Days 1 & 2
A few weeks ago, Pat Archibald and a group of textile enthusiasts jetted half way around the world to begin our Textile Highlights of Vietnam tour in Hanoi!
After a few hours rest, the group didn’t waste any time and quickly started exploring their surroundings by visiting the old quarter and then onto the Temple of Literature.
Next up was the first craft highlight of the trip – a visit to a silk weaving village on the outskirts of Hanoi. In the weaving room the noise was deafening but no ear defenders of the ladies who work there. Mother and daughter were busy setting up a warp, threading the fine silks through the heddle (thousands of threads making up the warp). The looms were automated and the silk was woven in the natural colour and then dyed later. Outside, away from the clatter of the looms in the courtyard, the group saw more traditional weaving being done. The shop had a wonderful selection of finished silk products, everything temptingly displayed.
Further up the mountains they stopped to sample some sticky rice cooked in bamboo pipes and then went on to Mai Chau valley to visit a ‘homestay’ for a wonderful lunch looking over to their ecolodge. Then the tricky decision had to be made whether to enjoy a dip in the pool or a cycle around the valley to see the working day of the local farmers come to an end!
A leisurely walk through the paddy fields led the group to a newly setup weaving school – where weavers carry on the weaving traditions but with a contemporary touch, creating cloth which is made into beautiful iPad covers, rucksacks, pencil cases and more. Some took up the offer of trying their hands at weaving and really appreciated afterwards how skilled the craft it.
After carrying on through the valley the group saw an abundance of varieties of butterfly and pased more homestay houses where textiles and local costumes were for sale before reaching their workshop venue. Here they enjoyed lunch served on a banana leaf and spectacular views across the fields.This afternoon was the group’s first stitching workshop together which was very relaxing. Afterwards the hostess demonstrated her weaving skills and of course there was another retail opportunity to purchase some of her colourful cloth.
Leaving the ecolodge this morning, the group headed up the mountain to stop for a photo shoot at the top and a last look down into the valley before driving back on the freeway to visit the Museum of Ethnology. The museum tells the story of the 54 ethnic minorities in Vietnam and also has a beautiful garden with a collection of some of the tribal houses from different areas of the country.
In the early evening the group walked through the old quarter taking in the testing smells of street food, down shady alleys towards the lake. Each weekend the street around the lake is pedestrianised and families come out in force to promenade, to play games and look at the reflections of the red bridge in the calm night waters. After the evening meal they collected their suitcases and set off for to the station to catch the overnight train to Bac Ha Station in the north ready to see the market the next day.
A visit to the Sunday Market in Bac Ha was a must! The ladies come in from the countryside to sell their vegetables and set up stands to make street food for all the customers who are arriving to buy anything from tobacco (home grown), alcohol (home brew), fruits, vegetables, kitchen utensils, textiles and water buffalo and anything else you can think of. The ladies are from the Flower Hmong tribe and their costumes reflect that. The atmosphere is busy, chaotic, business-like but also a weekly catch up for folk.
The fruits and the vegetables were so fresh, some familiar and some very unfamiliar but the guide bought some to sample and talked them through some ways in which the ingredients are cooked. One of our group was brave enough to try the Bac Ha version of black pudding and was still smiling after the experience!
Later in the day they arrived in Sapa and had a stroll around the town. In particular they wanted to meet with some of the Red Dzao ladies who have a particular style of cross stitch on the indigo dye fabric. The stitches are tiny, often a mustard coloured yellow on navy or even a black thread on navy and the patterns all have significant meanings. The group were treated to a demonstration not only of the stitching but also of how the traditional headgear is wrapped and folded in place. Some little children were beautifully dressed in traditional costume in the town centre as we passed by. Later that evening Pat took a stroll around the town and the Red Dzao ladies were still stitching outdoors in the dark by the light of their head torches.
Up early this morning to take a roller coaster of a bus ride out of Sapa today towards the valley for a scenic walk through the paddy fields to the workshop location. The minute they stepped out the bus they were surrounded by ladies of the Black Hmong tribe who were keen to walk and chat to us and sell us their needlework. Mrs Dzee, a local batik artist greeted them and had all the charcoal burners and melted wax ready for them. She gave some quick instructions and off they went to create their own batik picture.
Not only does Mrs Dzee do batik she grows her own hemp, strips the fibres from it, then spins it and weaves it. Once the woven cloth has been dyed in the indigo tub she rubs beeswax into it and polishes it to a shiny finish by placing it between a log of wood and a stone that she balances on and rocks on. A completely labour intensive process which makes you appreciate the end result so much more.
The day after the workshop with Mrs Dzee, her daughter-in-law arrived by motorbike at the group’s hotel early in the morning with the finished batik pieces. Everyone was delighted with the results and were buzzing with ideas as to how to embellish them with quilting, stitch and beading. The Sapa Museum is a short walk from the hotel and is well worth the visit to find out more about the area and its tradition of textiles.
Margaret, one of the ladies in the group had a special birthday today and Tung, the local guide arrived with a gift for her. The group then set off for their descent down into Cat Cat Village pausing to take in the views on the way down of the terracing, the indigo dyeing and the makers of the textiles.
Once down into Cat Cat Village at the bottom of the valley they were treated to stunning views of the waterfalls, the water wheels and demonstrations of the traditional crafts of hemp spinning and basket making. After a short walk along the hillside and across the suspension bridge they were back at the bus for the return journey to the overnight train to Hanoi. But before getting on the train they had an evident meal at the Bordeaux Restaurant and a birthday celebration for Margaret with an amazing cake and more gifts. What a way to spend a special day!
Days 9 & 10
After arriving into Hanoi the group were taken to a city Centre Park which was buzzing with activity. Tai Chi, aerobics, football and ballroom dancing was getting into full swing as they arrived. The best activity was “Laughter Yoga” which the group were invited to take part in – it was impossible not to laugh along with everyone else! With dawn breaking and smile muscles aching they set of towards Halong Bay for the overnight cruise. Along the way they stopped to see how immaculately stitched pictures were made and another stop to see how cultured pearls are farmed and then made into exquisite jewellery.
Arriving at Halong Bay they boarded the boat and set sail out into the bay. They were fed amazing food for the whole of the 24 hours that they were aboard and had a activity packed schedule – all optional, if wanted just to relax and watch the islands go by you could. Pat’s first activity was to take the tender to Ti Top island and climb to the top. Just as she reached the top the sun was setting over the distant islands. The next day they started with Tai Chi on the deck before heading off in the tender again to explore some caves famous for their stalactites and stalagmites. Back for brunch and time to relax on the deck before disembarking.
A short flight took the group down to Hoi An, the town of lanterns. Dinh, the guide, took them for a walking tour around the old town, along the riverside and into the old family houses and temples explaining about the Japanese, Chinese and French influences in the city. They stopped at one of the ancient houses made from iron wood to have a lantern making workshop. With a little bit of help from the instructors all managed to make a lantern to take home. (They all collapse into a tube). Later they took a boat up river to the pottery village and then off into the night markets for dinner and then a walk around the town to soak up the evening atmosphere.
The second day in Hoi An took the group to the Silk Weaving Village where they saw the progress of the silkworm from egg to cocoon and through the spinning and weaving process. They all had a chance to try their hand at pulling the fine thread off the cocoons, spinning the threads, filling the bobbins and then weaving. Each process required a steady hand and good eye, hand and foot coordination. They saw a variety of different looms and the various types of traditional weaving that could be done on each loom.
Today they flew down to Saigon and then continued their journey onwards to the Mekong Delta stopping for lunch at a lovely restaurant surrounded by beautiful gardens. The only way to the ecolodge is by boat so their luggage was piled on followed by them and then they had a gentle cruise down the river as sun was setting. Here each of them had a little bungalow with bamboo deckchairs on the verandah to relax in.
A relaxed start to the day and then they were back in the boat to cruise around the river system to see the floating markets and visit a local family run sweet factory. Here the group had a demonstration of how rice crispies are made, flavour added and then packaged up for sale in the local markets and further afield. Dinh took them for a walk around a local food market where some of the produce was very unfamiliar and perhaps not too appetising for their tastes! A seafood lunch was served to them in the grounds of a beautiful old family house. Onto another family home where they walked around the gardens to see the produce ripening in the orchard- rose apples, guavas and bananas etc. A musical performance was put on for their benefit. Back for a swim before dinner.
During the last evening in the Mekong they group had a cookery lesson from their chef. Up for anything, the team got started and were surprised at the success of the results. The next morning there was time to relax and a last walk around the grounds before embarking the boat and being waved off.
A big thank you to our expert, Pat Archibald, for posting her fantastic pictures on her Facebook page during the trip.