6 Tips for Visiting the Hoi An Cloth Market

We were riding bikes to the Hoi An cloth market, where you can have custom clothes made. As we were navigating through the crammed streets, a woman came up to us and insisted we visit her booth. We wanted to visit Booth 50 because a couple of travelers at our hotel recommended it.  Unfortunately, this woman wouldn’t leave our side. We locked up our bikes, and left Dad to watch them.

Booth in the Hoi An cloth market
Typical booth in the Hoi An cloth market

The market is an indoor building packed with small stalls of fabric and eager women wanting you to buy from them. We wanted to look around, but this woman was basically dragging us to her stall. Bummer!  Feeling trapped, we followed her to her booth. Once there, the woman pulled out three red, plastic chairs and ordered us to sit down. The moment we sat down we knew we were sucked in. She gave us each a textbook sized catalog full of clothes and styles. I flipped through the book and knew what I wanted: a dress.

Booth at cloth market

I drew a picture of the dress I wanted in her notebook. I gazed at the endless stacks of fabric. For the top part of the dress I chose a silvery blue fabric with tiny silver gemstones. On the bottom I asked for the grey chiffon, as I was hoping it to be flowy and to be able to walk in it normally. But, of course, the fabric was “too thin.” I asked if she could line it with a grey material, but NO, she told me that was a bad idea. So I settled for a silver fabric. She measured me and told us to come back at five in the evening.

We came back later in the day to pick up the dress.  However, the top and bottom were separates, not a dress. I tried them on. The top was good if a little short. The skirt part was different story. It was skin-tight and way too short. I looked in the mirror: the skirt had transformed me from a 12 year old girl into a grumpy business woman! That’s sure what I looked like. I told Mom how I didn’t like it. I took it off and we asked her to make it bigger and a little longer. We walked toward the exit and I became really sad.

“Mom, I looked like a business woman in that.”

“What do you want to do?” she asked me.

“I told her that I wanted the chiffon fabric and not the one I got. I also wanted it to be flowy.”

We walked back to the booth and asked if we could pay extra to have the bottom redone. She said, “No,” and we left.  Now, I was even sadder.  We started to walk out again and I was depressed that I paid for a dress I would never ever in a million years wear.  That’s when Mrs. Friendly, as we called her, came out and saw me sad.  She said she would redo the dress for seven more dollars.  It was a deal.

Custom made dress in Hoi An

The next day we came back and my dress was just how I wanted it. I loved it.  So my mom and I ordered a few more items. For me, a pair of “zeans” (jeans) as Mrs. Friendly called them and two shirts (they came out fine so I will skip to my mom’s experience). For my mom, “zeans,” a tank top, and a simple dress. Her jeans ended well, too. But the tank and dress were a problem. Mom asked for the tank in purple and the dress in grey. So we waited ’til the next day to come back for all the stuff.

As I said, everything was fine and dandy except Mom’s dress and tank top. When we came to pick it all up, we just had a bad vibe with Friendly. The tank was ready, but the dress was not.  Unfortunately, the tank was grey instead of purple. So Mom reminded Mrs. Friendly that the dress is supposed to be grey, not purple, that she had mixed up the colors. But Mrs. Friendly kept insisting that it was basically a rough draft and when we come back in the evening to pick up the dress everything would be right.  We left, but we didn’t have a good feeling.  So in the evening when we came to pick the tank and dress up, we were not surprised to see that the colors were mixed up.

Mom still tried the dress on.  Not only was it the wrong color, but it was also too small. Then things got weird.

“The dress is the wrong color,” Mom said.

“No! I nose (know), I writes it downs!” She pointed to her book.

“But it’s the wrong color. I tried to tell you yesterday. You mixed up the colors,” Mom continued.

“No, no! I writes it right!” Mrs. Friendly argued.

“No, the dress is supposed to be grey and the tank purple,” my mom insisted.

“But I wrote it down,” Mrs. Friendly repeats.

“Then you wrote it down wrong,” Mom persisted, “It’s not what I ordered.”

“She tried to tell you yesterday that you mixed up the colors but you wouldn’t listen,” I joined in the conversation.

While mom changed out of the dress, Mrs. Friendly reminded me of Gollum (Smeagol) from Lord of the Rings. She flipped through her book, talking to herself, “I writes it downs, I nose! I writes it down.”

Mom, hurry up in there, I thought to myself.

Then Mrs. Friendly found the page where she wrote down our order, and finally admitted that she had mixed up the fabrics. Mom came out of the changing curtain. Mrs. Friendly started hugging my Mom saying “I wrong, but you still buy dress?”

“Mrs. Friendly, when I tried to tell you yesterday you wouldn’t listen. I’m not buying the dress. Besides, it doesn’t fit.”

Frustrated and disappointed, we gave her the money for everything but the dress and left.

Still wanting to go to Hoi An and visit the cloth market?

Here are some tips to make your Hoi An Cloth Market experience better:

  1. Before you head to the market, know what number stall you want to visit. Every stall has a number.
  2. When approaching and entering the market, don’t look overwhelmed by the amount of stalls. Keep your head high, and look for your certain stall, none other.
  3. When women try to sell you their services as you walk by, simply act like you are in a conversation with the people with you. If you’re traveling alone, act like you’re into a very deep thought.
  4. Say that you’re from Genovia. Every time you want to buy something at a store, people ask where you’re from and base the price off of that. We told people Genovia, a fictional country from The Princess Diaries, and they would ALWAYS act like they knew where it was. It is very humorous.
  5. If you get a bad vibe when you are at a booth, move on to another. That bad vibe was for a reason.
  6. Negotiate the prices. They always overcharge you in the first place. Try to get it down a few bucks, but remember that these hardworking women need the money more than you do.

I hope this helps!

Lesson learned: You could not pay me to go to the Hoi An Cloth Market again.  It was way too overwhelming.

8 thoughts

  1. Thanks, Riley! Now I know that I can just shop at the mall here in Birmingham and not have to go all the way to Hoi An for some zeans. Curious…can you buy just the fabric and then make something yourself?

    1. Hey Denene! We are definitely looking forward to shopping at TJMaxx when we return. Much less hassle!

      I don’t know if you can just buy fabric or not. I would think so…but the main draw of the cloth market is getting someone else to sew your clothes.

  2. This is Mackie your Nanaw’s friend from Liberty High School, you write extremely well and like your Nanaw can spell .

  3. Oh my goodness – all 4 of you are such good writers! I look forward to reading them each morning they are available. MHJ

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