macado's se asia adventure I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

25Aug/060

Handsome man!

I swear the first English words they teach Vietnamese girls out of the womb are "handsome man!".  It's all an elaborate and complex plot to get fat and ugly western men like myself to buy more clothing.  Let me tell you; it usually works.

I left Hoi An after having 2 suits made, 5 dress shirts, 2 pairs of designer jeans and a pair of Puma sneakers.  Hoi An absolutely ruined my budget.  When I left I had an entire new wardrobe.  I now have so much clothing that I needed to buy a completely new suitcase. I managed to haggle down a ridiculously fancy but nevertheless fake hard-shelled polo suitcase on wheels for about 20 USD with enough room to fit all my clothing.  I guess this makes me no longer a "backpacker", I moved slightly up in the ranks/class system and could accurately be described as a "suitcaser on a backpacker's budget" whatever that means.  I'm trying to slim down whatever extra baggage I have for Australia/New Zealand so I'm going to most likely be shipping my backpack and some extra shirts home so I won't have a problem flying.

I figured this would be better for traveling if I managed to stay in one place for a longtime, plus the Polo suitcase is executive size and will fit almost everything I own, allowing me to take it as a carry-on.  That means no checked bags! Another bonus since I hate checking things.

Anyway, I used three main clothing shops for all my purchases.  The first being Kim Huong which I originally described as a good shop from my first post.  While the quality here is still great, after going around numerous other places and learning a bit more I quickly learned that you get what you pay for.  The prices here are low but you need to be extremely specific about what you want otherwise it won't get done.  For example, the lining which I thought was silk ended up being synthetic and the shoulder padding isn't as thick as some of the other suits I've seen elsewhere.  Nevertheless, it still came out great.

I also had them copy/design 4 dress shirts, two long sleeve shirts and two short sleeve shirts. All four are of decent quality and fit extremely well but you can see in some places where the fabric may have not been the best quality.  The tailoring itself is superb though.  For the short sleeve shirts I had them copy one of my 50 USD Topmann shirts and they did it to a tee with all the details.  All and all, Kim Huong was a good shop; you just need to be very specific and specify exactly how you want stuff made. I.E. pleats, cuffs, double stitching, real silk, lined pants. etc.

The other main shop I used was A Dong Silk. They're a fairly larger shop with two locations and are rumored to do all of their work in house as opposed to farming it out to factories.  The prices were of course MUCH higher than Kim Huong $80 versus $110 and up for a suit but you could instantly tell the difference.  Everything was done without question and the shop girls were extremely specific by asking me exactly how I wanted stuff done unlike Kim Huong.  The shop itself also had a much larger selection of fabric to choose from, two floors plus whatever was present at the other shop.  What I have seemed to learn in my brief lesson in custom tailoring is that often the fabric makes the suit. The tailoring could be fanastic but if the fabric is poor, you're ultimately going to get something subpar.

The last thing I commissioned A Dong Silk to design was another copy of my Topman shirt though with a different color fabric and one of supposed better quality. Like I said in my previous post, the shirt came out even better than I expected and I couldn't have been more pleased.  Even though I liked the ones from Kim Huong, it was pretty clear which ones were better.  The bottom line is you may end up paying a bit more at A Dong Silk but it's well worth it. They also stitch all of their clothing with custom logos inside the jackets and shirts, something most of the smaller shops don't do here. The suit bag I was given also contains their logo.

Lastly, I found a place called CQ jeans and I had them copy my pair of Diesel jeans.  While every other shop "claims" to do "good jeans" this place specifically specializes in jeans. I gave them my pair of $160 USD jeans to copy that were ripped in Nha Trang and they reproduced them perfectly and beautifully down to the fading and the stitching.  Needless to say, I was very impressed and they only cost $30 USD.  Also, instead of being plain or having some generic logo, they also sewed their own custom logo on the back and inside.  The buttons too also have their name on them. A nice touch.  They're a bit more expensive than what some of the other tailors charge for jeans but they're worth it.  I had one other pair made at some random shop and the fabric is very plain and the entire pair looks very generic.

After my clothing adventure I decided to see a bit more of Hoi An.  I ended up befriending a group of Canadians at my hotel and we mostly walked around town and went to the beach. Though they were a bit older than me, mostly early 30s, they were a nice bunch.  Walking around the tailoring shops and stores really gives you a good feel of Hoi An.  On my 5th day I practically knew how to get anywhere in town.  It's a pretty small area and you manage to see the same faces over and over again.  This town is also a mecca for cheap art.  Lots of nice oil and color paintings here.  You can get very large and complex wall pieces for about 40 USD.

I mostly stuck to a smaller beach called An Nang which was just as nice as the bigger beach but with less tourists.  At one point me and the Canadian group were the only westerners on the beach.  As a result, we were surrounded by large groups of Vietnamese kids trying to sell everything from bags of peanuts to bracelets, hats.  It got extremely annoying after a while since we were the only people on the beach they could harass.  It was all in good fun though.  They weren't overly annoying and aggressive like the ones in Nha Trang and we ended up having a good laugh listening to them speak broken English and us speaking even more broken and limited Vietnamese. Still I do wish I could find a beach where I don't get bombared by people trying to sell me stuff every 5 minutes.  After a while it's something you learn to phase out though.

For one of my other days, I took a tour to a place outside of Hoi An called My Son which is famous because it was built by the Champa dynasty in Vietnam.  It is consisted one of the most important Hindu sights in Southeast Asia. The area itself is pretty unique; all the structures/temples are build mostly using some type of red brick unlike the vast temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  Though most of the structures are in ruin due to the Vietnam war, reconstruction and repairs are ongoing due to My Son recently being declared a cultural heritage sight by UNESCO in 1998.

It's funny but after coming here, you immediately get a better understanding of geography surrounding the area.  I had read many books for school and novels about Vietnam but at that point I could only identify it on a map.  Now after going to Hoi An, My Son, Hue and some of the other areas in Central Vietnam and actually seeing the bomb craters and building still being reconstructured you instantly get a better understanding of what took place here.   An example would be in My Son, right next to this beautiful temple was a huge impact crater from where a bomb hit.  As a result, it damaged most of the temple and it's now being held up by sticks and poles. I just finished re-reading some books from a political science class I took on the Vietnam war where it depicts American accounts of Hue and Hoi An and I now instantly understood what they were talking about.  It's a cool feeling.

Anyway, i've finally left Hoi An after 5 days of intensive shopping and beach-going and arrived in the city of Hue.  Hue itself is much different from Hoi An.  It's not very laid-back at all and instantly I can begin to see the increased pressure of the motodrivers and the cyclo drivers trying to take you for a "proverbial ride"  I've walked around a bit today along the Perfume River and captured some nice photos.  I don't really plan to stay here long though.

Tomorrow i'm taking a trip north of Hue to the infamous/famous Demiliterized Zone (DMZ) to see more of the famous war sights such as the Vinh tunnels and the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  The Demiliterized Zone is famous because it served as the diving line between North and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  You may also know it as the 17th parallel which was a "provisional military demarcation line" established by the Geneva Conference in 1954 which officially split the country of Vietnam until free elections could take place.   As you may now know, these elections never took place because the United States knew that it would instantly mean a victory for Ho Chi Minh thus they refused to recognize them or allow elections to take place.

Tonight I will work on finding an Internet cafe to upload some more photos from Vietnam.