5 tips for ordering tailored clothes in Hói An, Vietnam.
My trip through Vietnam last fall was vaguely planned (to leave room for spontaneous fun!) so while I had heard that Hói An was FAMOUS for custom-ordered clothing – I resisted making any plans to get something made until we arrived there. I was happy with the tailor and the experience but I was not happy with my garment. Here is a list so you can learn from my mistakes.
Here are five things to know before ordering custom clothes in Hói An.
1- Find a reputable tailor. Luckily, my friend Amanda had just been to Hói An and had some great advice: “There are like 300 seamstresses of which most are not legit and they will try to “pull you into their places”. Go to Kim Phung, she has a profession store and her “manufacturing” takes place right down the street. She can make your stuff in like 24 hours or so so go there first with your designs or pick something out there and you can most likely pick up next day and take with you – or pay for shipping. I shipped and it arrived three months later.”
Here is my friend Amanda with Kim Phung @ 119 Tran Phu Street, Hói An
2- Choose your items early. I had figured that I’d just pick out something from a book that I liked. That is not how it works. Spend some time looking things up online and save a few photos from different angles to show them how you want the garment to fit. I showed the woman 1 photo and she made some notes and showed me a similar photo in a catalog she already had. I ended up choosing a simple black dress that I thought would be ‘timeless’ in silk. It ended up looking like a frumpy dress you’d wear to a funeral.
3- Choose your fabric and know how to recognize silk. Hói An is famous for silk and silk lanterns. Therefore, I thought I’d get a silk dress! I had even read up on how to tell if it’s actually silk… but then when I got there it seemed like too much of a hassle to get the nice woman to pull strings off the fabric and burn them to prove it was actually silk.
4- Haggle for the best price. For many American tourists, haggling is stressful and the falsely inflated prices make it feel like you’re being cheated. Of course the locals overcharge the tourists sometimes but haggling can be fun! Ask the price, then counter-offer with 1/3 that price and hopefully you’ll come to a price that you both can agree on.
5- Plan an extra day for a 2nd fitting. The garment that they make IS based on your exact measurements, but they will cut it a bit larger to make sure that it fits. My garment was frumpy and didn’t do my figure any favors. With another day to cinch in the waist and adjust the darts, it might have been wearable.
A Vietnamese Adventure Begins: Saigon (HCMC)
Oh how time flies! A year ago, I was making my way through SE Asia and had just met up with my Aussie friend, Troy to travel through Vietnam together.
This face says, “How do you eat this Báhn Xêo, which is larger than my torso?” Troy and I met in Ho Chi Minh City and spent the next day on a tour booked from our hotel, exploring the Mekong River.
The tour was very ‘touristy’ but gave a nice glimpse into the culture of the Mekong and lunch was a vast array of food. Including this giant fried fish.
HCMC was a big, noisy city full of an intense number of motorbikes. We didn’t enjoy it. In an attempt to ‘tourist’, we went to the War Remenants Museum. It had with a bunch of leftover US tanks/planes and interesting exhibits with graphic images of war. It was from the Communist view but I didn’t feel is was entirely propaganda- just the view from the ‘enemy’ in a controversial war. We were ready to move on pretty quickly. The only other entertaining thing we did besides eat a lot of Bahn Mi and gelato was take a walk in the park… where there were groups of high schoolers doing team building activities. Of course Troy inserted himself into the fun and harassed a poor teenager, then tried to put him in the trash can. There were also groups of women doing dance routines.
We HAD to get out of there. After pricing the train from HCMC to DaNang and then finding a flight for THE SAME amount of money, we began our journey north. That night we stayed at a homestay in the darling town of Hói An.
Our homestay was really lovely. The house was new and the hostess was a local chef who gave us cooking lessons.
The best part of cooking class was walking through the morning market, buying the ingredients for our dishes. I adore this photo of colorful legumes and rice.
Everyone in town knew our hostess and she took great care to describe what we were buying to make spring rolls, Báhn Xéo and Cau Lâo: a pork dish made with yellow noodles made only with water from Hòi An.
Hói An has a beach, but we never saw it. Partly because Troy lives in Sydney and partly because of the weather. The rain turned the streets into rivers and when cars would pass by, the waves of water would lap up under our table inside the restaurant. Yeah, there was a lot of rain.
Our favorite hang-out was DK’s hostel, with insanely cheap ‘happy hour’ specials, wi-fi and a pool. We didn’t stay there, but we hung out enough to know that it’s a pretty nice hostel and we booked our onward travel with them. They can hook you up with some great trips. The ‘Top Gear Tour’ to Hue was a popular one- it’s from a popular British TV show with old guys who like cars. I was still determined not to be injured in a motorbike accident so we took the train.
One last tidbit: we met Thuy Anh Nguyen, the star of the Indie movie ‘Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere’ which played in Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. Of course, Troy was happy to give her an acting lesson.
Smooth Sailing: Crossing the boarder from PP to HCMC
This unique structure is the gateway from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City.
Here I got from PP to HCMC:
1- Get a VISA before you go. When traveling overland from Cambodia to Vietnam, you have to get your visa beforehand. Luckily, I was staying at a fantastic hostel in PP (name it here) and I handed over my Passport and $65 to the front desk. They sent it to Kampot and it was back the next day with my Visa.
2- Book a 6-hour bus trip from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
3- Spend an hour going through customs. (I waited much too long to get my passport back. As I watched the groups behind me get their passports, I began to suspect that the higher-cost tour companies get expedited. When they finally handed my passport back, it seemed to have a RED cover and upon closer inspection, they had given me TWO PASSPORTS folded together. I nearly walked out with the passport of some unfortunate Vietnamese woman.)
4- Arriving in HCMC and try to meet up with your friend. Troy had instructions to meet me at the bus but the drop off location isn’t always the clearly listed on the website. I had given Troy the address of the ticket office- but got dropped-off at the bus terminal. I eventually found the ticket office and contacted Troy with the Wi-Fi there.
5- Eat Phó! Troy had been staying in HCMC already and we took a cab back to the hotel, then headed out to find some Phó. Success!
5 things to do in Phnom Penh
This is me, in front of the royal palace as Kate & I walked to our hostel, ‘Me Mates Villa‘. (Weird name, great hostel! They organized my Vietnam visa for $65!) I ended up in PP for 4 days longer than expected but there was so much to do! Here are some things I thought were fun. Also, markets and foot massages.
1- Visit Wat Ounalom and chat with the monks. The day we were there, Honda was handing out envelopes of good luck money. The monks wanted to get their photos taken with us.
2- Stroll the river walk down to the Royal Palace in the cool evening.
3- Watch a traditional Cambodia dance performance at the National Museum. The Apsaras were mesmerizing!
4- Eat/shop/get a pedicure or use the Wi-fi at Sister’s Cafe where women learn hospitality skills to become independent. The service at Sister’s isn’t amazing because each of these woman is in training. They are learning! The food is nice, the store is adorable and the women and kind. Give them your money.
5- Have Lucky the elephant paint your t-shirt at Phnom Tamao Zoo. We paid $150 each for a behind-the-scenes tour with Wildlifealliance.com and it was totally worth it to spend time with such amazing animals and their dedicated caregivers. Please carefully research any tourist sites that feature animals as an attraction. Do not take elephant rides or selfies with tigers. Lucky the elephant has recently fallen ill and needs $40K in treatment. Donations can be made at their website.From their website: ‘Lucky was rescued from traders at the tender age of 6 months, and has been at the Center for almost 15 years. Her gentle nature has made her our Elephant Ambassador, and she has since touched the hearts of thousands and helped inspire the next generation of Cambodians to protect this Endangered species. When the injured elephant Chhouk arrived as a baby, she even took him under her wing and provided the orphaned elephant with motherly comfort. Lucky is an incredible animal that continues to inspire us all.’
All these outdoor activities may leave you dehydrated & exhausted. Plan a mid-afternoon smoothie stop then head back to your (hopefully air conditioned) hostel for a nap.
Retro Trip Recap! Sister Soiree 2009: Belize and Guatemala
Recently, I was organizing my blog by destination and lamented the lack of posts from my pre-blog trips. THEN, I recalled that Jessie and I did a blog for our Sister Soiree trip! I did some sleuthing and found it! Here it is, in eight ‘enhanced’ blog posts with more photos and details than we originally posted (due to slow/expensive internet connection.) Jessie wrote half of these posts but took more than half of the naps on this trip.
Jessie and I are going on a SISTER TRIP! In seven days we are embarking on a 3 week journey in Central America. We have only made basic plans in order to leave time for adventure to find us along the way. (Jessie is sure that I am going to want to ‘do stuff’ all the time so she made me promise that we could have lots of naps.)
Belize is first. Beach, snorkel, swim, sand and maybe some rum. Belize is known for it’s caves and jaguars, both of which are on our “to do” list.
Next, we’ll head north to the Mayan ruins of Tikal.
We are still working out an itinerary. We are starting in Belize and working our way to Antigua, Guatemala where we fly home from. We plan to do the budget-tourist trail of things : ruins, snorkel, volcano, cave tubing, jaguar reserve….
If anyone has any suggestions please share.
Adrienne and I will update the blog as we go when we get the chance.
Sister Soiree 2009: Viva Belize!
Jessie and I arrived at the Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport (BZE) @ 4pm yesterday, got our luggage, cleared customs and then encountered our first travel challenge. We knew we needed to get to the bus station but where was the cue of cabs outside the airport? As we stood on the sidewalk, assessing the situation a fellow American walked out of the airport, friendly chatting with a local in Spanish. During our Houston lay-over, she had stuck out of the crowd with her salon-dreadlocks & North Face gear and I had made a sarcastic comment about her to Jessie. Now I needed her help! (Travel karma is a real thing, folks! Don’t be a jerk!) I ran after her into the parking lot and thankfully her friend agreed to take us to the bus station.
We took the 5:15pm bus to Dangriga on an old American school bus for 2 hours. The heat made our thighs stick to the pleather, just like in middle school. Upon arrival in Dangriga we found Val’s and signed up for bunk beds for 2 nights ($44us).
Val is friendly and let us know that we were getting the last of the bunk bed because they were all reserved for the Settlement Day Festivities! We set up our beds and head out to explore Dangriga!
There is a big river that runs right through town and out to sea. There are fisherman everywhere. And the red snapper looks delicious!
Sister Soiree 2009: Pre-Settlement Day Festivities
Wednesday night the drumming started at dusk. Since the 19th was a national holiday and no one had to work, they got started partying early. Everyone says hello and smiles and we end up sitting on the curb watching people dance in the street before we wander on.
Dangriga had a great vibe – since even the locals were on holiday- not just us!
It gets dark at 5:30pm here too! It seems unfair to have so little light in the tropics, but it is keeping me from burning into a crisp. (Jessie has year-round Chaco tan-lines and a Vitamin D deficiency, so she’s loving the sun.)
The locals kept insisting that we wouldn’t be needing our beds that night because the party goes on until sunrise. Jessie, Abby, Janelle (our new friends from Bend, Or) and I took a taxi out to Malibu beach and waited for the band to get started…at 11:30pm- no wonder the party goes until dawn. We played cards on the beach (We called it ‘Abby Always Wins!’ but it was basically UNO with a 52-card deck.) Janelle was really into arm wrestling every we met. She was good!
After a few attempts at dancing to ‘Diamond’s drumming, we headed back into town, a bit disappointed that the night was so low-key. The streets were still busy with drunken festivities as Jessie and I headed back to Val’s. We’d had enough Punta Rock (rap/reggae mix music and or lifestyle) for the night and the drumming outside our hostel would signal the beginning of Settlement day at sunrise.
Sister Soiree 2009: Settlement Day Parade
We woke up at 8am and realized that the first great thing about Settlement day was that they don’t start the boat-landing ceremony right outside our hostel! Nice. We got some yummy scrambled eggs and Journey/Johnny Cakes for breakfast.
Then we stumbled across our new friend CJ who works at a stock photo/ web design company. He was the only float in line for the 10:00 parade… it was 10:30. We wandered down to the closed and possibly abandoned Garifuna museum then back to the parade. On the way we discovered a bike race. Those guys looked serious.
At around 11:30 the 10 o’clock parade was under way. We made our way to the beginning of the parade so we did not miss anything.
Jessie’s favorite part was the Chinese float. They had firecrackers, gongs and these fancy dancing dragons. (Random Factoid: Nearly all of the shops in Belize are owned by the Chinese because they don’t pay import taxes and can get goods cheaply. Somebody worked out a nice trade deal…)
The parade concluded with a Punta Rock float sponsored by Western Union. It was just a flatbed semi-truck with a band and an insane number of speakers. All the spectator rolled off the curbs and into the street to follow this last float through the city, dancing all the way. We did our best to keep up but eventually the heat and the constant dancing wore us out and we had to go for smoothies and naps.
Sister Soiree 2009: The very best change of plans… Glover’s Atoll
11.25.2009When you last left us, we were in Dangriga enjoying the Settlement Day festivities and making plans for our next move. Val recommended that we spend time on Glover’s Atoll but they only run the boat once a week so we would have to forgo any other destinations in Belize. A week on a private island? We’re IN! That is how we ended up on a Caribbean island with 6 other people…gotta love serendipity.
Glover’s Atoll is a tiny island about 2.5 hours ride from the mainland and was purchased in 1967 by a French and American couple named Lomont. Now their kids and grandkids run Glover’s. It is not a resort. We brought all our own food for the week and will be staying in a two-story beachside cabana. We can sign up for snorkeling, scuba, fishing, kayaking, meals….the works.
This is Jessie loving the boat ride- I was ok on the way out, but the choppy seas on the way back made me feel like I was having a panic attack every time the boat lifted off the waves. Jessie said it was because I’m not a ‘water sign’. She thought it was fantastic but her zodiac sign is a crab.
The island is tiny (you can walk the perimeter in less than half an hour) and the cabanas are very rustic. Gorgeous, but rustic.
Our cabin was a less expensive beach cabana with a kitchen underneath. It has a propane stove and a bunch of hermit crabs that get into any unsealed food. This was definitely CAMPING not a luxury resort (only the mess hall has electricity). There are terrible TripAdvisor reviews but they are written by people who did not realize they would be roughing it. You should absolutely go.
There are composting toilets, outdoor showers and a conch shell faucet on the painted outdoor sink.
We have been snorkeling 3 times a day, everyday and have been hanging out with Carol and Eric Bacon (our surrogate parents from Alaska). Warren, the 17-year-old grandson took Carol, Eric and Jessie deep sea fishing and they caught red snapper for dinner. It took both Carol and I to reel up 700ft of line with a few fish on it.
While fishing they saw a water spout (very far away) which is a tornado on the water…very neat.
The Bacons are well-traveled and brought curry powder with them! They cooked up an insanely delicious coconut curry with red snapper and rice. Jessie attempted to climb a tree and snag us a fresh coconut for the curry but she didn’t get too far! (“Mowgli made this look so easy!”)
We found some young coconuts on the ground and made coconut milk for the curry. It was intensely flavorful – I had never eaten fish so fresh! (Until the next day when Warren caught a tuna and they rolled fresh sushi in the kitchen!) Below is the view of the catamaran from the mess hall.We had such a great week! The last two days were rainy so we had to find other ways to entertain ourselves with walks and books and hermit crab races. Life was not intense. We loved it.