikes from mentioned, “the horn is very important in Vietnam.” This equated to generous use of the horn as well as the indicators as I negotiated my way around the twisting streets.
 
I stayed on the outskirts of the Old Town for around $35 a night and managed to pick up a moped for about $4 a day in order to pop in to town and, of course, to get to the beach.
 
Traditionally a fishing village, the charming riverside restaurants of the Old Town unsurprisingly specialise in providing a diverse range of seafood. From tiger prawns to barracuda, the sheer range of choice, combined with a French style of cuisine, make dinning in Hoi An a real pleasure. After eight o’clock the roads of the Old Town are closed off to traffic, allowing for a peaceful meal with only the sound of the river to compete with.
 
Indeed, a romantic ambience was inherent throughout Hoi An. Even though I was clearly staying alone in my room, the cleaners of the Thien Thanh (Blue Sky) Hotel were determined not to deprive me of my quota of rose petals on my bed and in the bathroom! Despite my lack of a partner, I thought this was a nice touch.
 
With crystal-clear oceans, and long stretches of practically untouched coastline only a five-minute moped journey away, I spent the majority of my time on the beach. In the more popular areas of the coastline, where sun loungers are available to rent, I got involved in a local beach football competition. My heavy western feet sunk deep into the pure white sand as my fellow team mates effortlessly glided from goalmouth to goalmouth. Everyone, myself included, found the fact that my legs appeared to sink a metre into the sand whenever I ran very amusing, and after just 60 minutes of hardcore beach football, it was time to return to my lounger, and cool off in the sea. I was completely spent. 
 
Suit you, sir
 
The next day I decided to explore the undeveloped region of the Hoi An coast. Snapping the kickstand of the bike down at the end of the road, I made my way into a potential beach bum’s paradise. No tourists. No shops. Just me, the Asian sun, a towel and light blue sea. In the far-off distance, shipping boats bobbed up and down on the horizon - and this was as close to civilisation as it got.
 
Other than immaculate beaches, Hoi An is widely renowned for its high quality tailor-made suits. I decided to test the latter. Having put aside $150 for an entire outfit, I was curious as to what I would be able to afford. Going on the recommendation of an Australian friend staying in my hotel, I took the short walk down Ba Trieu Street and found the designated tailor shop, “ToTo Boutique”.
 
After some extreme haggling with the seamtress, we settled on a deal that involved an Asian collar hemp suit jacket and trousers, four accompanying shirts, and a pair of matching leather shoes. All for, yep, you guessed it, $150. Not too shabby.
 
When picking up the suit a day later, I was astonished by the quality of the seam work as, unlike many other cheap suits, the seams were all double lined. Even after the suit was tailored to my measurements and cut from my chosen linen, the seamstress was more than happy to make any last-minute changes. 
 
Touring temples
 
I turned into bed early that night, as at five o’clock in the morning I had booked a sunrise tour to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the ruins of the Champa kingdom, the My Son temples. The journey took about an hour by taxi, and before long I was wondering around the lavish jungle scenery in search of lost ruins. Nature has claimed the majority of the ancient My Son Temples back for herself. Vine plants, roots of trees and grasses all grow freely in the cracks of these historic relics. However, UNESCO has managed to salvage a significant amount of artefacts from the blasts of war damage and stabilised a number of the temples, which now operate as museums crammed with ancient handiwork. Entry into My Son cost 65,000 Dong (about $5), whilst the early nature of the sunrise tour made certain that the temples at My Son were not packed with tourists and allowed me to properly explore these mystical temples all on my own.
 
 

Recommendations

 
Where to stay
I stayed in the Thien Thanh Hotel, located on the outskirts of the Old Town. This boutique hotel sports a swimming pool and a fantastic breakfast buffet, which is included in the price of the room. With its elegant, modern, oriental decor and friendly service, the hotel made for a more than pleasant stay.
 
 
 

Seb.King

Ever since breaking my leg by falling off a 12-foot roof one rainy day in 2004, mobility is something I have learnt not to take for granted. After nine months in a full length cast I decided I quite liked my legs being intact, and that I should make the most of them. The manner in which different environments bring about different emotional reactions to different cultures has always fascinated me. For instance, why is it that despite sharing the same planet humans are strangers to their own kind? Travelling around South East Asia in the summer of 2008 allowed me to investigate why culture and society is still a potent coherent for national identities today. From fellow backpackers to members of hill tribes in the Lao rainforest, civic and ethnic nationalism is essentially part of what ‘we’ are. Even if I considered myself as a global citizen, freely travelling from country to country I would never escape the assumptions of others. Accents, languages, appearances, dress senses all converge to give others clear indications of who ‘we’ are, even if we are consciously unaware of it. True, you don’t need to travel the world to be aware of different cultures at work, hell; you probably don’t even need to leave your street. But until you’ve ventured outside your nationalistic boarders one cannot truly understand what exactly it is to be seen as the alien in a foreign country. It makes a mockery of extreme ethnic nationalism, instead highlighting the discourse that the world is there to be travelled, there to be shared, and people no matter what country they come from are they are there for each other. The latter may sound clichéd and sickly, but if the world is full of imaginary lines and walls, why do we persist in making them a constant reality?