Let's start at Ninh Hiep fabric market, twenty kilometres from Hanoi - where it all begins. Tucked in between rice paddies and a rapidly encroaching urban sprawl lies Northern Vietnam's largest textile market, where everyday more than 1,000 local household traders gather to sell a plethora of different fabrics, zips and buttons.
One of my favourite parts of the trip to Ninh Hiep is travelling across Long Bien bridge – a shared train-motorbike overpass which hangs over the Red River. Built by a pair of Parisian architects, the bridge survived numerous assassination attempts during the American War due to its strategic importance as the only bridge connecting the capital of Hanoi to the strategic port-side town of Hai Phong. Driving over the bridge you will pass palm-tree lined fields on your left and couples taking impromptu photo shoots on the train tracks to your right.
The street leading up to the market is lined for almost one kilometre by individual fabric stores – here you can see the stores preparing for the upcoming Typhoon Haiyan by lining their roofs with tarp.
These streets prepare you for the onslaught of choice that lies ahead. It is easy to lose several hours at Ninh Hiep wading through various fabrics and colours. There is no shortage of cheap synthetics as Ninh Hiep falls directly on Vietnam’s trading route with its neighbours in the North. Sellers have no qualms telling you that their cheap polyester fabric is actually 100% top-quality cotton. However, beautiful linens, silks and cottons lie amongst the masses even if they are not always easy to find. Almost every Hanoian tailor who has spent the better part of their lives stitching and sewing by hand can tell you in a matter of seconds what each fabric is made of.
Favourite purchases from the market include:
- Cotton-silk fabric – I brought 55 metres in navy blue
- Gold coloured buttons sold by the gram
- Twilled-cotton blend in a unique blue/pink hazy floral print