Monica Holt finds a unique living history, great food — and Jeremy Clarkson’s tailor — in Hoi An.

Hoi An

, in Quang Nam province, central Vietnam, is a city of just 120,000 but well known for two things - its unique heritage-listed town centre,

Hoi An Ancient Town

, and its cheap tailoring services.

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It is one of the wealthiest parts of Vietnam and largely unscathed by the Vietnam War. It is also one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations.

Masses of Western tourists flock to Hoi An each year just to get clothes made-to-measure at a fraction of the price they would pay at home.

Most of the town's tailoring stores are within or near Hoi An Ancient Town, a collection of very old stone and wooden buildings along cobbled streets. In 1999 Hoi An, as a well preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port, was named a Unesco World Heritage site. Buildings and customs reflect early Chinese and Japanese influences and that of French and other settlers.

Minutes from the town centre is Cua Dai beach. This 30km stretch of white-sand coastline, running from Da Nang to Hoi An, was used as a rest and recreation spot by Americans during the war, and was the setting of television series China Beach. As a sign of its growing affluence, a Sheraton hotel is just one of many new five-star resorts being built on the outskirts of Hoi An.

As Air New Zealand started direct flights from New Zealand to Vietnam in June, it is also a hot destination for Kiwis.

MEASURE UP

Hoi An is well-known for its fast-turn around tailoring services. Walk into any one of the 200-odd shops in town and be measured for cheap custom-made clothing. Each store has hundreds of neatly stacked fabric samples and style catalogues to choose from. Expect pretty rough sewing from the cheaper outlets, where you would pay $60 for a perfectly fitted formal dress. But at the other end of the scale, stores like Yaly Couture, which Jeremy Clarkson famously chose to visit during an episode of Top Gear, offer a topnotch tailoring service at a very reasonable price. Beware of pushy store assistants who will have you forking out for a whole new wardrobe, or at least multiple versions of the same thing. One of the best-value services is leather shoe-making. A pair of men's leather sandals cost just NZ$21 or custom-made women's trainers, NZ$59.

ALL LIT UP

Brightly coloured silk lanterns give vibrancy to Hoi An's nightlife. These lanterns are handmade from local silk and displayed by street sellers at the night markets. Lanterns can be made to order and and sent anywhere in the world.

TOOT TOOT

The best way to explore Hoi An is by scooter, for an eye-opening window into how people live.

For three hours, we motored through narrow alleyways, peered into private homes, zipped across paddy fields, and bravely ventured into the Old Town. Hire is amazingly cheap, costing just NZ$7.50 for half a day, and most retail businesses will have a scooter for hire.

EROSION TOURISM

In late 2014, coastal erosion saw two nearly complete five-star hotels fall in to the sea, on the northern end of Cua Dai beach. The crippled hotels, just minutes from central Hoi An, have now become a drawcard for visitors, although you won't find these landmarks on any official tour. At one spot, a handful of beachfront chalets have tumbled into the sea, leaving the waves lapping at the smashed terracotta roof tiles. It is impossible to miss the massive concrete shells of two abandoned resorts on the main road towards the departure point for nearby Cham Island.

EAT YOUR WAY AROUND TOWN

Larger than life Australian Neville Dean and his wife Colleen moved from the comforts of Tasmania to retire in Hoi An. They run a popular food tour The Last Great Taste of Hoi An, this year named one of the world's 15 fabulous food tours by National Geographic's Traveler magazine.

According to the tour's local guide, Ms Sen, eating Vietnamese food "will make you skinny". Neville should know.

He has lost a whopping 60kg since moving there and swears it is due to the change in diet. The tour takes you from the Tan An market, through Hoi An's ancient buildings to small restaurants and food carts, sampling amazing Vietnamese cuisine. There are 42 items on offer, starting with the Sinh To Trai Cay, a simple fruit shake, to Hoi An's famous Cao Lau noodle soup. Try the delicious Ca Phe Sua Da, a filtered iced coffee, sweetened with condensed milk. My favourite was the simplest - a wedge of juicy yellow mango with a sprinkle of local toasted coconut shavings. Delicious. tasteofhoian.com
DIP IN

On the tour, Neville served "Vietnamese lasagne": rice noodle sheets layered with this dipping sauce, a simple staple. He shared his recipe.

The Last Great Taste of Hoi An dipping sauce

6 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp sugar
1.5 Tbsp-2Tbsp fresh lime or lemon juice
2 Tbsp fish sauce

OPTIONAL
Finely chopped garlic
Bird's eye/Thai chilli

1 Combine water and sugar in a bowl.
2 Add lime or lemon juice in increments until you like how it tastes.
3 Likewise, add fish sauce.
4 Top with garlic and chillies

FACT FILE

Hoi An is in Quang Nam Province, in the middle of Vietnam. It is a Unescolisted heritage site and is also regarded as the best place to get cheap clothes made.

In June, Air New Zealand started flying direct from Auckland to Ho Chi Minh City three times a week. Flights take 11 hours.

Da Nang is the closest airport and is a 35-minute drive in a shuttle or taxi