Hoi An is a small village tucked away in the center of Vietnam, and unbeknownst to many, a tailoring hotspot throughout the world. I didn’t know much about Hoi An at first, but after stopping there a few days during a backpacking trip I quickly realized it was a diamond in the rough.
Nostalgia and curiosity washed over me as I wandered through this town where old meets new. Hundred-year-old walls were refreshed with vibrant paint, spreading a sense of joy along the alleyways. Dirt-lined streets were accented by bright paper lamps and small boutiques revealed unexpected modern twists. A simple juice stand, transformed into a bright and airy escape into the tropics, presenting playful art and boldly mixed concoctions. It reminded me of what I imagined Cuba or Jamaica to be like – a rustic place that transports you into the past, but with an energy and vibrancy that pulls you back into the present. This locked-in-time atmosphere is exactly what crowned it a UNESCO heritage site back in 1999.
I knew I was going to like Hoi An just from its street vibe, but when I ventured to its outskirts I fell in love even more. After renting some rusty old bikes, or “vintage” as some might describe them, my friend and I headed in the direction of the nearest beach. Cycling through long stretches of rice paddy fields we caught glimpses of passing water buffalo and took recluse in the shade of palm trees until we finally reached the coast. Our “off-road” biking experience was more challenging than I imagined since glancing at the passing view could easily result in hitting a ditch and veering off into the nearest watering hole.
After our day at the beach we went back into town on a mission to get a tailored outfit which is apparently a must-do. I had no idea before, but Hoi An is actually a world-renowned tailoring hub and many people travel here to get specialty made clothing at a reasonable price. Tailoring shops are found everywhere and range from modest looking mom and pop shops to high-end couture boutiques. Here you can bring in a photograph of anything you want and get an exact replica made that would fit like a glove. My friend and I were easily convinced this would be one of the best souvenir experiences we would have, so after a few fittings we walked away with two outfits each – definitely the most stylish things we had brought along in our backpacks.
An old port town, Hoi An has been exposed to many different cultures and this is directly reflected in the village’s architecture. Paved brick walls stand next to traditional pagodas and French style villas can be seen across Japanese bridges, all which centralize around the local river. At night, the river was the place to be with its glowing street lamp reflections and bustling street vendors. As we weaved in and out of the boardwalk crowd, seduced by music flowing off the nearest restaurant balcony, I thought about what a magical place Hoi An is. It was our last night until we moved on to our next adventure, but I was glad we were able to experience this bit of time travel along our way.