Hoi An

I’ve skipped a few stops and have been flat out maintaining a travel diary and trying to post photos on Facebook and so blogging as fallen by the way. But I do want to get my thoughts down about Hoi An.

Hoi An is very French colonial in design. Plenty of old buildings, which look ever so slightly decayed. These are interspersed with Chinese Assembly Halls and Chinese houses, built in the 1500s and 1600s when Hoi An was an important trading port. Part of the old town is reserved for walking & bikes only, so a welcome relief from the rush of motorbikes and vehicles.

Trading was the reason for the establishment of Hoi An and it continues to be so. Overnight you can have clothes, shoes, jewellery, paintings all add from either a copy of something you own or from cataloguez. The streets are lined with tailors, shoemaker, jewellers, opticians, shoemakers and art galleries. People exhort you to have a look in their shop & start up conversations on the pretext of being interested in you, but really only wanting to sell you something. You aren’t even safe in the many restaurants. Children come to your table trying to sell their goods. Shop after shop, seller after seller, all selling the same thing. The night market we wandered through had stall after stall all selling the same tourist souvenirs. And then there are also the spas, with girls standing in the street trying to convince you to come into their spa for a massage. Cyclo drivers circle the town continually asking for a fare.

The easiest way to decide where to shop is to have a guide to identify the best places for each specialty and the best places to eat. We shopped at Yali tailors, Blue Eye Tailor, Water Lily jewellery and Vietnam Au Optical. For food we ate at Green Mango, Cargo, Lantern Terrace and Mermaid restaurants – all
very good with the highlights being Mermaid and the cooking class at Lantern Terrace.

Walking the other way from our hotel leads to the beach. The road to the beach was long, and becomes unsealed, but so worth the walk, especially when knowing that coffee and orange juice at the Hoi An Beach Resort is at the end. Many people hire bikes in Hoi An and ride to the beach, where beach parking is available for 5,000 dong.

Shopping at Blue Eye

Hoi An

Chicken grilled in banana leaf


Beach in Hoi An

Japanese covered bridge, Hoi An

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Luang Prabang

Nestled in the junction of Nam Khan and the Mekong River, Luang Prabang is an escape from the hurry & stress of life. Things move slowly, but purposefully and the people are always ready with a Sabaidii.

The town is small, but is all about catering to the tourist. The start of the main street is where a lot of tuktuk drivers hang out, asking if you want a tuktuk or a trip to the caves or waterfalls, showing you laminated sheets with destinations and prices. They take no for an answer and leave you alone without hassling you. The next part of the street has street vendors set up selling fruit shakes & Lao sandwiches. The fruit shakes are delicious, and the sandwiches look great, but we did not dare to try one.

The rest of the street is full of restaurants, tour companies selling trips by various means of transport to the elephants, waterfalls, trips down the Mekong and shops selling all manner of Lao crafts.

At night, the street is closed and turned into a night market. Stall after stall selling scarves, tshirts, purses, bags, silver, aprons and slippers. So many stalls and so much of the same thing. Quite often the designs from stall to stall are the same and each stallholder will tell you they either made it themselves or it was made in their village.

Food is important in Luang Prabang and we enjoyed some fabulous meals. TheTamarind Restaurant is set across the road from Nam Khan and focuses on Lao cuisine. There are no soft drinks, no steamed rice. The flavours are amazing and lots of new food experiences, including the opportunity to try chilli frog, an opportunity which we chose not to take up. Most of the other restaurants offer both Lao food, other asian food and sometimes western food.

There are 30 temples in Luang Prabang. We visited only one, however the streets are filled with monks going to & from school. At 6am each day they walk down the main street collecting alms. People put food into their bowls as they walk past. But this is an area to be careful, and the only time in Laos I have felt disappointed. Ladies on the street grab you immediately & give you plates of food to give to the monks, and then continue to replenish it. At the end they demand payment or each plate they have given you & these plates cost more than a meal in a restaurant.

We made one day trip out to Kuang Si falls, also home to the Bear Rescue Centre. The falls are beautiful and very high. After climbing to the top, a swim at the bottom was very refreshing, as was the fruit shake from the cafe near the swimming holes. The bears were also very interesting, lots of rescued bears seemingly exhausted by the heat. These bears have either been rescued at the border as they ate smuggled overseas or from farms where they were kept in small cages and used to produce bile.

In September Luang Prabang enjoys the boat racing festival. While we weren’t there for the big day on the Nam Khan we did go to one of the village festivals. Very kindly we were invited to our guides house for lunch & then we went own to the Mekong River. People were everywhere,enjoying each others company and many bottles of Beerlao. There were food vendors and games being played, balloons being sod and boats racing. The boats race two at a time. The winner advance onto the next race and the loser races against another boat which has lost a race. Once a boat loses two race they are out of the competition. A really fun day and a privilege to be invited to a Laos home.

Boat racing on the Mekong River

The night market

Alms giving

Kuang Si falls

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Finally, after months of planning, my Indochina visit has begun! First stop was 2 nights in Vientiane, capital of Laos.

I had little knowledge of the city or Laos before coming here. So with no expectations I was prepared for the worst, but hoping for the best. And I was pleasantly surprised!

My views on Vientiane may be clouded in that we spent a Sunday in the city. Apparently it is a lot busier during the week. But on a Sunday it feels like a gentle city, with no hurrying. The traffic was light and roads easy to cross. You are not hassled by shopkeepers to buy, and the tuktuk drivers only ask once.

It was raining all morning, but life just continues with an umbrella in hand. There was temples everywhere, including Wat si Saket, one of the only temples which survived the Thai attacks on the city. With the cloisters filled with little Buddhas in niches and
lots of other representations of Buddha, it is a pretty special place.

The victory arch gives a great view of Vientiane once you make the climb to the top. The Great Stupa is also surrounded by temples, and has a huge space in front for the annual festival to be held.

Vientiane is not a crowded city, there is space and sky. And the Mekong river lazily defines the edge of the city. When we were there we were surprised to find that there were no oats on the river. It felt like the city has turned its back on the river, avoiding the view of Thailand on the other side. There is no bridge in vientiane to cross into the neighboring country. Our guide told us the nearest bridge was approx 25km away.

I felt safe walking around the city. The people greet you with a smile and a Sabaidii. I spoke to a young man in the Cope centre, who had lost his hands and his sight to unexploded ordinance.

Vientiane is a lovely city to spend a day or two. Or to spend a week sampling all the wonderful food on offer at all the restaurants, so many different cuisines on offer!

Great Stupa

Wat si Saket

The street we stayed in, looking to the cultural centre.

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Poor Little Owl

Cubs is making me do all sorts of things that terrify me – camping in winter, teaching a heap of kids how to cook pancakes without burning little fingers and making projects.

Loo had to make something out of fibre as part of working towards his bronze boomerang.  I was trying to work out if I had the patience to teach him how to backstitch and then give him an embroidery to do when I remembered the Sock Owl kit I won at Sew It Together last year.

So we pulled out of the pieces and had a look.  It didn’t look like it would be too difficult for us to do together.  Cutting the sock was reasonably easy & I could manage that.  Stuffing the owl was OK.  Sewing the bottom was a bit tricky, and isn’t terribly neat but we both did some of the that.  Loo sewed together the fabric & felt for the wings & sewed them on.  Then I started the eyes and he finished them.  I was left to do the crosses on the eyes, the beak & the tummy for him.  The most difficult bit was the feet – we haven’t done a very good job, but we did it together.  He started them off & I finished it – they don’t look quite right, but he was happy.

Loo was able to take a finished product to cubs and the owl is now a much loved friend.  He is called Bombarda.

Thank you to the very generous Claire from Craft Schmaft – she has lots of lovely softy patterns available and has some pictures of how the owl should look!  It was a lovely activity for us to be able to do together.

I am really looking forward to doing Claire’s Sock Owl Workshop on Saturday at Sew It Together in Canberra.  Hoping my second attempt looks much better than the first!

How much is too much???

At the moment I feel like I have a lot of balls in the air.  And I feel like I am dropping an awful lot of them.

At the moment our week looks like this:

Monday: Work/ School, Cubs

Tuesday: Work/School, Maths Coaching, Soccer Training

Wednesday: Work (late finish)/School, bible study

Thursday: Work (late finish)/School, piano lessons, soccer training

Friday: Work/School, Youth group

Saturday: Soccer uniform shop from 8am – 10.30 am, 2 games of soccer

Sunday: Church, family dinner

In addition to this I am also squeezing in various appointments, shopping, cleaning and exercise.  Oh, and a trip to Dubbo, a weekend at Cub camp and Sew It Together all before 30 June.

I know my boys are involved in lot of activities – soccer for both, cubs & piano for Loos, maths coaching & Youth group for Noos – but what do you say no to?  And each activity is important for a number of reasons.

This is my busiest time of the year at work – trying to get tax returns completed, as well as other compliance requirements all due around this time and we are also upgrading our major software package in the next month.  And I’ve decided to do the next  round of 12wbt too.

So things are sliding….housework is being done at the bare mimimum.  We have clean clothes, clean dishes & we have food to eat.  Anything else is a bonus.   As for time to try some sewing, well that is pretty much non existent.

But, as I think about how overwhelmed I am feeling, I start counting the months until I go away – 4 months tomorrow.  And know that I just need to get through the next little while and then I will have some time for me!


Trip Planning

I have not been a good blogger lately.  Life just seems to get in the way of sitting down and actually typing out something remotely readable.  All my focus seems to have been on helping Noos with school – I have learnt so much about our local suburb, Howard Florey and various number systems.  I may yet find all that knowledge that has drained out of my brain over the last 20 odd years.

But one of the main things taking up a lot of brain space is planning my holiday!!  As a birthday present to myself I have organised and booked a month long holiday on my own – no children, no work, no responsibilities.

So, I was pretty thrilled when this arrived in the mail:

I have been avidly reading and trying to make sure that I won’t  miss seeing anything – nothing worse than coming home & finding out you missed a must see place.

My birthday presents were travel related – a new bag which can be wheeled, carried or put on my back (and it looks very small to be living out of it for a month), a daypack with a mesh bit at the back so air can get between you & the bag, and a travel handbag which is antitheft in many ways.

I have now booked 2 tours & my airfare all through intrepid – the tours are wonderfully priced and will give me a full cultural experience.  The 3 things that scare me the most are the night on a junk on Halong Bay, an overnight train trip on the Reunification Express from Hanoi and the public bus between Ho Chi Minh City & Phnom Penh.  All well outside my comfort zone!

And today I have been shopping for clothes to take – super light skirts & pants, long sleeved anti bug shirt and and a short sleeved cotton shirt.

Biggest problem is shoes.  I am thinking I will need something cool, comfy and waterproof.  Also looked at those today and gave up.  Any ideas???

My next job is to start organising visas – 4 countries, 3 of which require visas.  The benefit of living in the national capital is this can be done relatively easily.

Back to Stitching

Today I visited our local, and quite well known, Handmade Shop to do a stitching workshop.

I have been shopping at the Handmade Shop since it opened and admired all the gorgeous things so many talented people had made.  I’ve bought a lot of presents for various friends there.  Over January they doubled the size of the shop and now have a space up the back to do workshops for 10 people.

When I saw that the first workshop was a stitching sampler & included learning to sew on a button I was thrilled and quickly registered to attend.  I arrived at the right time, and just as it started.  Disappointingly I hadn’t left enough time to grab a cuppa before the workshop, which I had been thinking about while driving into town.

Vanessa, the instructor, told us about her background which included a lot of crafty things, including making wedding dresses.  She was very good at explaining slowly what to do & was very very patient.  We started off with running stitch, followed by whip stitch (a personal favourite of mine) and then chain stitch.  The last thing she showed us was how to sew on a button.  The stitches were all familiar to me from the Prints Charming stitching workshop I did last year, but the refresher was very helpful.

I managed to finish my sampler:

I’m not particularly happy with the colours I chose, but the choices were limited when I was picking & the lady next to me quickly grabbed the pinks I had been admiring.  But I finished it!

We also discussed with Vanessa other types of workshops we would like to do – so now I will be watching out for other interesting crafty things for me to learn.

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