The Hoi An cloth market is not for the faint hearted. I both love and hate the cloth market. You can get some really good bargains on materials and dress making here for a fraction of what you’d pay in the tailor shops. All good. But I often wonder if it is worth the assault on your senses that goes hand in hand with venturing inside.
Where is it?
Located near corner of Tran Phu and Hoang Dieu Streets, be prepared the moment you walk in. Like carrion you will be swooped on by hungry, buzzard-eyed market sellers looking for a feed.
‘What you want? What are you looking for? You! You! What are you looking for? Come inside please. Come with me!’
Avoid phrases such as…
‘Thank you’, ‘I’m not interested’, ‘I’m just looking’. As soon as you engage in any way with the market seller, she hears: ‘Hassle me, follow me, I can be persuaded to pay a very high price. I’m a Westerner with too much money.’
Do not feel pressurized
Now off the Richter scale with exhilaration because you spoke to them, someone will bar your way, grab your shirt or manually tackle you into their shop. They will thrust material in your face, scurry up piles of material and bring the top one down simply because you looked at it. Do not feel obliged to buy. Shop sellers are used to people walking away.
Keep a sense of humour
You may find yourself on a drip and a stretcher otherwise – plus, the Vietnamese love a sense of humour.
Be firm but go with the flow
As you are looking through fabric the shop assistant will flank your every move whilst simultaneously thrusting cloth in your face and repeatedly asking what you want. Do not let this phase you. Smile. Block her out and never, ever look at her (unless you are serious about buying). It is all worth it because there is wonderful material of all types and quality in this place and if you keep your wits about you and your eye on the ball you may just come away with some of it.
Ask to see the expensive material too
In the quest for a sale and knowing all rich ‘Westies’ want to pay as little as they can, the market seller will frequently present only their cheapest fabric. If this turns out to be cotton and you are silly enough to wash it, you will soon have a shirt looking like a toilet rag.
Barter, it’s a game
Of course the market sellers will try it on, some outrageously. But keep your cool. Bartering is part of Vietnamese culture. Back when I lived in Hue, a Vietnamese friend told me how her mother had been going to the same seller at the local fruit market every day for 20 years. Even though she and the seller were now good friends and knew the price, they would still go through the ritual of bartering.
‘Is this material cool’? Seriously? You think the seller’s going to say ‘no’?
Ask for help when you need it
If you simply cannot find what you are looking for, ask for help. The girls at the market will scour every nook and cranny to find what you need and inevitably they will come back with it.
Finally, always remember
Whilst the Vietnamese are business people most are also incredibly nice human beings who will go out of their way to help you with a kindness that puts our culture to shame.
Write this Vietnamese phrase down and show it to the market sellers. This should stop them hassling you.
‘Tôi muốn xem một minh’ (doy moo-uhn sem mawt min) = I want to look on my own.
Alternatives to the Cloth Market
If you are highly strung, a sufferer of road rage or in a depressed state, you may wish to avoid the cloth market. If so, there’s a couple of fabric shops in Hung Vuong Street that could be a good alternative. Here you will find a great range of fabrics at far cheaper prices.
Also, you can browse for as long as you like without hassle or interruption because conversely these guys will totally ignore you. Some even look annoyed you have entered the shop.
Do not let this deter you.
Where are they?
59 Hung Vung Street and one across the street.
They do not speak English. This is okay because there’s nothing a bit of pointing and charades can’t solve. Of course, all this is dependent on whether you can get their attention.
Minh Khang, 95 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai (close to the Hung Vung material shops, they have a fabulous range of silk and are open from 8am – 7pm, 7 days per week)
Write this down and show it to them: ‘Một mét, bao nhiêu tiền?’ (Mawt met bow new tien) = one metre (of fabric) how much?
The Quality of Tailoring at the Cloth Market
- The cloth tailors are heaps cheaper than the shop tailors. I recently had a shirt made up for $15 with material included. The same shirt cost $38 in one of the high-end tailors. The cotton in the high-end tailor shop was marginally better fabric
- The quality of tailoring between the two was indistinguishable
- I have had many garments made by tailors (high-end, mid-range and at the cloth market). It is hit and miss with all three (though you can usually rest assured mistakes will be fixed if you opt for a high-end tailor)
- The cloth market is good for copying clothes
Price guide in Vietnamese dong for 1 meter (depending on the quality) of the following fabrics:
cotton: 50,000 – 80,000 VND; linen: 80,000 – 120,000 VND; silk: 100,000 – 250,000 VND
Hours: 7am – 6.30pm
Add: Corner of Hoang Dieu & Tran Phu Streets, just before Cam Nam Bridge
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