8.28.2014

A short stay in Hue, Vietnam

With only 25 hours in Hue, it was always going to be a fleeting glance. And after Hoi An I knew that a glance is all I would want, as anything would be less beautiful, less phenomenal and just less when comparisons were made.

Considering Hue is the ancient capital, the new town is not dissimilar to Hi Chin Minh - a modern developing urban area. There are high rise hotels, tourist restaurants, cyclos and scams a plenty.
The suggested activity for the town was a motorbike tour of the city and the outer lying areas. It seems from Lonely Planet that motorbike tours are the norm in Hue, as a lot of the sites are located around the perimeter of the city and within the vast Citadel complex. Our was $20/400,000 dong which seems to be average pricing, though I wouldn't necessarily say our was that outstanding - so have a look around yourself.
The motorbike tour took us through the paddy fields, to a local village, to a bunker, a museum of rice, a stadium and to a pagoda... Oh and a shop to buy gifts of course.
An action selfie from the bike - see I'm ok mum?...

The Stadium

After biking through a graveyard and a small village where small children delightfully told us to "Fuck Off" as we passed through, before arriving at a stadium. The stadium was used to fight tigers and elephants. With elephants representing royalty and tigers the rebels, the tigers were tied to the centre of the stadium an so ultimately the elephant and therefore royalty always won!

The Paddy Fields

Queens Tomb

An emperor could have as many queens as he wanted. Soooo there was 1 emperor and 100 queens - "He was a busy guy" our guide informs us. Each queen had a tomb built around the city, so there are plenty to choose from. We went to a less well-known tomb, as we had access on our bikes.
According to feng shui, the higher the tower the better, and a tomb facing water is also preferable. Each of the 100 queens has a tomb, so there are dozens of them around the city of Hue.
The emperor had 147 children... Imagine Christmas?


Thien Mu Pagoda

Although 7 stories and the tallest religious building in Vietnam, the actual structure isn't quite as grand as the title it holds. That said it's a lovely place and perfect for a later afternoon trip, which gives you a beautiful light.

The Asian tourists took pictures with us for 20 minutes.
... And we took some awkward family photos.
The beards on these guys are made from plastic hair, unfortunately. I liked to imagine that it was made out of the monks hair.
This guy is doing the 'girl-in-the-club' finger Uh uh errrrrr.
Brilliant photobomb right there... We were none-the-wiser.
The monks playing football.
If you can make out the story of this monk - Thích Quảng Đức - (under where it says "a relic") it's worth a read. He burned himself to death in 1963 in order to try and achieve religious equality, as promised by the government. On a cheerier note it looks like the Chamber of Secrets car.

The Local Village/Rice Demonstation

This part of the tour felt a little bit cheeky to me. We went to look round this local village and a sweet lady demonstrated how they make rice, and other aspects of traditional village life, then of course, a basket was wafted around for tips. We get to the bridge for a group shot and then one lady does fortune telling for Tom... And then demands $1/20,000 dong. It was pretty but I wasn't prepared for this and was glad I grabbed a few spare notes last minute. It left a bitter taste in my mouth as we had no heads up about this and already paid a set amount for the tour. At first I thought I had left a 100,000 note for as a tip - that's 10 beers (!!!) - but luckily I left a smaller amount. Here are a few photos anyhow...

This is a pillow. No joke.

Pretending to whip the buffalo.
The fiesty fortune teller. Apparently Tom may have 2 OR 4 children and live a long life of 82 years. Pretty sure there was something about a girlfriend in there too.

The Fort

Our guide took us up to a fort to have a little snoop and it reminded me of the ones we used to explore as children in Guernsey.
The real selling point though, is the view over the Perfume River.

Making Incense

We also stopped to 'buy souvenirs' and watch how incense was made. 

So that was the motorbike tour. A good way to see some of the city fast and also support the local community, even if tact isn't their middle name. 

Citadel

The Citadel is the main reason why people go to Hue, although it wasn't anything that I'll be talking about for years to come.
The complex is absolutely massive, meaning there are actually golf buggies throughout the day that take you to different areas of the site.

We only had a morning, so looked at the immediate building and the surrounding area.

The moat itself is very pretty with waterlilies coating the water like a blanket in areas.
It's worth a look if you happen to be stopping over in Hue, but I wouldn't say you're missing out unless you have a particular interest in seeing it and you know the history and context. To really get the most out of it do your research, allow an entire day and take precautions against the heat.


Don't be mugged off - the tuk tuk drivers are pretty persuasive in telling you that the citadel is closed and offering a tour until it opens again in an hour or two.


What else did people get up to in Hue?


8.25.2014

Tailoring Your Dream Outfit in Hoi An - "Is it really that easy?"

This is the cherry on top of the cake when it comes to the beautiful town of Hoi An. You may have seen them in Top Gear... Perhaps not, but Hoi An is a well-known destination to get stuff tailored cheaply. Spread across this idyllic town is hundreds of tailors. You go in with a picture of what you want; choose from the samples on the mannequins; or pick from the magazines in the shop and within a day you'll have your item(s!!) back.


As my dress was backless it required a specific fitting. The tailor got me to go back to the shop at 8 in the morning so she could take me on the back of her bike to the tailor. It was quite the experience (the ride there that is) and it meant I got to see where the items where made. I'm happy to report that they were bad in the bottom floor of a house, with fans, space and modern looking machines. I was dreading getting there to see sweatshop conditions and walking away with a bad taste in my mouth. I think went again that afternoon to check the fit again. The fit was perfect but now they had put the slit in the dress I wasn't happy with the lining. I wish I'd said something at the time, but I just didn't have the heart. I regret it now though.


Below are my peals of wisdom to guide you through the ripples of fabric and army of mannequins to give you the item you really wanted.

  1. Have a clear idea in your head before you go. If you're not 100% clear, then go for something similar to a sample - just describing an item isn't going to yield the best results. Maybe copy a simple item you already own that you know suits you, picking a new fabric and adding a few details? 
  2. Walk round and window shop as many tailor shops as you can handle as there seems to be some that show a wider sample range of coats say, or formal dresses or suits. Look at the material each offers as it may differ, particularly looking for the quality of the fabric.
  3. Be firm with anything you're not happy with. They will and should do any alterations you ask for. Both the dresses I had made needed serious alterations after the first fitting and this will not cost you extra. Don't hand over your cash until you're 100% happy - I wish I'd been more picky at the time.  
    Me hiding from the picture...
    and a tiny glimpse of one of my dresses.
  4. Pay attention to the detail. Show them exactly how you want the waistband or the zip or the buttons. Pick your lining too! I didn't pick (they didn't offer) and ended up with a clashing lining.
  5. Check for faulty seams or stains on the fabric. I mean really get close and get them to remove ANY stains. Check for ripples in the fabric to make sure there are no uneven seams.
  6. Try getting a better price or higher quality fabric, but bear in mind you are unlikely to get them to drop the price more than 5 dollars or so. They will tell you they've already discounted it for you. They will however give you a discount if you purchase more than one item, so definitely negotiate this. Maybe get one item made and see if you're happy with the tailor first.
  7. Good tailors won't charge a deposit, some may charge a small deposit, but anywhere that asks for 60% upfront should be avoided.



8.20.2014

The Unexpected - Hoi An, Vietnam

Quite honestly I had barely researched my trip to Vietnam. Between working and panicking that Japan was going to be an alien planet, my research was wholly practical. How am I getting to each country. What should I take? How do I stay safe? How will I keep in touch? Have I got my confirmation? I read many blogs about how and what to pack; philosophical posts about how traveling 'changed' people; blogs about the highlights of Asia, but very little about what to expect of each place. Hoi An swept me off my feet and carried me through the door.

Here's why Hoi An has it all:

The River

The riverfront is lined with shops, restaurants with balconies over looking the water, palm trees and colourful boats. You may remember a certain instagram photo?


 

The Beach

How did I not know that Hoi An is a short cycle to the beach? And it's a sandy beach, lined with palms, beach cafes, sunbeds and families splish splashing about. It was a little windy for frisbee though I must say. 

The Shopping

Asides from the hundreds of tailor shops that have popped up across Hoi An, it's also a great place to pick up tasteful gifts. There are gazillions of lanterns strung in front of flower framed shops and at night it looks like a Disney Princess Kingdom. There is also the night market and although they are just as keen to sell as the rest of Vietnam, the beautiful setting more makes up for their selling style. You can pick up the normal jewellery as well as calligraphy prints and artwork that is painted right in front of you. The lanterns (below) come in all shapes, sizes and colours and fold small making them easier to transport home.

The Countryside

Bikes are a really good way of exploring around Hoi An - I did so on a trip organised by G Adventures*, but it would be easy to go exploring by yourself. This was probably my favourite excursion/tour/organised trip of them all. We took bikes through the paddy fields to see the local farming and the buffalos at work in the fields. We even got to ride the buffalo for a few minutes. The local produce is consumed by Hoi An meaning much fewer 'food miles', so you can feel good about what you're eating {see below}). The countryside is so quiet & quiant... and yes they really do farm like the photo below!
*I might add that after seeing the farming and the countryside, we then cycled to the beach (see above) and got a boat back at sunset - told you it was good one. 

The Historical Streets

You know a town is going to be pretty when it's a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. There are plenty of traditional houses you can go in to (provided you buy the ticket) but just walking around is beautiful enough. Try going to the Japanese bridge, which is beautiful, particularly at night. 

The Food

Just like the sailors who would head upstairs for a bite to eat while their boat was being unloaded, you too can dine overlooking the river one floor up. There are many restaurants lining the river and many have tasting menus so you can try some local specialities. 


The Coffee

A vietnamese coffee is strong... no, I said strong... and sweetened with condensed milk. Iced. It's so so refreshing and not at all bitter. If I were to pretend I'm a real coffee connoisseur, I would say that their coffee has almost a smooth, chocolatey taste. Sounds crazy but it's the only coffee I would consider drinking black; surely that says something?

The Nightlife

Despite being popular with a plethira (great word, great word) of tourists, there is a surprisingly hopping night life in Hoi An. Bars along the river will play your requests - even Taylor Swift... no kidding. If you're to the North of the river, you may want to pay the little lady to take you across in a tiny fishing boat. It's an adrenaline inducing ride for people like me, but amusement levels do increase if you've been drinking Vietnamese wine with dinner. Which come to think of it, is worth mentioning - there is Vietnamese wine (hurrah) and it's not too shabby, finally making it an afforadable drink for the night. Below is my "this-better-be-worth-it-or-rest-assured-I'll-haunt-you-in-the-afterlife" face.

Unlike many of the destinations I visited, Hoi An is a great standalone destination, even for a 2-week holiday. It appeals to any generation thanks to its history and location, so why not consider it with your family?