Hoi Anh Ao Dai

December 2, 2006

Since the war, the town has prospered as a city of tailors. Tailor shops line every block, displaying beautiful cotton shirts and stunning silk ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress, irresistible to the eye. Renowned for this fine, inexpensive tailoring, Hoi An is a magnet for tourists who come to have clothes made — Danish, Norwegian, Irish, French and Australians, who since the bombing in Bali have been coming to Vietnam in record numbers. We didn’t run into many Americans anywhere, so we were pleasantly surprised when we ran into Casey, a young man traveling through Southeast Asia on a break from the University of Texas. He crossed our path in a fitting room at a Hoi An tailor’s. He had his mother’s credit card, as did I, and we were both having beautiful shirts made for back to school.

The best way to get around Hoi An is on bicycles and motorcycles, which is how most people get around Vietnam. It is not unusual to see families — a father, mother, a couple of kids and even a grandmother — on a single bike. We saw people hauling furniture, pigs, cages of ducks, mirrors, anything and everything on the back of a “bike of burden.” In Hoi An, we biked everywhere, on the quay along the Thu Bon River, across the 17th-century Japanese covered bridge, by the town’s many temples and shrines and out to the beach 5 kilometers away, where we swam in the warm waters of the China Sea.

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