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Hoi An, You Took All My Money.

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I have a problem. I’m pretty sure my wallet is suffering from depression. She has stopped exercising, she’s lost a lot of weight, and she doesn’t take joy in the same activities as she used to. Hoi An, I blame you, and the 23 kilos of materialistic consumption I indulged in while visiting you. Let me start at the beginning.

The First Purchase

Hoi An is widely known as the tailoring mecca of Vietnam, if not southeast Asia. You can get everything from leather jackets, suits, and shoes made here, all personally tailored to your exact size.

We had heard that Yaly’s was the tailor shop to go to for suits. We set off immediately for one of the locations, after getting directions and another recommendation from our hotel that this really is THE BEST tailor shop in town.

A typical Hoi An shop

A typical Hoi An shop

Upon arriving, Scott was assigned a little Vietnamese woman named Luna to help him. We picked out fabric and styles, and then it was my turn. My girl, named Amy, helped me pick out my stuff. It all seemed pretty straight forward, until we got the bill. We had just signed up for nearly $1500 worth of clothing – three suits and four shirts for Scott and two three-piece suits and three shirts for me. I started hyperventilating. We’re getting into the home stretch of our trip and this is A LOT of money when you’re living on $40-60 per day. That’s like a month of traveling!

We returned to our hotel and ordered a beer to help ease the pain. That’s when we met the receptionist at our hotel, “My” (pronounced “Mee”) who came and sat with us on the hotel patio and asked us about our day. She was very curious and friendly because we were Canadians – as it turns out, she is moving to Winnipeg in a few months and wants to make some Canadian friends. Sweet.

My was upset that we had gone to Yaly’s. She told us it is the tourist trap tailor and over charges, up to 10x the prices of other tailors without the quality. We got a stern lesson in bargaining, and were told to march back to the shop and demand a 20% discount. Fueled with a bit of liquid courage, we marched off and did just that – only to be told they needed to talk to their manager the next morning. We thought that was fair, and went home.

After arriving back to our room, we heard a knock on the door. It was My. She rushed in and asked us to close the door, and secretively told us that the manager of Yaly had called her concerned about us and our purchase, and asked My to help convince us that Yaly is the best quality and worth the prices. The manager lied to My, telling her that we had threatened to not pick up our tailoring (which is a common bargaining practice) and that we demanded no less than a 25% discount, when in fact we had asked for 20%. Nevertheless, the manager also told My that she admitted that she had to give us a discount to keep us happy. It was a very odd experience, since My was super paranoid about us telling them that she was helping us, and she always kept looking over her shoulder to see if someone from the shop followed us home.

The Second, Third and Fourth Purchases

One of the purchesed dresses

One of the purchesed dresses

We ate breakfast the next morning at a little café with a very friendly owner who convinced us to look in her tailor shop. I noticed a really cute Asian dress and a top for Mom, so I splurged and had those made, and was told to return the next morning for a fitting. We wandered up the street a bit, and I noticed a shop with loads of beautiful skirts – so I stopped there. I was exactly the “perfect” size for this shop, and the skirts off the rack fit me – no tailoring necessary. I bought two, and ordered a shirt that Scott convinced me I really needed. I was supposed to return the next day at 2 p.m.

We wandered up the street a bit further, and I saw a shop with about five different dresses I loved. The lady here just loved me and kept slapping my bum and pinching my arm fat and telling me how great I looked. Who can resist such treatment?! I ordered three dresses and a pair of pants from her and was told to return the next day at 3 p.m.

And so the story goes on. This is all we did in Hoi An…wander from shop to shop, continually buying things and making appointments to come back. It got so bad that we couldn’t keep our appointments straight and had to schedule ourselves into Scott’s iPhone calendar…and we still kept getting confused. In between fittings, we would consume alcohol to quell the overwhelming feelings we were experiencing. Neither Scott nor I are shoppers by nature, and the adrenaline of all this over-consumption was frying our nerves.

Kenna's real Steve Madden shoe on the left, and the copy on the right

Kenna's real Steve Madden shoe on the left, and the copy on the right

Aside from shopping in Hoi An, I took a cooking class from a restaurant and learned how to make some delicious food, and we went to the beach. I’ll get to those stories in a moment, but before I leave the topic of the tailor shops, I feel it is my responsibility as an over-connoisseur to report all of the shops we did business with and leave some feedback. So, for those of you not interested in this level of boring detail, please skip this section.

Please keep in mind when reading these reviews that we haven’t gotten the clothes home yet, and will update this section in the comments based on how well the clothes wear. We are fully prepared that some of it might fall apart when we start to wear it, but we are hoping this is not the case.

Hoi An’s Tailor Shops: The Verdict

Yaly’s: We purchased our goods from the Tran Phu location – there are three Yaly’s in the town. The only reason we went to this shop is because several people we have met during our travels highly recommended them. Overall, we would NOT recommend this shop. We paid between $155 and $295 per suit, depending on the fabric (other shops quoted us between $60 and $100). Although the staff were professional, they would not listen to our concerns and kept telling us things were “normal.” I didn’t particularly enjoy my pants, as I felt they bubbled and did not make my body look good, but the girls kept saying “that’s how all pants fit.” I kept saying “my pants at home do not fit like this, and I got another pair of pants tailored at another shop and they don’t do this.” In the end, I should have not taken the pants, but they made me feel crazy and guilty for picking on my pants so much. Scott’s jackets also aren’t stellar – they have some bubbles at the back that the staff claimed have to be there for the jacket to fit properly. I just don’t think that’s right. We also noticed that most of the people trying their clothes on were having the same problems and no one seemed very happy. Furthermore, the shirts didn’t seem very good quality, and we actually refused purchasing one because the fabric had already started pilling.

FINAL VERDICT: Avoid Yaly’s. They are way over-priced and the value just isn’t there. They refuse to bargain and won’t give discounts unless you threaten not paying for your suits at the end of the day. We spent the most here (by far) and I am not sure we will truly enjoy the stuff we purchased.

Cloth Shop 68: This shop is right across the street from the Huy Hoang 1 hotel. I purchased one Asian dress and one top from here. Overall, the quality seemed ok, but I wasn’t thrilled. The tailor was a bit pushy, and when I commented that I wasn’t sure about some of the stitching, she told me it was fine.

FINAL VERDICT: It’s ok, but there are better shops out there.

Cloth Shop Hong: This is where I purchased two skirts off the rack and had one custom shirt made. The skirts are good quality and the shirt fit perfectly on the first try, although it was a simple design. The tailor was very nice and enthusiastic, but her prices were quite high. I paid too much for the skirts (see comments on Lai, below) and I had to bargain hard on the shirt – I even walked out saying I didn’t need it before she budged on the price.

FINAL VERDICT: Good quality and friendly tailor, but prices are a bit high – requires solid negotiating to get a fair price.

Lai: I went to this shop because they had a jacket out front that I adored. The girl was very helpful (I think her father is the tailor) and gave me a stellar price right off the bat – $27 vs. the going rate of other stores for the same jacket at $35. She even gave me a discount to $25 since I was the first customer of the day (the Vietnamese are very suspicious – if you are the first client and don’t buy anything, it is bad luck for them and they won’t make any sales that day. If you do buy, it will bring them good luck – so try to start shopping early and get good deals). The jacket came back that night in perfect condition. Scott ordered a jacket, after that – but she wanted significantly more for it. We managed to get her down quite low because we threatened going somewhere else. Works every time. I also got a custom made skirt that had a few problems on the first go, but she was diligent at fixing the problem quickly and always listened to my concerns. The price for the skirt was awesome, way cheaper than the rack skirts I bought from Hong. There were also a few problems with Scott’s jacket which they fixed immediately, and always listened to our feedback and made sure it was perfect.

FINAL VERDICT: Great value for money and the staff catered to our needs to ensure we were comfortable with our purchase. We would highly recommend Lai.

Phu’o’ng: I was attracted to this store because dresses seemed to be their specialty – they had a great selection of fabrics and designs. The sales girl/tailor was very friendly and made sure I was 100% comfortable with each dress before finalizing it. She also really liked to slap my bum and stroke my arms which was a bit funny, but she told me she really liked making dresses for my figure. We also bought a few dresses for Scott’s sister here and a few shirts for Scott and Don, which all turned out to be amazing. The quality was better than Yaly’s for the shirts and they were less than half the price.

FINAL VERDICT: This was my favorite shop because of the fabric, quality and helpfulness of the staff. They also bargained with us and we got discounts for our multiple buys, and the value of the clothes for the money paid was unreal.

Loc Phu’oc: I got a pair of Steve Madden shoes that I love copied here and I also bought a pair of boots. The shoes came back perfect the first time, but the boots had a few problems – the heel didn’t seem to be on in the right place and the shoe wobbled. It took us going back four times to fix it – finally I had to ride on a motorbike to the manufacturing place to show the actual shoe maker what the problem was. In the end, it all worked out, but I’m not sure the boots will hold up. The girl was very keen to fix our problem, however, so that made it nice working with her.

FINAL VERDICT: The custom copied shoes are awesome, and seem to be holding up (I’ve worn them a few times and they still look brand-new), but I’m not sure about the boots. Probably best to stick to simple designs without heels.

Linh: We got Scott one pair of leather sandals which turned out great, and one pair of Lacoste copied shoes. The shoes aren’t great – they couldn’t re-create the crocodile or the Lacoste brand, so they look a bit plain. Otherwise, they are ok.

FINAL VERDICT: The sandals are awesome, but stray away from custom made designs like Lacoste which they can’t reproduce.

Overall, we had a lot of fun in Hoi An getting clothes made, but it was stressful. I really did enjoy all the tailors fussing over me though…I felt like a chubby little cherub doll when they would dress me and ooh and ah over me. We are excited to get it all back in July, when our 23 kg posted box should make it back home.

The Food in Hoi An: AMAZING

"Quang Mi", a delicious dish we had a stall beside the river

"Quang Mi", a delicious dish we had a stall beside the river

Hoi An has a lot of specialties in terms of food, most being a result of the water from the Ba Le Well. Apparently this well has very good water (I suppose in terms of Vietnam? I’m still not convinced, I thought well water was the WORST kind) and it makes delicious rice noodles that you can’t get anywhere else. The town’s specialties include wontons (you know, the deep fried things, but this time with a sort-of salsa on top), white rose (like a non-fried wonton, same-same, but different) and Cau Lau (like a vermicelli bowl, but with a delicious broth made of this “well” water, and noodles that I can’t really explain).

Mr Kim, from Cafe des Amies

Mr Kim, from Cafe des Amies

Our highlight of the food in Vietnam was at a restaurant called Café des Amies, where the menu is literally a surprise. Mr. Kim, the owner, serves whatever he feels like on that particular day, with a menu that rotates continually over two weeks. This was truly an experience – we sampled many things we had never had before, and each dish came with a man, mostly likely one of Mr. Kim’s sons, who would explain how to eat it properly and scoop things properly onto our plates for us. Hands down, the best Vietnamese food we’ve had in Vietnam (which maybe isn’t saying a lot because we’ve been sorely disappointed by the food in the country overall, but it really was good).

I also decided to take a cooking class, but this time without Scott – we had spent so much money, we figured we’d save $12 and he would forgo the experience. I’m so happy I did my cooking class here. It was at a tiny restaurant called Sao Mai, and I basically just stood at the front and made things in front of the whole restaurant. The food was delicious and they gave me a pen and a paper so I could write the recipes down. It was awesome.

Hoi An’s Beach: Stellar

Biking through Hoi An's Ancient Town

Biking through Hoi An's Ancient Town

On our last day in Hoi An, when we had finished up with most of our tailor appointments, we rented bikes and rode to the beach. The beach in Hoi An was lovely – although we could definitely feel the temperature differential of the water due to our more northerly location.

The funnest part about the beach was the little seller ladies. They were so adorable and friendly. Instead of hassling you, they would come up to you, talk to you for 10 or 15 minutes, then invite you to look at their stuff. We ended up buying some Vietnamese coffee and drips from a lady (the coffee is here AMAZING, can’t wait to reproduce it at home) and she was just thrilled because we were her first customer and made her very lucky. But it started all the other ladies with the same stuff wanting to sell to us. The funniest thing about talking to these ladies is about white skin.

Now, for everywhere in Asia, being as white as possible is the desired look. They sell whitening cream in the stores, and all the ladies cover up as much as possible here. This includes the traditional Vietnamese rice paddy hat, full pants, stockings, long sleeved shirts, gloves and face masks. We noticed this a bit in Thailand (definitely not to the same degree), a bit more so in Cambodia, but Vietnam is definitely the most extreme. They just can’t figure out why we want to tan our skin dark. One lady on the beach started stroking my skin saying it was like baby’s skin and asking me why I was ruining it with a tan…it was pretty funny. I just love the people here – they goo and gaa over you and make you feel so loved…and always with a giant smile on their face. This country has our favorite people so far, I think.

The Worst Hair Cut Ever

Wow.  That's a bad haircut. Thanks Kenna.

Wow. That's a bad haircut. Thanks Kenna.

In the midst of all of our shopping, eating and beaching, we decided it was time to get Scott a hair cut and I had my hair straightened at the same time – what a luxury! It was the first time it was straight in 5 months! Unfortunately for Scott, though, it was the worst cut of his life, and I had to take a razor to the back of it. I made a bit of an error, and now he looks like a tool. Whoops.

Vietnamese Fun-Facts

I’m going to close with a fun-fact we learned from our friend My. Although born in November 1983, My claims she is 28-years old. How is this possible, you may ask? Shouldn’t she be 26? Well, here is how age is calculated in Vietnam (according to My, and further substantiated by Minh, another lady we recently met in Hanoi):

  1. You are already 1 year old when you are born, a result of the time you spent in utero.

  2. You calculate your age by subtracting the current year from your year of birth, so 2010 minus 1983 equals 27. Then you add your first year of being in-utero.

This way, everyone gets a year older on January 1. Birthdays aren’t really celebrated as they are essentially meaningless. Crazy hey? We also learned that most Vietnamese get to choose who they want to marry (about 70%), so we have had far fewer questions about our relationship status here!


5 comments to Hoi An, You Took All My Money.

  • Meredith

    FUN! Sounds like Hoi An would be paradise for me. That dress looks so cute on you Keenie! Sounds like you got some really great stuff! :)

  • kat

    Hi, just stumbled upon your blog when looking for reviews and have been having a big chuckle reading your tales from 2010. My boyfriend and I are in hoi an now and have had pretty much carbon copy experiences. Totally appreciate the stressful but strangely addictive tailoring phenomenon. Thanks for a fun read :)

  • jesus

    hi, i saw you website and i wondered if you had the recipe for the fried wontons and salsa from hoi an. ive tried to find the recipe for years and havent had any luck. nobody outside of hoi an has any idea what im talking about.

  • Glad I found this post! We are in Hoi An now and just got a dress made and a purse, will let you know how they turn out tomorrow. I will tell Adam NO haircuts here.

  • Kris

    great post! and Vietnamese people do love pale skin tone! hehe :)

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