Getting Handsome in Hoi An

After arriving early after another night bus we pulled into Tribee Kinh, our hostel in Hoi An and decided to press through the day instead of napping, as we usually do after night buses. Our big plan in Hoi An, and not to mention what most travelers plans are upon arriving in Hoi An was to get custom made outfits. We were attending a friend’s wedding in July and thought it would be a good time to get some custom threads made for the occasion, plus we were a combined 20 pounds less than when we started the trip so we thought our goal weights demanded goal outfits. We asked our hostel for recommendations for the best tailors in the area and she gave us a few suggestions.

One suggestion, Bebe tailors was recommended both by the hostel and in our Lonely Planet book so we found a motorcycle rental place and headed into town, we easily could have walked but thought we would explore the beach while we were out and about as well. There was definitely a reason why Bebe had so many accolades, there were three in town, each with designated staff members to cater to your every need, from offering us ice cold towels when we walked in the door, to remembering our names when we came back. Being the “oh so fancy” lawyer he is, Ross already had a few custom suits hanging in his closet so he thought it might be fun to get a tuxedo instead. Plus, how baller is it to have a custom fitting tux to pull out whenever the occasion demands, pretty badass. Ross found his tux design on Ryan Gossling and Natalie found two dress designs on websites that were far too fancy for her wallet. The next step was to be measured. Between the two of us they probably took over 40 different measurements in places we didn’t even know we could be measured in, from Ross’ inner thigh to the space between Natalie’s nipples. The turn around time was also incredible, just one day (for the first fitting).

After being pampered at the tailors we headed to the beach. When we parked our bike the attendant gave us a small laminated ticket to reclaim our bike (it was mere cents to park our bike so we didn’t complain). We had been warned about not bringing valuables to the beach so instead of leaving our bags on the beach, we shoved everything into a dry bag and took it with us when we went in the water. After swimming for a couple of hours with our floating bag of valuables, we decided to head back to the hostel to finally check in. As we went back to claim our bike we realized that we were missing the small piece of laminated paper for our bike, but we had the keys so it would obviously not be an issue to tell the driver which bike was ours. When we reached the parking area, we pointed at our bike and told the parking attendant that we had lost the paper. In broken English we gathered from his words were basically, no ticket, no bike. After a few minutes of going back and forth and of us frantically pointing at our bike, he was not backing down. We stepped away from the growing fierce argument and agreed that if this went on any further, we would simply have to steal our bike back. Overhearing our heated discussion an Australian couple walked up and asked what was going on. We explained our predicament and in perfect Vietnamese (or from what we could tell was pretty good Vietnamese) they told the man what had happened to our piece of paper and after about a minute they turned to us and just told us that we should give him a little money and he would let us have the bike back. After a few lost in translation phrases back and forth, Ross thrust the man some change and he let us go. Saved by the dong.

We would highly recommend Tribee Kinh to anyone traveling to Hoi An as looking back it was most likely one of the best hostels we stayed in to date (sadly we are a bit far behind in blogging). Every night of the week, the hostel had activities happening to keep its guests happy. When we got back, we were happy to find out that it was spring roll night! All 30+ guests gathered downstairs and sat next to plates of carrots, minced pork, eggs, basil, noodles and rice paper. The first step was making the meat portion of the rolls. Equipped with plastic gloves, we mixed together the ground pork, minced garlic, eggs and other spices (Nat asked for the recipe but it was in Vietnamese and portioned for 20 people). Then we got to rolling. Each roll was stuffed with basil, the mixed meat, carrots and noodles and to finish it, we rolled each into little rice paper rolls. Of course the hostel’s staff, who had clearly more practice at this than us, rolled perfect fried rolls and ours came out looking either too long or too fat. At the end, after befriending the hostel dog and after a few beers, they all tasted better than they looked. Again, Vietnam for the food win!

The next day we woke up early so we could get a jump on the day, or more of a scoot on the day. On the agenda was our first fitting for our clothes and Marble Mountain, not so surprisingly, a mountain primarily made of marble between De Nang and Hoi An filled with temples and caves. We thought it was best to beat the heat of the day by getting an early start and even as we sped across town with the wind in our face, we started to sweat profusely. As we made our way towards Marble Mountain along the beach road we saw the beginnings of huge hotel complexes being built. It turns out Hoi An is a World Heritage site and development is proceeding rapidly around it with plans to have the newer infrastructure nearby and keeping the original Hoi An as an “old town” district. We finally made it to Marble Mountain, but not wanting to pay for parking we took our scooter a couple of blocks away to a street that sold all manner of marble statues and souvenirs in every shop. We wondered if any of the marble was actually taken from a nearby quarry or if the shops were simply capitalizing on the name of the location. People had told us there are two main sights: Heaven and Hell. Exciting. We decided to save the “hell” version of the story for later and headed up the stairway to heaven, pun definitely intended. The top of the marble mountain was much more expansive than we thought it would be. At the top were different shrines, caves and alters. At every turn there was a new place for worshiping. We quickly sought refuge in one of the cooler caves. If we just headed into the shadows the temperature dropped significantly. Once inside we noticed that there was a small rock opening towards the top of the cave. We decided to climb through and the rocks opened up to the top of the entire mountain and a 365 degree view of De Lat and Hoi An. Afterwards we headed down the mountain and into the depths of the hell section. To welcome us to the dark underworld were severed hands grasping for life in the water and as we walked deeper into the cave, the imagery became deeper as well. The stalactites and stalagmites were all lit up to reveal tinny grotesque figurines beneath them depicting decapitation, demons and even demonic rape and torture.

Fearing that we would miss our first dress and tux fitting we hightailed it out of hell with minutes to shower before heading to Bebe. It was unbelievable the progress that the team had made in just over 24 hours. Ross’ tux already was better than any other suit he had bought in a store and Nat’s dress literally hugged each and every one of her curves. After a couple of fittings the dresses and tux fit better than a glove on the ‘real murder’ of OJ Simpson’s wife.

The next day we woke up and had a quintessential “admin” day where we filled out useful paperwork for our visas to Bolivia and caught up on other things that decide to fall to the wayside when traveling for a long time. If there is one piece of important advice to bestow on other travelers it is to take time for “admin” days or “do-nothing” days. Also “admin” days save your budget as well. That night we took the advice of fellow travelers and purchased a pass for the downtown area of Hoi An. Unlike any of the other World Heritage sights, Hoi An has decided to monopolize on its historically preserved facades and cobblestoned streets and charge people an entrance fee to access the historical town of Hoi An. To check out any of the historical buildings, tourists have to purchase a pass to get stamped at each location. We made the mistake of starting our journey a bit too late because we wanted to watch the sunset over the river and because of this, most of the places on our stamp card were closed. As the sun set over the horizon, the river changed into a magical place. Out of nowhere, vendors appeared selling romantic atmosphere, aka small floating candles to send down the river with a wishes for the future. Also along the river were several couples taking wedding photos in small boats.

The next day we tried on our dresses and tuxes again for some final touches. With each day, the outfits got better but they recommended one more day to make sure that everything was perfect so we headed to the open air market with the intent of just checking out the sights but we came back with matching shoes for our custom outfits. We also found out that Natalie is a master bargainer. Like the dresses and Ross’ tux, the custom made shoes in Hoi An are made to fit your feet, literally. The shoemaker will first trace your foot on a piece of paper and then after making a remark about the likely fact that one foot is bigger than the other (in Ross’ case a whole shoe size) will then pass you a book of different shoes to replicate that has everything in it from Manalo Blanics to Converse. The shoes also have a tighter turn around time than the clothing. We ordered the shoes by 4pm and they showed up at our hostel that night before 7pm.

Not sure if we mentioned it earlier but Natalie is obsessed with pho and Vietnamese food in general so the right next step in our trip through Vietnam was to take a street food tour, another awesome tour provided by our hostel. The tour included six different stops to various food stalls in the town to introduce us to street food in Vietnam. As we sampled from each stall, the food got better and better. The first dish was noodles with pork and a quail egg on top and the next was a dumpling made from the softest dough we had ever sampled. Food stall after food stall our tastebuds were tantalized. Later that night after a bar crawl with the staff, we sampled some more street food, albeit a bit drunk, but never-the-less yummy including a doughnut the size of Nat’s head and a cross between a crepe and a pizza (the dough was made from crepe batter and then an egg was cracked on top of it and pizza toppings were slowly added to it and then the pizza-crepe was folded into quarters, perfect for late night consumption).

The next morning we picked up a new bike to start our journey from Hoi An to Hue, a ride touted by Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear, as one of the best journeys on a motorbike ever. With our bags already sent to our next hostel, a mere 130 kilometers away, we headed to Bebe for one final fitting in our outfits. The team saved the best for last and our outfits fit perfectly. Considering we had lost a considerable about of weight on our travels already these outfits not only looked good but would be our reasons for keeping the weight off until our friends wedding in Canada. After packing our boxes and sending them to Nat’s parents place in the US, we hit the road on our bike.

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