Vietnam is not the kind of place I expected to need a suit. Shorts, sunblock and mosquito spray, sure. But tailoring was not on my check-list.
While Thailand, Malaysia and to an extent the Philippines all have an established super-luxe travel market, Vietnam – at least outside of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi – has tended to cater more for backpackers. This is not, however, the case with the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsular Resort (to give it its catchy full title).
This beach-side escape, designed by renowned hotel architect Bill Bensley, takes the form of a series of hillside villas situated over four levels – sea, earth, sky and heaven – all connected by a funicular and a small army of golf buggies.
It also has a fine dining restaurant run by one of the world’s best chefs, Pierre Gagnaire, and I’ll be damned if I was eating there in shorts and a t-shirt. Thankfully, Vietnam is a nation of tailors, who promise to rustle you up a three-piece suit for less than the price of a bow-tie back home. I pencilled in a trip to the market in between lying on the beach and trekking in the hills for an emergency suit-fitting.
Da Nang, a coastal city about half-way up the country, was shielded from the worst of the fighting in the Vietnam war, although traces of the conflict are still visible. It was home to a huge American military base, where soldiers were sent to recuperate.
The now-commercial International Airport was expanded by the Americans from a small provincial airstrip to a sprawling behemoth capable of landing its gigantic Hercules transport planes. An expat told me a story about a group of American tourists he met on a coach trip, one of whom announced: “Last time I was here, I was flying a B52.”
The coastline, which was christened China Beach, has some gnarly surf, inspiring the scene in Apocalypse Now where a soldier rides a wave as napalm rains down behind him. It stretches from Monkey Mountain – home to the InterContinental – to the market town of Hoi An.
The nearby Marble Mountains (or Ngu Hanh Son), which are home to a warren of ancient caverns housing Buddhist shrines, also played a role in the war, being used as a hospital by the Viet Cong; observant visitors will notice the bullet scars still visible on the walls.
The caves – only the biggest of which, Thuy Son, is open to the public – are spectacular; follow a winding forest path up the mountain, crawl through spaces worn away into the rock, and climb to the peak for panoramic views over the smaller mountains. Set off early, though – the thousands of daily visitors rather break the spell.
At the foot of the mountain, craftsmen carve gigantic Buddhas, statues of the Virgin Mary and various Hindu gods from (now mostly imported) marble, in a heartwarming illustration of capitalism crossing cultural boundaries.
The historic market-town of Hoi An is the tourist centre of the region. Its ancient, traffic-free streets bear the architectural marks of its varied heritage; Japanese merchant-houses stand beside colonial townhouses and Chinese temples that billow clouds of incense.
Colourful paper lanterns light up the countless shops and stalls selling all manner of tat. As I arrived, the sky opened to a downpour of biblical proportions, and within seconds the streets were filled with cycling salesmen peddling plastic ponchos in a range of fetching shades.
There are dozens of restaurants of varying quality; I ate at the locally renowned Morning Glory (presumably named after the plant rather than the state of arousal), which was fine, but no better than most of the Vietnamese restaurants in Dalston. More interesting are the “hole-in-the-wall” shacks, often housed under sheets of corrugated metal, where garden furniture spills out from people’s sitting rooms.
Hoi An is also the place to come to get measured for a suit. Without the luxury of a recommendation, I chose a tailor at random (the name on the business card didn’t have an English translation).
When you get a made-to-measure suit on Savile Row, the process usually takes a month, from first fitting to collection. As I needed this one the next day, the tailors had around 15 hours, and agreed to work through the night and drop it at my hotel by the next morning.
I picked one of the more expensive fabrics (grey with a blue and mustard check) and handed over my (pre-Brexit) £50, hoping it would arrive in time for the fancy dinner. The cobbler next-door, meanwhile, drew around my feet while I picked out a two-tone suede brogue that would match the suit (another £40).
The next afternoon I was lying on the resort beach – which is so utterly cliched in its beauty I’m not even going to bother describing it – debating whether to have a beer followed by a swim, or a swim followed by a beer, when I was informed my package had arrived.
Inside was... A suit, which fitted implausibly well, all things considering (I made my first ever use of the in-room sewing kit to do a hasty job on the trouser legs). And a pair of shoes which were absolutely not what I had ordered, a pair of (well-fitting) brogues capped with a decidedly unpleasant shade of mustard. But at least I had my outfit for the evening.
An hour later we met in the bar, appropriately located in “heaven”, where we watched the sun set before heading to Gagnaire’s La Maison 1888. There I demolished an eight-course tasting menu while my fellow guests – both of whom had fallen ill – watched enviously. Job done.
NEED TO KNOW
A night at InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort starts from $400 based on two people sharing a Classic King Room; Book online at danang.intercontinental.com