Tailor Shops and Beaches

Date: 24/05/2007 | Author: Gabby

Everyone we spoke to who had spent time in Vietnam had said that Hoi An was a place we should try to linger in for 4 or 5 days. It is a Unesco World heritage town and is one of the few places in Vietnam that wasn't bombed to smithereens during the American war.
Taking another overnight train from Nha Trang, we arrived in to Danang, the nearest railway station 30km to the north, at 5am in the morning. This is definitely the way to travel when you have kids who hate road journeys. Mind you, it wasn't pleasant being woken by a Vietnamese woman shouting 'Da-nang, Da-Nang, get up, get up' at 4.30 in the morning!
We had fortuitously booked a car through our hotel to come and pick us up. Watching a load of bleary eyed travellers being pounced on by the the legions of cab drivers who descend on the station didn't look much fun. We arrived at our fabulous hotel, Thanh Xuan (Long Life), shortly after 6am. As our room wasn't ready and we are rarely up at that time in the morning, we decided to have a stroll around the ancient town and go in search of breakfast.
Hoi An really is a beautiful town - it is the first place in Vietnam we have visited where we could get a sense of the country's history. On the banks of the Thu Bon river, it was at the heart of the Champa Kingdom before the Vietnamese took over and then became an important trading port for centuries.
Since the late 19th Century, Danang eclipsed Hoi An as a port and now the town thrives on tourism and has developed in to a 'City of Tailors'. There are well over 500 tailor shops in the town - they are everywhere! They will copy anything - your own favourite clothes, designs from the current Next catalogue (most shops carry one) or the latest celebrity trends. Of course, with all of our clothes looking well worn and shabby we knew we were going to get some things made. I quite wanted to get Madonna's outfit from her Blonde Ambition Tour, you know the one with the pointy bra. Sadly, Dave didn't think it suited me and didn't think I would wear it on our travels through India - ever the pragmatist! So, while Dave had a couple of stush suits made, the girls and I settled for some cool cotton, summer dresses. The things we did have made were created with much attention to detail at Yaly, a tailor shop that is a little more expensive than many of the shops in town, but the quality is guaranteed. Everything was perfect and we spent far less than we would have for just one suit in London!
Hoi An is not just about the Ancient town and the tailors shops. One of the most amazing beaches I have visited in Asia is about 4km east of the town. Cua Dai is part of a 30km stretch of golden sand that extends to Danang in the north. It was really hot while we were in Hoi An, but the sea was really cool - lovely and refreshing.
There are also some religious ruins, My Son, dating back to the Champa Empire. These are smaller but considered to be on a par with the temples of Angkor and other Indian influenced ancient civilisations in SE Asia. Unfortunately, these ruins, described by the Lonely Planet Guide as 'stunning' had been pillaged by the Chinese, Khmers and Vietnamese over time and what was left was extensively bombed by the Americans during the war, so for us they were a disappointment.
Our final trip from Hoi An was an overnight stay on Cham Island - 21km from Hoi An in the South China Sea. We had heard the island was very beautiful and had great snorkelling. Although close to 30,000 people live on the island, as yet, there are no guest houses or bungalows to stay in, so our only option was camping on the sand on Chong Beach. Unfortunately, our island tranquility was somewhat marred by the presence of 20 Vietnamese travel agents on their company away day - full sound system and karaoke on the beach. Luckily, they all retired by 10pm and once the generators were turned off we really felt on our own. Cham Island was lovely, the resorts are already in the planning stages so we felt lucky to have been there when there was nothing.
People are right, Hoi An does deserve more than a couple of days. Go there, but make sure you leave the confines of the town and tailors shops and explore the other sights the region has to offer!

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