DAY 1 – HANOI
I have just arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam with a group from the UK. This tour has been organised by Arena Travel and we will be travelling the length and breadth of Vietnam, sampling the textiles (and the lovely food) all the way. Our afternoon starts at the Women’s Museum to see the costumes, clothes and to hear about the lives of Vietnamese women over the last few decades. After that, we visit the Temple of Literature which was the first university in Vietnam. A rollicking white knuckle, adrenaline pumping rickshaw ride followed and the day was finished off with a lovely welcome meal at the Wildrice restaurant.
DAY 2 – HANOI
Today was an early start to get to the Van Phuc silk village a few miles out of Hanoi.rt to the day, but not to our spirits. Once there, we wandered round the old village and located the looms by following the loud rhythmic beating noises and went in to see fine white silk being woven. Further on in the workshop, we saw articles being dyed in large metal vats and being hung out to dry on a long pole. Of course there were purchasing opportunities from the silk shops in the village.
Back on the bus and an hour later, we were at the top of the mountain pass looking into the valley and sampling sticky rice in bamboo. Later we were welcomed at a home stay for a freshly prepared feast and to sit and enjoy the peace and lushness of the valley. Our hostess is a weaver so she proudly shows off her loom and her work to us.
We got settled into our Ecolodge and then got ready for a scenic bike round around the valley. The farmers were ending their working day and school is out so we were surrounded by young children keen to show off a few words of English!
DAY 3 – HANOI/MAI CHAU
We woke to a beautiful dawn and a fabulous view from the balcony at Mai Chau Ecolodge. Our guide, Dinh, took us on a walk around the local area to see the crops, the animals and the flowers, and to explain about the way the land is farmed.
Our walk took us to a local “brocade centre” where the local ladies are taught how to weave and construct garments and accessories which are then sold in their shop and further afield. Of course, there was another purchasing opportunity!
More wanderings around the village took us past brightly coloured textiles, indigo batik fabrics, lacquered bowls, intricately carved bamboo pipes and sequin adorned hats. Dinh increased his wardrobe by buying an exotic shirt with a watermelon and pineapple print and the men in our group were not to be outdone, extending their own holiday wardrobes as well!
Our first stitching workshop took place in the Homestay where we had lunch yesterday. Again, we were treated to a wonderful lunch and then the fabrics came out! Today’s project was a book cover with an applique bird design that took inspiration from some of the folk art in Vietnam. Our hostess was intrigued and gave a helping hand with the customised cords to complete the project. The day ended with a lovely meal followed by a dancing display and a chance for some of the group to not only show of their new shirts but also their dancing skills!
DAY 4 – MAI CHAU/HANOI/SAPA
This morning we had a last wander round the grounds of the Ecolodge enjoying the flowers and the view from the balcony to the pool and beyond. Into the bus and a slow winding journey to the top of the pass where we stopped for a photoshoot. Our driver jumped out to purchase some oranges which Dinh prepared for us so that we could enjoy the juicy sweetness at our coffee stop.
We drove back to Hanoi to visit the Museum of Ethnology to see the types of houses that the ethnic minorities stay in and to understand the tradition of the water puppet theatre. The Museum shop here is to be recommended as it supports local craft workers and stitchers.
Our last stop today before getting on the overnight train north, was to visit a studio where traditional lacquer work is done. This skill was at risk of dying out but thanks to some enterprising folk, the craft has been revived and now an entire village is supported by the lacquer work that is made and sold! None of us appreciated just how labour-intensive the process was or how many months it took to complete a piece. Some work is created using a mosaic of broken eggshells and some is painted directly onto the prepared wood.
Keep your eyes peeled for Part 2 of Pat’s Travel Blog featuring visits to Sapa, Hanoi & Halong Bay (and plenty more of her stunning photos!)