Come to the centre of Ho Chi Minh City and walk down spacious Nguyen Hue Street which runs from the People’s Committee Building to the Saigon River. It is 60 meters wide and 900 meters long and is totally dedicated to pedestrians.
This may not seem remarkable unless you have travelled to Vietnam and attempted walking in the city. Footpaths or sidewalks are generally wide but are invariably cluttered with parked motorbikes and cars, street stalls, red plastic chairs, miniature pop up restaurants with small carts and barbecues, basketware and roosters in cages, parked or moving bicycles, laundry drying, the contents of shops, people sipping tea or playing cards, motor cycle repairs, renovating materials, broken bricks and uneven surfaces, making it necessary to walk along the road instead.
But then who walks in Vietnam? It is rare to see a pedestrian, other than the occasional loony tourist. The only other walkers are poor female vendors with long bamboo carrying poles full of fruit or other goods to sell, or an ancient shuffling grandmother.
There are hundreds of tailors in Hoi An, making made to measure suits and other outfits. This service is popular with tourists who need outfits for special occasions, such as bridal parties as well as young people looking for cheap coats and jackets. Tailors can also make copies of your favourite clothes, assuming you have some, which I don’t.
On the way to our favourite chay (vegetarian) restaurant, a long walk through Hoi An’s busy back streets to the end of Trần Cao Vân, we passed by rows of shops selling clothing and met many touts, usually friendly women on bicycles, urging us to visit their ‘tailor’ shops. This constant intrusion, ‘ Hello, where are you going, where are you from, blah blah, come to my shop, just for a look’ can be bothersome at first. After a day or so, when you have worked on your smiling but insistent ‘no thankyou’, and they have come to know you as visitors who are only interested in eating, relationships improve and you begin to feel like a local. It is important to know that these girls do not own their own shop but work on a commission for tailors: the shop they take you to will not be a tailor either, but a store front for outsourced work. ‘While outsourcing is economical for store fronts as the shop only pays a set price for each item made, many tailor shop owners that outsource have no idea about the construction techniques, the consistency, the interior details such as threads, interlining, canvassing, shoulder pads, buttons etc. The quality that is put out is obviously variable, uncontrolled and as a general rule quite low.’¹
Get this suit for Andrew
Go the bombers
Shiny orange looks suitably legal
The blue one matches your eyes
Mr T has privately expressed some interest in acquiring a new jacket for a serious event. Urged on by discussions about style, cut and colour, I collected some ‘tasteful’ examples from the street. Many of the shop owners were intrigued while some shooed me away.
For those who do wish to take advantage of Hoi An’s famous tailors, it would pay to read the following article first. ¹ http://wikitravel.org/en/Hoi_An. There are some reputable tailors around and the article forms a useful guide to those wishing to source made to measure clothes.