The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Tag: Travel Vietnam

Adventure in Dalat

If you had told me that I’d be caving, trekking, and rappelling down waterfalls during my travels, I would have believed you. I would have said, “Oh yeah, definitely in New Zealand, or maybe even Montenegro.”

If you had said I’d be doing all these things in Vietnam? I would have scoffed.

And yet there I was, in Dalat, dangling over a churning channel of water that promised to chew me up and spit me out if I let go of the rope. Above me, our guide was shouting “Let go!” The whole point was to get chewed up and spit out.

How did I get here?

You want me to do WHAT?!

You want me to do WHAT?!

I had loosely plotted my time in time in Vietnam — I knew I wanted to work my way north to south, and that I wanted to see the best of the best in the three+ weeks I had allotted myself in the country. Dalat was a question mark to me. I was interested in visiting, and the more I heard about the amazing adventures that were possible in this mountain town, the more it appealed.

Irene and I had no idea that we had timed our arrival in Dalat perfectly with one of the biggest holidays in Vietnam: Independence Day. Since Dalat is in close proximity to Saigon, many city dwellers head to the mountain town to get a break from the humidity and heat of the city. As such, we managed to snag one of the very last rooms at Dalat Family Hostel, and we were very lucky we did. The next morning, there were two girls sleeping in the hallway, and SIX people sleeping in the ‘lobby’ living room on the ground floor.

Sometimes, not planning ahead doesn’t go your way. We were just lucky we got in early enough!

We met several other travelers in our Hostel area through our friendly hostesses. One thing is clear: Dalat is absolutely an up-and-coming destination for young travelers. New hostels are opening, old ones are being renovated, and the town is gearing itself toward Western tourism more than ever before.

With our new group of friends, we went to the town center. At the top of the steps that lead down to the fountain and traffic circle, I was gobsmacked by the sheer volume of human beings that swarmed the area.

I also discovered what Independence Day meant in Vietnam: It was the day American soldiers left the country. 

This means different things, depending on where you are in Vietnam. In the north, it was freedom from tyrannical Western forces trying to impose their ideology on a sovereign nation. In the south, it was the day America abandoned them. Either way, it’s an odd time to be an American in the country. Not that any locals made me feel badly. Quite the contrary, I was always treated kindly and with respect. One old man even stopped me while I was drinking a coffee and starting chatting away about his family in California. But knowing that everyone is in the streets to celebrate the day your country lost a war is an odd feeling, nonetheless. Must be how Brits feel at their first Fourth of July!

We joined in the festivities, trying out Vietnamese pizza (more on that in another post) and mingling with the festivities that crowded the city.

Vietnamese Pizza!

Vietnamese Pizza!

The next day was our canyoning tour!

As I write this, I’ve just heard the news of three young travelers who lost their lives while participating in a tour very much like the one I took. Unfortunately, Vietnam’s tourism isn’t heavily regulated, and many people will take advantage of unknowing travelers to try to make a buck. Which is why this cardinal rule of travel is so important:

Always do your research before participating in anything remotely dangerous.

This is especially true in less-developed nations. I consulted TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet, plus did additional research by reading my favorite bloggers and googling the names of companies that offered the tours. I booked directly with the company rather than go through an agent or our hostel hosts. It just isn’t worth the risk.

Irene and I settled on Groovy Gecko, not because it was the cheapest, but because it was the most heavily vetted. When it comes to safety, you get what you pay for. An extra $10 is well worth coming out the other end alive.

There were several other companies operating alongside us as we meandered our way down the Dasar River to the Dantala Waterfalls, and a look at the equipment and group-to-guide ratio assured me that we had made a good choice.

Confident in our safety, there was nothing left to do but have fun and push the limits of our comfort zone! The photos can tell the story better than I can, but we abseiled a total of four times. The first was a ‘practice run’ down a dry canyon, then we floated for a while toward the Big Mama Jama, the Dantala Fall. In addition to the waterfalls, we got to slide down an all natural ‘rock slide’ and cliff jump. It was an exhilarating, full day of adventure, and one I won’t soon forget.

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Til next time, xoxoxo

The Wizardess

A Guide to Custom Clothing in Hoi An

So you’re ready for some made-to-measure clothes? Sweet! Here are some tips to make the most of your tailoring experience, based on what I would do if I could do it all over again.

I visited Sang and Tam, the sisters who run Tu Nhi at 35 Hoang Dieu in the middle of town. I recommend them!

PREPARE

Before you arrive at the shop of your choosing, have a series of photos or a Pinterest board at the ready that outlines what you want. Even better? Bring the garment you want copied with you to the shop. Since I had very little crammed into a backpack, I relied on a Pinterest board to show my tailors what I was interested in.

But you’ll want more than just a photo – do your research into the garment and find out what material it is made from. I made the mistake of choosing a heavier cotton blend for a shirt that probably should have been silk. For an extra $40, I could have had a garment I’d actually wear instead of something stiff. You can’t rely on the tailors to perfectly understand your expectations if you’re only showing them a photo.

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CHOOSE WISELY

The most important thing I learned from my tailor experience? Choose structured pieces.

Many of the tailors in Vietnam work on suiting separates day in and day out. While they have the skill to deviate from this, I found that the moment Irene or I tried to go for something flowy and light, things got lost in translation. A Burberry-inspired rain jacket? Perfect on the first fitting. A blazer? Same. A figure-hugging red dress? Also good, though it needed downsizing.

But the James Perse button-up knock off, a flowy, lightweight number, just didn’t come through. I chose the wrong fabric, but I also found that the style seemed to be out of their grasp. They kept trying to make a business shirt, and I was looking for a casual Saturday brunch vibe. Rather than struggle through several fittings to try to fit a square peg into a round hole, I’ll focus on pieces that have structure the next time I visit. Besides, who needs something loose-fitting to be bespoke anyway?

Not loving this one -- many changes were made!

Not loving this one — many changes were made!

GIVE YOURSELF TIME

I had two garments that were slam dunks: they fit me to a “T” the first time I tried them on. But a pair of slacks, a dress, and a shirt all needed changes to fit my body better. In total, I went through four rounds of fittings, but if I had given up on the shirt sooner it would have only been three. The changes that come from these fittings generally take about 24 hours to complete, though most Hoianese tailors will work hard to get your clothing to you sooner if travel plans require it.

That said, you don’t want to be stressed that you might not have a garment built exactly to your tastes by the time you leave. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? So give yourself at least three days from initial measurement and fabric selection appointment to the time you plan to take off, and you should be fine.

SPEAK UP!

Don’t like the fit? Don’t love the buttons? Tell the tailor! Be firm with any changes you want made — the salesmen and women are there to ensure you are happy, and they want that five-star review. Their business livelihood thrives on word-of-mouth in a town where tailor shop scams leave some tourists leery. They will work hard to make you happy, and they expect to make changes two, three, or even four times. If they do, return the favor by giving them good reviews and referring other travelers to their shop.

So take your time when you try something on. How does it feel? Hug yourself, lift up your arms, move. Does it still feel right? If anything is off, don’t hesitate to ask for it to be fixed, even if it’s been fixed twice before already. One of the dresses Irene had made needed the collar adjusted three times before she was happy with it. Sang and Tam were happy to do it!

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HAVE FUN

You are getting the five-star treatment here, so enjoy it! There’s something relaxing about getting measured every which way at your first fitting or puzzling out exactly what changes will create the perfect fit with your tailors. For a moment, you can almost fancy yourself on Savile Row. But then the breeze carries the fragrant scent of pork pancakes and raw fish, and you realize you’re somewhere even better. You’re in Hoi An, and dozens of adventures await just outside those tailorshop doors.

A perfect fit, first time!

A perfect fit, first time!

So what does a typical transaction look like?

Day 1: Choose the tailor shop & get measured

Traveler recommendations, blogs, and Trip Advisor are great ways to narrow down your list of reputable shops. Go to a few, check out their fabrics, talk to the salespeople about what you’re looking for. Discuss price for future negotiation. If they are too pushy, walk away. They will probably try to upsell into something you don’t want. Once you’ve chosen your shop, get measured for the garments you want created and choose your fabrics.

Now is the time to haggle the price. Use the prices of competitors, the fabric, and bulk discount (e.g., if I get six garments, can you bring the price down 20%). Once you’ve agreed on price, you will pay a deposit while the clothing is completed. 50% is usually what’s asked.

Day 2: Initial Fitting

Before you leave on Day 1, the salesperson will let you know what time to come back for your first fitting. These are almost always the next day. At this fitting, you will try everything on and determine what changes need to be made to each garment to better fit you. Take your time with this fitting and try to get all your feedback into one session. This will cut down on the time it takes to make changes at future fittings, if you need them at all.

You may want to write down the changes you requested so you can refer back to them at the next fitting.

Day 3: Second Fitting

If all went well and you took my advice, this might be the end of it! Everything will fit like a glove, you will pay the second half of the negotiated price, and you will leave with your new wardrobe a happy camper. However, usually there are still a few small changes that need to be addressed. Maybe a seam change makes the neckline lie weird, or the hem was too short. Address these updates now and hope that the third time is a charm.

Day 4: Final Fitting

At this point, any changes should be small and most tailors will do their best to get niggling changes fixed within a few hours. As soon as the garments are as close to perfect as you can get them, pay your balance and pack up your things. You can opt to have your garments shipped (I did), just be aware that they may arrive wrinkled or smelling like a pack of cigarettes and could require dry cleaning.

And there you are! You’re well on your way to getting your own set of custom-made clothing from some of the best tailors in Vietnam.

Til Next Time, xoxoxo

The Wizardess

With our new friends!

With our new friends!

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