Hoi An, Vietnam

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2007, 12:00am

Character oozes from the quaint riverside shophouses of Vietnam's Hoi An, a historic town between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Food fanatics make a beeline for spring rolls and noodle soups but the credit card-carrying classes know a meal skipped means more time for that final fitting at the town's renowned tailors.

Start your tour away from the pack at Viet Lac (51 Phan Boi Chau Street, tel: 84 510 914 471), a jewellery shop stocked with well-crafted pieces, including silver chokers with 18-carat gold clasps (US$20), interlocking five-band rings in silver (US$30) and gold (US$150), and an array of designs borrowed from European masters.

Along the main street, Thu Thuy (60 Le Loi Street, tel: 84 510 861 699; www.hoianthuthuysilk.com) begins your adventures in top-notch tailoring. Walls are lined with bolts of fabric, including high-quality wools and linens imported from Europe. Expect prices - but not workmanship - to vary, from US$50 to US$500. Load up with accessories next door at Nhi Nhi (64 Le Loi Street, tel: 84 510 910 953), where sandals in glowing metallic-effect leather (US$8) are sure to make an impression.

Cross the street to 41 Le Loi

(41 Le Loi Street, tel: 84 510 862 164), which is deservedly famous for its sewn silk art. What look like paintings from afar are actually intricately stitched images (US$50)of fishermen on the Mekong River or the ancient ruins of My Son. Visitors in the know turn up with family photographs to be recreated. Nearby, a young couple have filled the closet-sized space at Du Kien Thanh (49 Le Loi Street, tel: 84 510 910 105) with handmade lanterns (from US$2) in every conceivable colour.

A flurry of activity greets customers who enter Yaly Couture (47 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, tel: 84 510 910 474). Despite the frenetic ambience, detailed tailoring takes place inside a cavernous space filled with fabrics from around the world. Visitors crowd in front of the few mirrors to admire their freshly fitted silk organza ao dais (from US$25); men's suits (from US$125) look to have been crafted by the finest tailors in Italy.

After spoiling yourself silly, do something good for others at Reaching Out (below left; 103 Nguyn Thai Hoc Street, tel: 84 510 910 168), a chic boutique where all items are made by locals with disabilities. Colourful hill-tribe fabrics turn familiar handbags (US$23) into splendid finds. In the workshop at the back, hardworking youths turn out adorable children's tunics with tribal prints (US$11), lacquered lotus-flower serving trays (US$22) and huggable soft toys (from US$5).

Don't bypass the sparkling new Nam Hai Resort (below), where Vietnamese Army jackets have been embroidered with phoenixes and flowers (US$1,500). The resort outlets also offer stunning baubles imported from the locations of the hotel's sister properties, such as semi-precious rings (from US$450) by Jean-Francois, a Bali stalwart.