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How do Buddhist Monks Wear Their Robes?

How do Buddhist Monks wear their robes by Haute Culture photo Ajay Sood

Have you ever asked a monk to take off his robes? No? Just me then… The burning question that has been on all our minds (or just mine) has finally been answered. But asking a monk to get undressed and dressed again wasn’t as bad as it sounds. How does one find out how the Buddhist monks wear their robes? Simply by asking!


Shrouded in secrecy and sacrosanct, monks have always been an forsaken mystery to me. Wrapped from breast to toe in enough manipulated fabric to give Yohji Yamamoto a run for his money, I’ve long wondered what draping design permits the special silhouettes of the saffron sect.

As with many devoted religious groups, Buddhist monks are forbidden to touch a women, be touched by a women, too be alone with a women at any time, and even to accept offerings from a women (except in the Giving of Alms). Basically monks and women don’t mix. Such a opportunity was always going to be very few and far between. A fact I thought I would never learn. So when I glanced across a carpark and caught said monk dressing in his robes out in public, I thought there was no better time to leg it over and carpe diem!

I tore across the temple grounds with my palms in prayer position, a stupendous smile slapped across my face and translator in tow. The monk graciously stepped away from the car he was just about to occupy and walked towards us with eyebrows raised. My attentive assistant Oak from the Thailand Association of Travel Agents managed to convey that my request was purely in the aid of research. The monk took my business card and agree to share the sartorial secrets of the sacred. WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW!

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Countries Thailand Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles

Phi Ta Khon Festival: The Ghosts & Ghouls of Thailand

phi ta khon haute culture

Did you know that Thailand has a history steeped in scary superstitions about ghosts and ghouls? Spirit houses in every yard, incognito nicknames from birth and the parading phantoms of the Phi Ta Khon ‘Festival of Ghosts’ ผีตาโขน, are just some of the great lengths Thai people go to avoid ethereal encounters.

Phi Ta Khon “Festival of Ghosts”
Buddhist legend tells the tale that centuries ago Prince Vessandorn (believed to be the penultimate incarnation of Buddha) returned to the village in which he was previously banished. The community were so overwhelmed and happy by his return they rushed into the streets to celebrate. In all the commotion and the excitement the noise from the crowds was so grandiose it woke the dead spirits from the forest nearby. Today the parade entices the masses every year after year with a spectacular surge of dancing spirits throughout the streets and is seemingly the Asian equivalent to Halloween.

Phi Ta Khon is held over 3 days involving music, dance, games, fireworks and religious sermons. Every June it is held in the otherwise sleeply town of Dan Sai, North East Thailand, details are listed below.

Phi Ta Khon Bangkok Ghosts Haute Culture

Me coming face to face with a Phi Ta Khon Ghost in Bangkok at Tbex Asia


Creepy Costumes
Originally a children’s festival, Phi Ta Khon has gradually grown over the generations into an elaborate example of artistic ensembles. The primary focus of any costume in the festivities is the magnificent monstrous mask. Made from coconut husks and wood, the masks are deliberately hand decorated with huge protruding noses, peering evil eyes and terrifying teeth. Traditionally it was noted as bad luck to keep a mask after the festival was over and locals would instead cast them into the town’s river, but now resident artisans sell their masks to tourists for 1000s of Thai Baht each year. The costume designs themselves are often simple silhouettes focused on making the most of movement during the dances. Long strips of fabric from a vibrant concoction of multi coloured materials are either patch worked together or used for fringing decoration.

Phi Ta Khon festival mask Thailand Image: Pinterest

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Countries Dao Hmong Lao Lu Lolo Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Tribes Vietnam

10 Vietnamese Textile Hill Tribes Every Fashion Lover Should Know

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 Are you looking for the best fashion show in Asia? Do you love handcrafted artisan ensembles? Unknown to most is that Vietnam has a staggering 54 different ethnic minorities, many of whom’s cultural costumes are more creatively crafted and indigenously inventive than those so called couture designers in Paris. 

  Check out Haute Culture’s essential guide to the real originators of individuality and style in South East Asia.

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Countries Lolo Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Tribes Vietnam

Lung Cu LoLo Ethnic Minority, Ha Giang, Vietnam

Lolo Lung Cu Village haute culture ethnic fashion costume vietnam

“No. No you can not see”, was the answer I was not willing to accept when investigating the location of the elusive Lolo people. The Lolo people (also known as the Yi people in China) are a very special 1 in 54 ethnic minorities from Vietnam living in the tiny remote village of  Lung Cu. Lolo people believe in folkloric stories, sharing tales of the past through dancing, festivals and playing music on sacred brass drums. They worship and celebrate legends, spirits and gods of nature. Lolo people have no distinguishable identifying features in the day time because they wear regular western clothes, but during  very special occasions a few times a year the women wear the most elaborate, vibrant and intricate costumes. 

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Countries Dao Hmong Life on the road Shopping Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Trends Tribes Vietnam

Meo Vac: Market, Ethnic Minorities & Ma Pi Leng Pass

haute culture fashion blog black dao vietnam meo vac

“Put your money where you mouth is” holds a whole new meaning to the Black Dao and Hmong women living in the mountains of Ha Giang, North Vietnam. A sparkling smile catching the light across a corn field can symbolise a few meanings to the unsuspecting onlooker in the ethnic minority market towns of Meo Vac and Don Van.

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Countries Hmong Shopping Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Trends Tribes Vietnam

Dong Van Market: The Dazzling Glitter Girls of Ha Giang

haute culture fashion blog don van meo vac vietnam hmong costume jacket

Caked in gold, silver and holographic metallic’s, wearing neon pink, canary yellow and lime green, the girls flirt in full flare skirts coordinated with beads, sashes, aprons and head scarfs. It was like watching a group of women going out for a night on the town, only it was 7am…
AT – DONG – VAN – MARKET – IN – THE – MOUNTAINS – OF – VIETNAM.

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Countries Life on the road Moung Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Trends Tribes Vietnam

Mong women of Mai Chau: Folk Ballads and Betel Nuts

mong-ethnic-women-mai-chau-vietnam-haute-culture

Smiling ear to ear and ecstatically happy to see me, they heckled me over to join them waving a bottle of something alluring above their heads. Before I sat down my tea cup was filled with a black liquid and Chúc sức khoẻ was cheered in the air. The ladies were obviously in the prime of their life and enjoying each other’s girly company on a hot and hazy day. The reasonably pleasant tasting black liquor was some kind of home brew made from herbs and rice wine. It wasn’t their first, nor would it be our last.

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Countries Hmong Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Tribes Vietnam

Cultural Costume at Pa Co Hmong Market Moc Chau

haute culture vietnam mai chau Pa Co ethnic market red hmong costume children

A short 30km ride from Mai Chau nestled away from the mountains main road is the tiney tiny village of Pa Co. Small in size but heaving in habitué at the weekend, for the Sunday markets main trade is in textiles, costumes and haberdashery for the ethnic Red and Blue Hmong people. (Reading time 3 minutes) Continue Reading

Countries Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Vietnam

Vietnamese Ao Dai

Ao Dai Hanoi Vietnam Cultural Costume

The Vietnamese Ao Dia is a high neck, slim fitting 5 panel dress, with side splits to the waist and generally worn with palazzo style trousers. It is the symbol of Vietnamese beauty and can be seen almost everyday in Vietnamese culture. It is often worn for formal and special occasions by women and girls of all ages.


Vietnamese Ao Dai Event

“Hanoi Connecting Five Continents” was a colorful event boasting traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai, music, dance and fashion. Staged outside in Ly Thai To Square in the hub of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the event was to honour the 125th birth date of Vietnam’s revolutionary communist leader Ho Chi Minh. The department of culture and commerce wanted to celebrate Hanoi’s cultural diversity with a creative collaboration by combining Vietnamese and international fashion designers with it’s expatriate residents.

French, English, American, Russian, Australian, African, Spanish, and Vietnamese beauties proudly paraded down the catwalk in front of government officials, locals and curious tourists. It has been along time since I have done any modeling, probably over 10 years, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Cross Cultural Collaboration

The renowned designer’s NtK Nhat Dung ( Vietnam) and Diego Cortizas of Chula (Spain) presented their contemporary interpretations of the traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai.  Both designers collections were  inspired by Vietnams rich and exuberant artistic aesthetics. They applied an assortment of textile techniques such as hand painting, embroidery, beading and applique on a luxurious selection of multi colored silks, brocades and velvets. The designs themselves exhibited influences from Vietnamese ethnic hill tribes, french iron works and ceramic floor tiles.  

Nkt Nhat Dung Vietnamese Ao Dai with Yen Tran

Nkt Nhat Dung putting the finishing touches on model Yen Tran

Vietnamese Ao Dai by Ntk Nhat Dung

Gorgeous styling details by designer Ntk Nhat Dung

Models Yen and Katerina wearing Vietnamese Ao Dai

Me posing with my two favourite models Yen and Katerina

Morgan Ommer photography

Vietnamese Ao Dai photo by Morgan Ommer

Morgan Ommer

Vietnamese Ao Dai Photo by Morgan Ommer

With special thanks to my friends Hoang Minh Chau, Diego at Chula and Nhat Duong for making me feel beautiful, and Morgan Ommer for his lovely photos.

Contemporary Vietnamese Ao Dai by Ntk Nhat Dung

Traditional but Contemporary Vietnamese Ao Dai by Ntk Nhat Dung


It was 35 degrees in blazing sunshine,  I was slightly shell shocked and extremely sweaty after 6 hours of fittings, rehearsals, hair and make up, but all the other models, organisers and friends made it such a fun and memorable experience. I felt proud after two years of living in Hanoi to be offered such a special opportunity to wear  Vietnamese Ao Dai, the symbol of feminine beauty, and the pride of the Vietnamese people.


Have you tried on a Vietnamese Ao Dai? How do you think the Vietnamese National dress compares to other countries? Where are the best places to have Vietnamese Ao Dai made in Hanoi? I would love to hear from you, please share your experiences and recommendations in the comments box below.

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Useful Resources

Hanoi Connecting Five Continents (Vietnamese language)
Chula Fashion
Morgan Ommer Photography

Countries Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Vietnam

Dragons and Drums: Spring Village Festival, Hoi Lang Nghi Tam, Hanoi

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Beating the usual stroll to work on a monotonous monday morning, today the streets of Hanoi where I live were packed to the rafters with the sound of drums, rainbow coloured costumes, flying flags and dancing dragons! Reading time 2 mins, short and sweet.

Tay Ho village festival #dragons #traditional #parade #vietnamese #culture #hanoi

A post shared by Donna at Haute Culture (@hauteculturefashion) on


At homes, throughout villages and across the depth and breadth of the country, Vietnamese people are consistently enthrawled with traditional customs and cultural festivities that take place all through out the year.  Today was a special day in the village of Nghi Tam where I live. At the start of spring each year the local residents parade joyfully through the streets, honouring and celebrating the village gods and their families ancestors. Historically a farming community, Nghi Tam’s 2 day festival hopes to deliver prosperity and good luck to all that live in the area during the harvest season. Happy spring everyone! Summer soon!

Countries Hmong Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Tribes Vietnam

Ha Giang Vietnam: Motorbikes, Minorities & Mountains

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A weekend adventure motor biking around the mountainous province of Ha Giang Vietnam. 1000 metres above sea level Ha Giang boarders the southern Yunnan province of China. At last count over 60% of Vietnams hill tribe minorities call Ha Giang home, making it a culturally diverse and naturally beautiful destination to explore. There I met with local men and women on the markets and at their homes whom took great pleasure and pride in adorning me with their costumes and customs. Reading time 13 mins or scroll down to the bottom for my travel tips and advice on Ha Giang.

“HA GIANG”, “HA GIANG” I heard the guy yelling in my direction. I woke up to realise that there was only myself, the driver and bag boy left on the coach. I got down from my bunk bed, gathered my belongings and stepped out onto a flood lit derelict construction site. Wicked!! I sarcastically thought to myself, time to jump into action and figure out what to do next. It’s 4:30am. I hear sounds of chattering over the wall ahead and see an exit leading out onto a road. Looking like a rabbit in the headlights, I sense the local men sat outside the station are laughing at my expense. I hear a guy wolf whistle which instantly puts me on tenterhooks,  Vietnamese men don’t normally do that, I thought. Another “wit whooo” comes my way and I’m feeling really uneasy. I look left and right for my friend Esteban, “Wit whooooo…..DONNA!” I breathe a sigh of relief, it was him all along.

Ha Giang City is No Sapa
I spend my first day in Ha Giang City just chilling out with some friends who are living there teaching English. They were working all weekend and I was hesitant to travel up into the mountains on my own. For one I don’t think I would get that far and I felt a bit paranoid about getting lost or in an accident. As a solo female traveller and don’t want to take unnecessary risks. I read online and my friends confirm that there is a guy in town that offers motorbike tours, normally for 3 or 4 days. So I set off to convince Jonny Nam Tran to take a day out of his normal adventurous schedule to chaperone/babysit me for a day. As I wondered around I realize Ha Giang City is nothing like Sapa. In Sapa everyone is a “Del Boy“. You can’t go to the toilet without someone asking you if you want to do a homestay, go on a trek or buy a bracelet, bag or blanket. Elaborately dressed Hmong and Dao women with children strapped to their backs line the streets with handmade ethnic textiles, crafts and jewellery.  Coaches, buses and motorbikes wizz through the busy streets as tourists sip on their lattes in the French cafes overlooking the chaos. It’s full on, but at least you know you’re in the right place. Ha Giang is not set up for tourism at all, I only saw a couple of very basic hotels, cafes and convenience stores. Getting around to see the sights would not to be that easy without Jonny. No one is trying to sell me anything, no one gives a crap that I am there, and from what I can tell there is nothing to do apart from make my plans to head for the hills.

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Countries Dao Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Tribes Vietnam

Homestay in Sapa with the Red Dao

red dao hill tribe women vietnam

Looking for a great Sapa homestay experience? I have been to Sa Pa on 4 occasions and have spent many nights at Red Dao homes enjoying their cheery and welcoming hospitality. It is a great hands on opportunity to learn about hill tribe culture, customs and the traditional dress which they are so famously recognisable for.

But is a Sapa Homestay for you? Read on to hear my experience and look at the checklist below to help you make the most of you time in North Vietnam!

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Countries Hmong Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Tribes Vietnam

Black Hmong Textiles in Sapa

hmong textile workshop sapa

 In January 2014 I took a day trip from Sapa city to visit a secluded Black Hmong village where a 90 year old lady and her family are still handcrafting traditional clothes today. Made almost entirely from the natural landscape they live amongst, here I was able to participate in textiles workshops on traditional bees wax batik, natural dying from indigo plants and how to cultivate hemp fibre for fashion. 

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