Just south of the city of Danang in Vietnam, there is a small town called Hoi An, the former port city of the Cham Empire.
On a sunny afternoons, hot tropical breezes from the South China Sea roll through the Old Town of Hoi An, rustling the leaves in the trees along the winding lanes of colonial buildings, beckoning you to visit the nearby beach. By night, paper lanterns and fairy lights twinkle outside of the art galleries, restaurants, and homes along the waterway.
But tourists do not come to Hoi An for the charm of Old Town or to see the ruins of the Cham civilization in My Son.
They come to Hoi An for the shopping.
Away from the waterfront, crammed into all the open front shop space available, dozens and dozens of tailors lie in wait for their prey, scissors and needles on hand. An army of mannequins line the streets, flaunting ready-to-wear designs. A crush of backpackers descend upon the shops, eager to replace their ratty t-shirts and disintegrating shoes with cheap, custom-made goods.
I was one of them.
Upon entering each shop, I was immediately seated and served hot tea. Several catalogues were promptly deposited on my lap and any number of very attentive young sales people began to interrogate me about my tailoring needs.
I have to admire these sales staff for their tenacity and their good humour. My travel buddy and I were playing a game where we tried to find the ugliest items in each shop in order to recommend the other person buy them. Example: “Hey, M., I think your parents would love this cartoon Mona Lisa tribute painting!” or “Hey, Holly, didn’t you just say yesterday that you wanted to buy a green and pink sequined leotard with feathers? I found one!”
When the shopkeepers in Thailand had overheard this kind of exchange, they had not understood that we were kidding – and then they had spent a lot of time trying to sell a lot of hideous stuff.
When the shopkeepers in Vietnam overheard us, they did not miss the irony. They even joined in on the game, drawing our attention to increasingly tacky garments with a wink and a laugh.
In one shop, two friendly sales ladies bargained and bamboozled me into several purchases, all ready within 24-48 hours of having my measurements taken. Somewhere between looking at swatches of shoe leather and being shown recent wedding photos, I was talked into purchasing new shoes, pants, shirts, and a dress.
I will admit the end results were mixed. One pair of shoes never fit properly, but the other were the best pair of sandals I have ever owned. My linen pants were a staple travel wardrobe item for the rest of that year, but the seams were poorly finished on my summer dress.
So while I cannot whole-heartedly recommend the shopping in Hoi An, I can recommend that you visit Hoi An. There is just so much to like about this town. I just wish I had escaped from the shopping frenzy long enough to enjoy some of it.