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Our photos from Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh is much loved in Vietnam

We’ve just uploaded a selection of our photos from our time in Vietnam. We hope you enjoy flicking through them. You can access them here, and let us know what you think!

More on Laos in our next post…

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Cruising Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay

We’ve been on the move since Hoi An, overnighting in Hue (calling in on the citadel and the forbidden city which was surprisingly pleasant, even in the rain), and then travelling an epic 15 hours overnight to Hanoi, the capital. We’ve based ourselves in the old quarter, bustling with people and mopeds where each of the streets has a specialty: food, shoes, wicker baskets, fruit juice or metalwork etc. We visited the Museum of Ethnology and enjoyed marvelling over the replica traditional houses and also spent two lovely evenings tangoing with the Hanoians. We really get a kick out of using tango to socialise in different countries.

Life-sized vegetable flowers

A highlight of our time in Vietnam has been our two-day Ha Long Bay tour. We organised this the day before we left. Our two days were a romantic get-away, serenely cruising past the islets. The weather was chilly and slightly grey but the stillness and mist created an otherworldly feel so we got to appreciate the beauty of the setting in a different way. On board, Jon rated our cabin as the ‘best place we’ve stayed’ and being catered for felt like a real luxury. The meals were more like banquets and our table was adorned with decorative carved fruit and flowers made from vegetables. The tour included a trip to Sung Sot (translation: the surprising cave) to see the rock formations and time for kayaking to get a little bit closer to the islets and incredible floating fishing villages, complete with floating pub!

Every hotel and travel agency offers tours and it can be difficult to know what you’re getting. We used online reviews to know the companies to avoid. Our trip was run by APT travel and we were very happy with the boat (Halong Dragon) and service.

Tonight, we’re catching the overnight bus for our journey to Laos and the capital Vientiane. It’s a long ride, about 20 hours, but we’ve heard that the scenery is beautiful. It should also be warmer so we’ll be able to go back to our summer wear and repack our thermals!


Vietnamese recipes

Shaun, our cookery course chef

While in Hoi An we went to a cookery course and learned to cook four dishes: fresh spring rolls with prawns and pork, noodle soup with beef (Pho Bo), fish cooked in a clay pot and sauteed water spinach with garlic. All amounts are to make enough for 6 people but otherwise, you’ll have to use your own judgement. The dishes were all simple to make and delicious. We’re looking forward to trying them out once we have access to a kitchen. If you try them out, let us know how it goes!

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Tailoring in Hoi An

My dapper new suit

We thought we’d share our experiences of getting clothes and shoes made while we were in Hoi An.  It’s a bit of a scary process, touts vie for your business at every corner, prices and quality vary wildly, and you can never be exactly sure how it might turn out.  We used three different tailoring shops and ended up with a suit, three shirts, a blazer and some trousers for Jon, and three cotton print dresses, one silk dress, a pair of trousers, cherry-red leather boots and slinky slingback shoes for Lou. We found the cost for made-to-measure to be roughly half to two-thirds of what you’d pay for off-the-peg in the UK.

Material is a key issue as unless you’re an expert, it’s really hard to know if that silk dress you’ve ordered is indeed silk and not a cheaper mix.  We’ve come across this throughout our travels.  The more expensive tailor shops in Hoi An provide details of the mix if you want to make sure you’re getting what you paid for.   One way is to take a lighter along and try to burn some threads – generally if they smell like burning hair then it’s natural, if not then it’s synthetic, or at least watch the tailor’s reaction and see if they flinch.

Design is the next thing to consider.  We think it’s best to have an idea of what you want before you get there.  Take a picture along (they all have access to internet) or even an item that you want to copy.  We saw quite a lot of people getting things made that didn’t really suit them. This applied to girls’ dresses in particular as guys were generally buying classic suits.  Alternatively choose a tailors displaying an example of the style you like.

Lou's new shoes

Detail – the devil is in the detail.  This is the point to do your research on the clothing details.  If you’re getting a suit tailored then you’ll need to understand the components of what makes a good suit and what sets a tailored suit apart from the pack.  Specify this at the start and then make sure its played out in the fitting sessions.  Carefully examine the suit on your first fitting to check for material or sowing defects, fit, length and consistency in the symmetry.  The tailors don’t seem to take written notes in our experience so perhaps keeping your own record of what you want changing is worthwhile.

For recommendations of a good tailors, check out the TripAdvisor website.  We were largely happy with Kimmy’s Tailors, although it required a lot of input on our part.  For example, on each jacket I ordered the sleeves were different lengths, something you’d hope would have been checked by the tailor. However this was fixed by the next fitting after we pointed it out.  Also A Dong Silk gets a good write up, but it’s more expensive. We had the shoes made at Everybody’s Fashion at 718 Hai Ba Trung Street.

Finally, it’s important to leave plenty of time so that you’re not rushed and can be entirely happy with the items you’ve ordered.  Of course this leaves new time to get even more things made once you’re happy with the first batch. We’d leave four or five days to get a suit made and fitted.  Leaving a shorter amount of time entails the risk that you can’t get the finer details sorted to your satisfaction.


Our top ten things to do in Hoi An

The Japanese bridge

We really enjoyed spending nearly a week in Hoi An and wanted to share the things we enjoyed most. So here’s our guide to the best of Hoi An, Jon and Lou style:

1. Get on your bike
In first place, we really loved the freedom to explore further afield and to visit the lovely beach. Lots of hotels and people on the street have bikes for hire at $1 a day. Cycling past paddy fields and witnessing everyday life of the people in Hoi An is something you need to leave the old town for.

2. Full moon celebrations
If you can, try to schedule your trip to coincide with a full moon. Hoi An celebrates by turning off all electric lights, banning bicycle and moped from the old town streets, leaving the town pedestrian-friendly and beautifully lit by lanterns. People float candles down the river to bring good luck to their families and the lanterns shops look amazing with all the bright colours blazing in the darkness. We got to watch some performances of traditional theatre and play Vietnamese bingo sung by two ‘callers’ accompanied by traditional instruments.

3. Take a cookery course
Learn how to make a selection of yummy Vietnamese dishes. Our cookery course took us on a market tour and showed us how to make fresh spring rolls, beef noodle soup, fish in a caramel sauce cooked in a clay pot and wilted spinach with garlic. If that’s making your mouth water,  we’ll add the recipes to our blog soon.

4. Get something tailored
Hoi An is the tailoring capital of Asia and every second shop wants to measure you up! It can be scary but once you take the plunge, you’ll find it addictive. We had lot of things made, split between three different tailoring shops. You can check TripAdvisor for recommendations or ones to avoid. There’s lots to say so we’ll post on this again separately.

5. Street food
We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at street-side stalls nearly every day.  We loved the food, the variety and mingling with the locals while perched on tiny stools! Our favourite spot was eating down by the riverside, tucking into Cau Lau while watching the boats go by. We also tried some desserts, including one made with black beans and ginger and another made from black sesame seeds. They’re really good, think rice pudding but with beans.

Brightly coloured lanterns

6. Buy lanterns
There are shops on both sides of the river, all beautifully lit at night. It’s impossible to resist the colours of the fabrics and different shapes. Plus they’re really inexpensive so you can indulge yourself.

7. Happy feet
In addition to all the tailoring shops, there are also loads of places selling custom-made shoes to any size and design. The range is incredible and there’s unlimited scope for the imagination to run wild. I jumped at the chance to have some cherry red leather boots made and a pair of slinky slingbacks to match one of my new tailored dresses.

8. Take a boat ride
Best done at night, ideally on the full moon celebration so you can admire all the lanterns and floating candles. The lady we were with made Jon paddle the boat, earning his passage, and we had to bend very low to make it underneath the bridge. It’s a magical way to get a different perspective of Hoi An.

9. Explore the old town
Hoi An is one of the prettiest places we’ve seen. The old town lives up to its description of charming, with colonial buildings mixed with communal meeting houses.  We enjoyed just wandering around the streets and market, taking photos and checking out the food on offer at the different street stalls.

10. Cheap beer!
We spent a very enjoyable afternoon at one of the riverside restaurants, taking advantage of the very cheap fresh beer, less then 10p a glass! It’s cold, light, refreshing and very drinkable. We saw it being delivered in plastic bottles by a man on a moped.