My cheongsam from Hoi An

My Chinese New Year cheongsam
My Chinese New Year cheongsam. I’m sure there was something in my eyes.

During the Chinese New Year, I finally got to wear the cheongsam I got tailor-made in Hoi An. It had been in my wardrobe ever since I flew it back with me from the Vietnamese town.

Hoi An, Vietnam, is famous for its tailors. You literally (yes, in the literal way) cannot walk down a street without passing at least 2 tailors. (Well, not too literally if you’re passing paddy fields.)

Not a tailor in sight
Not a tailor in sight

Nguyen, you know her from my KL trip, also raved about tailors in Hoi An during one of our Facebook chat sessions. She said I must get at least an outfit done when I am there.

Frankly, I’m not a shopper of clothes. Clothes store make me yawn maybe because I rarely find things my size which I find flattering.

But I thought about getting a qipao (aka cheongsam) made–especially after I saw what Steph from 20-Something Travel got for herself–although I was not sure when I would actually wear it.

Allure of the cheongsam

Impressions of qipao; handsome man used for illustration purposes

The perfect image of a lady in cheongsam features a tight fitting dress and curves in the right places.

The not-perfect image of a lady in cheongsam features a loose-fitting dress with curves that suggest pregnancy. That, my friends, was what my dress turned out to be.

My tailor

Future, Hoi An
Future, Hoi An

I got my cheongsam made at Future. It’s at the street junction of Cua Dai road and Tran Hung Dao. (photo below)

When we were picking out the cloth, the shop owner suggested a black cloth. I explained that I might wear it for a wedding. After looking around, we both agreed on the cloth with blue background with green shiney embroidery.

The lady got my measurements and told me the dress would be ready the next day. I believe it was US$35 for the dress but I have a really bad memory (should have jotted it down!)

I picked up the dress the next day. When fitting, I realized that there were places which were slightly loose. Suddenly I became paranoid that she thought I was making it for my wedding and mistook my bloated stomach from the night before as a growing baby. (It was probably my overactive imagination though).

I felt too embarrassed to tell her that I wanted some parts of the dress to be tighter. I reasoned that I would probably grow into the loose spaces if I keep on eating with my healthy appetite.

I’m not complaining that the dressmaker wasn’t good. I’m saying that as a customer, I wasn’t even sure of what I want so that was the main problem.

At least I can still wear it when preggers
At least I can still wear it when preggers

If you are heading to Hoi An, remember to get something tailor made! Just make sure that you know how the end result should be and not be like me.

How did the motorcycle cross the river?

When I was in Hoi An, I saw a very curious scene. Boats would carry a large number of motorcycles to nowhere.

I wondered if they were new motorcycles, being shipped from the dealer’s to the wherever they sell motorbikes.

So when I saw one of the boats passing by while I was on the boat ride back to Hoi An from My Son, I looked carefully.

There are people sitting in the boat, shaded from the sun under a small roof while the motorcycles were out in the sun.

I realized that the boats carried the motorcycle drivers and their vehicle across the river. It totally makes sense now. A lot of people ride motorcycles in Vietnam and somehow they need to cross the river.

Other scenes of Hoi An, Vietnam

Party signs in Hoi An

Actually I’m not sure if these are socialist party signs but I love the retro look.

We must work towards a successful Vietnam. Even a Ho Chi Minh-look alike is featured holding a plant and shovel.
Everyone has the duty of saving those drowning in the pool of poverty. (Not being sarcastic.)
Driving on the road to success.
I think this is about being a happy family

Other scenes of Hoi An, Vietnam

#FoodFri Glutton in Hoi An part 2: Restaurants

In Part 1 of Glutton in Hoi An, I introduced the street food (ok, ok some were from restaurants) I had while in the town.

For Part 2, I’ll be talking about meals I had in restaurants–a bit pricey but still cheap when compared to Singapore.

Restaurant: Morning Glory

Address: 106 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street (TripAdvisor)

One of the restaurants run by Miss Vy (She’s Lonely Planet famous) where I had my grandest meal in Hoi An at the Morning Glory.

Instead of the airconditioned seats, I picked the two-person seater at the veranda. Similarly, I ordered enough to feed two persons and a child.

I ordered the stir fried morning glory (which disappointly turns out to be just kangkung), Hoi An pho, iced coffee and a kem flan (Vietnamese crème caramel).

The stir fried vegetable came with a serving of rice. I wasn’t brave enough to ask the waiter to take the rice back as I didn’t want to seem like a food waster. So I ended up eating my bland veggie with rice.

The Hoi An pho was the first I had. I was surprised by the mild soup as I remembered a stockier soup in Saigon. It was OK.

The kem flan came with shaved ice on top of the creme caramel. Interesting traditional combination.

The bill was 200,000 dong, one of the more expensive meals I’ve had but worth every cent.

Restaurant: Blue Dragon

Address: 46 Bach Dang St., Hoi An, Vietnam (TripAdvisor)

I visited Blue Dragon at one of those awkward timing in between lunch and tea time.

The meat set meal (120,000 dong) was definitely not an Asian-person appetite serving. Maybe a really hungry Asian person-sized.

Overall, the meal was yummy. The beef fried spring roll was a bit dry. The fried wonton and it’s spicy seasoning was great, it felt like I was eating seafood because of the sauce.

The rest of the main meal: rice with chicken and fried noodles wasn’t fantastic.

I forgot that I had a frui salad at the end so I was pleasantly surprised to be serviced cool banana and pineapple.

Please don’t let my review of the food stop you from visiting the place. It’s actually pretty cool since they are linked to a charity also called Blue Dragon. On the yellow wall, you can see the mark of where the last big floods reached in the shop.

Restaurant: Chinh’s Riverside Restaurant

Address: 54 Cua Dai Road, Hoi An +84, Vietnam (TripAdvisor)

Since Hoi An has both the sea and a huge river, seafood is a recommended dish. I did a search of cheap seafood places on TripAdvisor, found Chinh’s and decided to visit when I was at Cua Dai beach.

The place is right before the bridge bringing you back to Hoi An old town. The view is fabulous since you can see the river. I saw two fisherfolks who sat so still that I thought they were puppets put on water as a symbolic tip of the hat to the fishing life.

Chinh’s seems to be a family-runned place When I was there, there was a lady and an elderly lady. I heard them chopping and stir frying in the kitchen.

Again, being the gauche tourist, I ordered a two-person’s servings of seashells and prawns. The coffee was unfortunately from a 3-in-1 mix.

Nice place to watch the river flow by.

Restaurant: Mermaid

Address: 2 Tran Phu Street (TripAdvisor)

On the first night, Linh the homestay owner made a face when she heard that we were heading to Mermaid for dinner. The place is too small and not airy, she said.

Linh was right.

I decided to visit the Lonely Planet-famous eatery during yet another awkward meal time. I ordered the white rose and a coffee.

The white rose were sticking to each other, not quite the “har gao” feeling I was looking for.

There are better places for food in the city but don’t let me stop you. (Bad reviews didn’t stop me from experiencing it neither.)

Stayed: Loc Phat Homestay, Hoi An review

I spent four nights at Loc Phat Hoi An Homestay during my trip to Hoi An. The place is runned by Linh–who deserves her Superwoman title–her husband (Quoc) and the two kids Billy and Tony.

It’s a terrific place for a solo travelling female since being in a homestay feels safer than a generic hotel or a backpacker’s place where you meet drunk kids on their gap year.

It’s also great for an ISFP like me because there is just the right number of people for me to interact with and not feel too overwhelmed.

Since I arranged for airport pickup, I didn’t take note of the address when I left for Hoi An. Airport shuttle was US$13 one way and Linh’s younger brother’s picked me up from Danang airport. It’s a lot more convenient than trying to haggle with cabbies.

The household

The previous tenants were not exaggerating when they say how accommodating Linh and her family is.

Linh whose day job is at a nearby hotel made sure that I was comfortable and changed my bicycle which had a loose chain. She even made extra keys for the tenants.

While I was there, Linh and her family slept in the living room, giving up their room to a pair of travellers. I think there was a mix up so they didn’t confirm their accommodation or something like that. I thought it was really nice of the family.

I also ate two of Linh’s meals, not refusing the second serving like how our Asian culture dictates. The family dinner was nice. And the cau lao which I had before leaving was the best cau lao I had during the trip, trumping even the central market one.

The tenants were really colorful characters. There was R who spent 30+ years with her husband and son on a boat! Two travelling 20-year-olds who asked me to have dinner with them (so sweet).

Room

$10 room

My $10/night room was the one facing the front garden. I had a large window and an even larger bed.

In the room, there are hangers which I used to dry my laundry. Multiple electrical plus. A tiny table with an equally tiny chair (children size) which acted as my makeup table.

Room with a view

The room has a standing fan which I had to use throughout the night because of the hot Vietnamese summer. In the morning, I can see a bit of sunrise right out of the window.

I do feel conscious that the opposite neighbors might see me while I change or sleep in ugly positions, but it’s probably my over active imagination.

Location

The road to Old Town

The house is in the middle of the roads to Old Town and Cua Dai beach. While it might seem a chore cycling to both destinations, it’s actually really easy if you pick Nguyen Duy Hieu to cycle (there’s less traffic compared with Cua Dai Road).

If you don’t have much time in Hoi An, I would recommend staying in the Old Town for the night view. But staying away from the attractions means I have incentive to explore the neighborhood and to discover the best coffeeplace in Hoi An (Cafe 139, on Nguyen Duy Hieu).

At the end of Cua Dai Road is the tailor where I made a qipao (more on that in a future post) so the location’s great.

Taxis are cheap and run on meters so they are a good alternative to cycling.

My trusty bike

Booking

I recommend contacting Linh directly through the site since it takes away the hotel booking site charges that both parties have to pay.

Stayed: Loc Phat Homestay, Hoi An review
Pro: Wonderful hosts, in middle of road to town and beach, cheap (US$10), airport/train transportation available at extra charge
Cons: Might be a bit warm in the room (because of the Vietnamese summer)

#FoodFri Glutton in Hoi An part 1

Vietman will always have a place in my stomach. It was the place I first started liking raw vegetable, ate banh minh, slurped good pho and discovered my love for buttery Vietnamese coffee.

So during my trip to Hoi An last week, I ate like the glutton I am.

Thought with all my cycling in Hoi An, I probably would have dropped one dress size. Unfortunately, my body believed in replacing all the muscle and fats I’ve lost in case of a zombie apocalypse so I probably ended up half a dress size larger.

I’m not sure if it’s the food portion or my vigorous cycling, I was really really hungry on Day 2 of my Hoi An trip. Even after a meal, my stomach would send signals to my brain saying: Hey! You should put more food into your mouth.

My brain obeyed and I ended up eating double portions of everything: banh mi (one pate and one plain) for tea time and a dinner for two at Morning Glory. Yikes! I was very pacified after the meal at Morning Glory that my stomach stopped complaining and was busy digesting but the feast went on.

Enough about my appetite, let me show you some of the yummies I had.

Cau Lao


A famous noodle dish in Hoi An. My sister and I were trying to figure out what Cau Lao might mean in Chinese. Translations say “dry noodle” and she wondered if it’s “gon lau”.

The better Cau Lao I had was in the central market, eating next to locals. I was charged the price of a big bowl which I think is my tourist tax. Still, it’s only 20,000 dong (S$1.25).

The noodles are flat and translucent. There are slices of pork and pieces of pungent leaves–a taste I associate with Vietnam and have grown to love.

However, the best cau lao was made by the lady running the homestay. I had two servings and it was terrific!

Banh Mi


My first Banh Mi in Saigon took me by surprise: fluffy, crunchy, tough and airy. A wild combination for a small baguette.

Unlike the jaw breaking French baguette, banh mi is more airy but with an equally stubbon but crispy crust.

The banh mi that I eventually ate in Hoi An was from a stall which legendary Anthony Bordain visited before. The reviews on TripAdvisor raved on and on. Despite just putting my head on my pillow and the sun being bright and strong at 2pm, I decided to find the famous stall and stuff myself with bread.

Banh Mi Phuong is not too easy to find. It’s next to shoes shops so you might miss it. At the junction of Nguen Duy Hieu and Phan Boi Chau, head towards the bridge but look at your right. The stall is right next to the small pedestrian entrance to the cloth market.

I bought one with pate and two empty ones to chew. The lady was puzzled why anyone would get empty ones when her fillings are to die for. (I didn’t dare tell it’s for my food baby–aka tummy.) All that bread for 25,000 dong. Amazing!!

I found a picnic spot opposite Hoi An town. It was a not too romantic place, perfect for my not-too-romantic face stuffing.

The sandwich was alright, yummy but not out of this world delicious. I wouldn’t mind having it from time to time. But the filling were substantial.

Pho

Pho

I’m not a pho connoisseur but Hoi An pho tasted different compared to Saigon pho. The stock less “busy” with clearer soup.

Before starting my meal, I drown the vegetables that came with the noodles. After drowning them in soup, they become half cooked and more edible. The flat noodles were perfect with the clear soup.

Coffee

I had coffee at about every rest stop, coffee shop and restaurant. I was charged all sorts of prices from 9,000 to 25,000 dong. I had 3-in-1 mix, pre-made and metal filtered coffee.

The best coffee place for Vietnamese coffee in Hoi An is at Cafe 139, on Nguyen Duy Hieu. It’s a cafe under a house, next to the ditch/river. For only 10,000 dong, you get a buttery iced Vietnamese coffee *and* a glass of sweetened tea.

The serving is very petite–the regular Vietnamese size–while the ice cube really large. I usually read while I wait for the ice to melt before taking careful sips.

This edition of #FoodFri features part 1 of my Glutton in Hoi An post. In the next edition, I will showcase three (or more) restaurants I visited. Stay tuned!

What is your favorite Hoi An dish?

The ride to My Son which never came

A portion of this entry was written on July 14. Timestamp of writing time included.

Sunrise from afar

[6.08am] The bus that was supposed to take me on the Sunrise My Son tour should have picked me up at 5am. Instead, I’m in my room enjoying the last of the cool morning air.

Turns out, the tour bus misinterpreted my address “3XX, name” as “room 3XX, hotel name”. Worse thing is, I left a wrong phone number with the tour so even if they did try contacting me, it wouldn’t go anywhere.

I decided to sign up for the sunrise tour the day before because I want to escape the tourists and the heat. I biked to Hoi An old town and stopped by a travel agent, which turned out to be Blue Coral, and signed up for a tour + boat ride package. It was US$14 but I didn’t have dollars so I was charged 210,000 dong.

Really excited for the trip, I woke up at 4.30am, went to brush my teeth and put on BB cream in the semi-darkness lighted only by my torchlight.

At 4.50am, I was waiting at the junction.

The 10 minutes until 5am there felt like a very long time. The sky was still light blue with a peep of orangege from the east. There was a surprising number of people zipping by. 5 am!

5.13am

I waited and waited.

Then a public radio started broadcasting. I wasn’t sure what the content was but it felt very socialist–in a positive way. A very uplifting female voice was announcing something which I regret not being able to understand.

As I waited, taxis passed by, giving me a honk or two. I shook my head.

I saw buses turn into a corner but they never turned to me.

Dog which kept barking menacingly at me

At 5.25am, I texted the phone number on my receipt. At 5.40am, I decided to head back.

At 5.50am, a phone call arrived. A man said the tour bus has left as they thought I was staying in a hotel. I asked them to pick me up at the right place for the 8am tour instead.

Funny thing is, my homestay owner said last night that tours sometimes don’t come and pick people up. And that if we have a tour, we can ask her to call and confirm.

I thought to myself: Nah, it won’t happen to me. I just booked it this morning.

And it did, but in a different way.

But the time standing outside was not wasted. I got to see and hear a part of Vietnamese life that was hidden from travellers who wake up at 9am for breakfast.

Still, next I’ll remember to be really specific about my pickup address and also write down the right phone number.

PS Luckily, I was still able to join the 8am tour to My Son. The sun was hot but there wasn’t too many people around. All’s well that ends well.

What travel mishaps have you encountered? Did it end well?

See you in Vietnam!

If the weather permits, I’ll be landing in Da Nang airport, Vietnam, at 4pm+ Singapore time later today. I bought the tickets last October when AirAsia started its flight to Da Nang–9 months in advance.

It wasn’t until the past few months that I started reading up on Da Nang. I was thinking of places to visit but I realized the historical town Hoi An is more suitable for me than beach town of Danang. (I’m also very tempted to visit Hue.)

I’ve done the best I’ve could in preparing for the trip, including reading guidebooks and clipping Hoi An-related content from the Web using Evernote.

I’ve also booked a room at a homestay with good reviews on TripAdvisor. As a solo female traveler, I feel safer living with a family than a single room in an unknown motel especially in a country where I don’t speak the language.

I expect to eat, cycle, get tailored clothes, pretend to sun myself at the beach in Hoi An. But the activities aren’t set in stone. ;)

Onward march!

Revisiting Vietnam

The last time I was in Vietnam, it was in the summer month of August in 2009. I just graduated and was looking for a job. But Nguyen, whom I met while on student exchange in China, persuaded me to visit her in Saigon to eat pho.


Since then, I’ve leveled up my travelling skills. I’ll be bringing the same red backpack but without the heavy carry-on. (My goodness, was the bag really only $4.90?!)

The food was wonderful! Pho, french baguetee and all those yummy unknown. Also, Vietnamese coffee can only be described of as f*cking great(a la DollarShaveClub).

Other pre-trip entries:
Selamat tinggal, I’ll be in Yogyakarta
Do you know the way to San Jose?