Hoi An straddles a navigable river near the coast of the South China Sea. Its location made it an important stop on the Sea Silk Route, but long before that it was a prominent player in the spice trade. It has had many names and been inhabited by different people over its long history of at least 2000 years. Many of the buildings in the old district today date from the late 1500s, which has earned Hoi An status as a UNESCO World Heritage site as a well-preserved example of an Asian Trading Port.
The name Hoi An means “peaceful trading place.” For hundreds of years, the town was home to Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Portuguese merchants, among others, as well as the Vietnamese ethnic groups. Tourism is nothing new here, and Hoi An knows how to cater to the tastes of foreigners while strongly preserving its Vietnamese character. The restaurants do a fine job with a variety of cuisines, while the shops carry a broad range of high-quality goods. There are strong local craft industries in ceramics, textiles, wood, and leather. Most notable are the tailor shops, which can produce fine clothes to your specifications in a matter of days. If you want to look like a million bucks in a business suit, this is the place.
This was an opportunity not to be missed! Our group followed our tour director’s recommendation and flocked to shop #93, where a charming woman name Quyen helped us select fabrics and designs and measured us for some new clothes. I had no trouble choosing an ultra-fine wool/silk blend for a classic blazer and a shimmery, silk taffeta for a blouse, but I needed two or three coordinating fabrics for something special I had in mind — a traditional áo dài, which is the Vietnamese national costume. The shop didn’t have a combination that would work.
No problem. In Indochina, they let nothing stand in the way of making a sale. Quyen borrowed a bicycle for me, and off we rode through the bustling old streets to her home, which sits above a fabric shop. The bike was too short for me, and I discovered after the first minute that it had no brakes, so the trip was even more exciting than expected, but I survived it. In the shop, I found some fabrics that I thought would work, although it was a tough decision. They were not what I had originally envisioned, and it was very hard to imagine the results with nothing but bolts of fabric. Then Quyen led me down narrow, hidden, twisting alleyways to an embroidery shop, where we selected the designs for the blouse.
Karel joined me back at the shop, and we ordered a nice, cotton shirt with Asian detailing, for him. Quyen set an appointment with us for late the next day, to do a first fitting and ensure the garments were turning out as expected.
The town was even more beautiful and vibrant at night. Some of the streets of the old section were closed to motorized traffic, and pedestrians and bicycles took over. Along the river, vendors hawked boat rides and floating candles. We heard lively traditional music and marveled at the colorful silk lanterns —a local craft industry— lighting the bridges, hanging in trees, and adorning every shop front.
Everywhere we go, people smile at us and say to Karel, “Ah, Happy Buddha!” Some even give his belly a little rub (for good luck). In Vietnam, this is a compliment, but also amusing. The Happy Buddha is a man of good and loving character, admired for his wisdom in contentment with life as it is. I think I see the resemblance.This entry was posted in Honeymoon 2013