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Traditional Textiles

Countries Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Vietnam

4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Miss The Vietnamese Women’s Museum In Hanoi

Vietnamese women’s museum Hanoi

Located in the heart of Hanoi, the Vietnamese Women’s Museum is a modern memorial dedicated to showcasing the outstanding creative and political contributions Vietnamese women have made to society and culture. Textiles, fashion, stories, portraits and art made by Vietnam’s truly heroic and talented women are beautifully curated over four floors, making the museum a must see sight for anyone passionate about women’s studies.


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1950’s Vintage Flower Hmong blouse with hand stitched embroidery and applique

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Countries Guides Japan Japan Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Trends

Kyoto’s Kaleidoscopic Kimono Culture (and where to get one) 👘

kimono-culture-in-kyotos

 Kyoto is the center of Kimono culture in Japan. Everywhere you look, both Japanese and international tourists can be seen parading proudly around the former ancient capitol in a variety of colourful Kimonos on a daily basis. But what is a Kimono, why is the traditional dress so popular in Kyoto, and where can you get one from?


kimono-culture


WHAT IS A KIMONO?

A Kimono is a loose, ankle length, T shaped robe made from one bolt of fabric, cut into 6 rectangular panels. Traditionally worn for formal occasions in Japan, the word Kimono directly translates into “Thing to Wear” in Japanese language.

Kimono is normally worn together with juban (Kimono underwear), a koshi himo belt, datejime sash and a broad decorative belt called a Obi, as this prevents to kimono from opening up and trailing on the floor.

Wearing a Kimono properly can be a complicated task and often requires assistance, especially for a beginners or if you are wearing a ceremonial kimono for a special event. The final look is then completed with white tabi socks and geta shoes. Watch the video below to see what this process looks like in super speed. Continue Reading

Countries Lao Lu Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Tribes Vietnam

Turbans, Textiles and Traditional Dress of the Lao Lu in North Vietnam

Ethnic travel Lao Lu hill tribe Vietnam

Lao Lu people have many different names and live in a range of countries spanning South East Asia’s boarders, in Vietnam this decorative and resourceful Buddhist group reside in isolated and introverted villages found deep in the low lands near the mountains of Lai Chau province. Miles away from the nearest roads visiting the Lao Lu feels like you have stepped into a National Geographic postcard. Women can be seen weaving and wearing their traditional threads on a daily basis, smoke billows from chimneys on top of wooden stilt houses, and fields of corn crops blow lightly in the breeze against a back drop of forest clad highlands.

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Countries Philippines Philippines Tboli Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Tribes

Textile Tribes of the Philippines: The Tboli Dream Weavers

Tboli tribe Lake Sebu Mindanao Philippines tribe

Scattered in stilt houses surrounding scenic Lake Sebu live the textile tribal people known as the Tboli. One of the Philippines 80+ indiginous ethnic linguistic groups, the Tboli people live a simple life balancing modernization with their traditional culture of farming, fishing and craftsmanship.

Labeled as the the Dream Weavers the Tboli are famous for diligently transforming the natural Abaca plant into a magnificent mystic material known as the T’nalak. These distinctive sacred symmetrical designs are inspired directly from the visions in their dreams and taught in T’boli schools of living tradition. More fascinating than the process of the T’nalak, is that the Tboli women’s distinctively adorned cultural dress was only implemented a mere 60 years ago, when Christian missionaries brought new materials and skills into the region.  


Tboli tribe Lake Sebu Mindanao Philippines Donna Wanderlust Haute Culture

Me enjoying a leisurely sun rise boat ride on Lake Sebu before work.


Within moments of researching Filippino tribes I was awe struck by the resplendent regalia of the Tboli people. Their elaborate hair combs, intricate jewelry, colourful weaving and mysterious motifs. I wanted to learn everything about them and felt filled with excitement of the prospect of connecting with new ethnicities after Vietnam. This was to be short lived reaction when moments after my discovery a well respected travel professional (and good friend) advised me that it would be near suicide to ever see the Tboli in person. Since the 1950s parts of Mindanao Island have seen a brutal civil war between Christian and Muslim freedom fighters, with off sprung terrorist groups regularly kidnapping western tourists for ransom.

Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to be told that you can’t go somewhere and research these amazing people because of terrorism? It sucks. So I let it go, thinking I would have to be bonkers to ignore his and a million other websites advice.

Fast track 1 month later and I’m sat with the general secretary of the Department of Tourism in Manila, discussing where and whom to visit on my tour of the Philippines. “You have to see the Tboli!” he said, “I really really really want to see the Tboli, their textiles look phenomenal”, “You have to go and see them”, “But is it safe? (mum stop reading), I read that there was a rebel shoot out on Lake Sebu only a few months ago??”, “Yes it’s safe, that was a one off incident. I will guarantee your safety, you will be with our people the whole time. You must go and see the Tboli”.


Meeting the Tboli

A short 1 hour flight from Zamboanga city after meeting the Yakan tribe and bonkers Donna was greeted by the regional director of tourism Nelly Dillera at General Santos airport. We took a 4×4 through the pineapple fields and up the the mountainous terrain to the pretty and picturesque Lake Sebu. As I stepped onto the stone driveway a tribal fusion of brass, leather and wooden instruments spilled out of the long house to greet my arrival.

Meeting the Tboli’s for the first time was a overwhelming sensory experience. Smiling men and women were dressed in full regalia, the walls were dripping with decorations, fabrics and jewelry, and the music engulfed me like the warmest welcome i’ve ever received. Before investigating the tribal textile techniques and traditional dress I was treated to a charming performance of Tboli rituals, music and dance.


Tboli tribal dance at Lake Sebu Philippines

Learning Tboli folk dances performed at festivals, weddings and sacred ceremonies.


Tboli Traditional Dress

Remarkably Tboli tribal visual identity was only created as we know it today 60 or so years ago, when Christian missionaries arrived in the area bringing with them mother of pearl beads, cotton fabrics and threads. Before this date Tboli women only wore simple silhouettes made from natural woven abaca fibre with no resounding design features.

Tboli traditional dress is the most impressive tribal ensemble I have seen to date. Traditional colours are jet black, scarlet red, pearl white, canary yellow and tropical green. Outfits are comprised of a hand woven sarong skirt tied into a knot at the front, folded over at the waist and secured in place with a wide beaded belt fringed with brass bells. Long sleeved v-neck blouses have a zip opening on both side seams and are decorated with embroidery, cross stitch, applique ribbons and sequins or beads. The jewel of the crown is the famous hand carved wooden head dress.



Land of the Dream Weavers

The Tnalak is the traditional woven textile of the Tboli people. Mystical symmetrical patterns inspired by their dreams are created from memory and transferred in to fabric using the Ikat method.  Ikat is a time consuming and tedious technique only used by the most patient artisans. Yarns covered in bees wax are tightly wrapped around the warp threads in patterns before dying and then being placed on the loom. During the dyeing process, the tied parts are resistant to the dye, when the binds are cut they will retain the natural colour of the original fibre underneath.

The Abaca plant is native to the Philippines and is used as the main fibre in Tnalak fabric. Cousin to the banana plant, Abaca trucks can grow up to 22ft in just 8 months. Once they are cut down the trunk is halved and stripped into 1 inch ribbons before shredding with a knife into individual lengths of fibre suitable for weaving. Natural dyes from leaves and roots grown locally are boiled with the Abaca to create the traditional Tnalak colours of black, red and beige.

The Tboli tribe are a mix of Animist and Christian faith. They believe that non-human entities such as animals, plants, and mountains etc possess a spiritual essence, along side worshiping Jesus Christ. The Abaca plant itself is known as the spirit god ‘Fu Dalu’.  The making of Tnalak fabric is seen a very special gift from nature and the spirit world, therefore it is forbidden to step over or walk on Tnalak fabric at any point. It was brought to my attention that a fashion designer recently bought bolts of Tnalak fabric and manufactured shoes with it. This was seen as sacrilege to the Tboli people.

During my visit to the Tboli weaving centre Manlikika Bayan, it was evident that they were still mourning the loss of their leader, grandmother and National Living Treasure Awardee Mrs Lang Dulay, who’s memorial grave lays opposite the entrance. Lang Dulay was known nationwide as the originator and master weaver of Tnalak. Weaving since the age of 12, Lang Dulay translated over 100 designs from her dreams and made it her personal mission to instill her passion and vision for Tboli culture on her family, by taking her 18 grandchildren and great grandchildren out of school to train them in the making of Tnalak. Tourists from all over the Philippines would flock to see and buy Tnalak from the living legend and her aspiring proteges, but last year at the age of 91 she passed away from a stroke leaving behind a financially dependent family of weavers with little other employability skills. The family are now desperately trying to find the balance between economic stability and continuing their cultural heritage now that Lang Dulay the master dreamweaver has gone.

“The lives of T’boli women are meaningless if they don’t know how to weave T’nalak,” Lang Dulay



Tboli tribe Lake Sebu Mindanao Philippines couple

Husband and wife Florencio and Sebulan Dulay wearing traditional make and female Tboli attire


Tboli Tourism

For me the Tboli are certainly the most diversely skilled textile artisans I have encountered on my travels. I am indeed in awe of their traditional dress and both bewildered and impressed that they only created such an inspiring visual identity a mere 60 years ago.

The fact that so many tourists are afraid to go there is a real detriment and threat to their economic and cultural survival. The T’nalak is reknown as the cultural emblem of the Tboli, but with out visitors could the weavers dreams and traditions be over as quick as it started? It is my hope that preservation of T’boli culture and craftsmanship is not only the regional pride of South Cotabato and Mindanao Island, but for the whole of the Philippines. 

I am so glad I went to meet the Tboli tribe after all the drama surrounding their circumstances. Communities living on Lake Sebu live uncomplicated lives detached from the violence known in other provinces of Mindanao Island. One woman told me that the robbery at a local factory a few months previously (which resulted in a shoot out between the authorities and culprits) was nothing to do with the indiginous people of the area, but this one off event had dramatically effected tourism and thus the livelihoods of people living there.

I did not feel unsafe at any point on my visit to Lake Sebu. I drove around in blacked out jeep and was accompanied by 2 members from the department of tourism at all times. Would I go there as a solo female western backpacker?? Probably not, but I think hiring a tour guide and a vehicle for a few days is a feasible, sensible and safe solution for visiting the area and meeting the Tboli Tribe.

Tboli tribal village at Lake Sebu Philippines

Walking with the Tboli horsemen and meeting local villages in Lake Sebu


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Are you a weaver? Have you visited the Tboli tribe before or want to go? Do you know any other tribal groups in the Philippines? Please share your experiences, ideas and suggestions in the comments box below.

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Useful information

Safety Notice
Due to recent civil conflict in the region it is advised that all tourists contact the Department of Tourism in advance to seek travel advice and recommendations. To visit the Tboli in Lake Sebu,  please contact the Regional Director Nelly Dillera at nndillera@tourism.gov.ph

Countries Philippines Philippines Traditional Dress Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Tribes Yakan

Textile Tribes of the Philippines: Yakan Weaving, Weddings and Wears

Yakan tribe village Zamboanga city wedding philippines

The Yakan are a indigenous Muslim tribe native to the tropical island of Basilian. Located in the Sulu Archipelago in the most southern region of the Philippines, Yakan people are recognised for their remarkable technicolor geometric weaves and the distinctive face decorations used in their traditional ceremonies. The Yakan are kind and loving people that embody a non-materialistic culture and live in close-knit communities. 


 Back in the day Yakan women traditionally made textiles for their cultural dress (know as the Semmek), accessories and interiors from abaca, pineapple and bamboo fibers grown on the island. But in the 1970s Yakan people relocated from Basilian to Mindanao Island after political unrest and armed conflicts drove them away from their homeland. Since moving to Mindanao the natural textile designs have been replaced with vivid colored cottons resulting in a much more audacious aesthetic. Today Yakan people live peacefully in settlements predominately in Zamboanga City and earn their living from fishing, farming coconut and rubber, weaving and carpentry.

The decision to come to the Philippines was made when I realised that there was a limited amount of resources available online about Filipino tribes but substantial evidence that they still existed. At that point I contacted the Department of Tourism directly with a proposal to work together to bring these fascinating tribal cultures and their traditions to light. Mindanao Island especially appealed to me because so few western tourists travel there, let alone visit tribal settlements. Yakan culture particularly called to me due to their beautiful face decorations and bold geometric weaves. But the decision to visit Mindanao was not made lightly, with many official government websites declaring the island unsafe for tourists. I had to seek full reassurance for the department of tourism that my trip would be fully escorted and organised every day.


Yakan tribe Zamboanga city philippines

Grandmother and daughter listening to the Iman at the wedding ceremony


Yakan Wears (Semmek) 

  • TrousersYakan Sawal, striped trousers with zig zag and diamond repeat patterns made from bamboo fibers.
  • Mens button up shirtBadju Yakan designed to match the trousers.
  • Head scarfYakan Pis, geometic intricate weave worn to cover the hair on a daily basis.
  • ApronSeputangan Teed has many different designs but is the most time consuming and decorative weave of the Semmek.
  • SashSakan Pinalantupan is made from a mix of Pineapple and bamboo fibers.
  • Brides button up jacket  Pagal Bato is made from satin or cotton cloth and sometimes mixed with lurex threads.
  • Brass buttonsBatawi, hand made and worn on the women’s jacket.


Face decorationTanyak Tanyak is a face painting custom is unique to Yakan tribal culture. Worn only for wedding ceremonies; circles, spots and diamond patterns are printed on the skin using bamboo  implements and a thick mixture of white flour and water. The patterns are said to have no symbolic meaning but have been used for centuries as a form of cosmetic decoration long before commercial products were accessible.


Yakan Wedding

In February 2016 I had the great honor of being invited to a Yakan village in Zamboagna city to watch a reenactment of a tribal wedding ceremony. Here you can see the traditional Semmek worn by both the bride and groom, live music, tribal war dance and the humorous customs of the Yakan people.


Yakan Weaving

Yakan weaving uses bright, bold and often contrasting colours in big symmetrical patterns. Inspiration for designs comes from island living and Islamic sacred geometry.

yakan weaving village mindanao philippines

Traditional back strap weaving technique

Yakan tribe Zamboanga city women

Yakan weavers taking a break to talk to me at Angie’s Yakan Cloth


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The Yakan people from the the village were so kind, conscientious and creative during my visit. The settlement had such spirit and the weavers were the pride of community. Speaking with store owner Angelita Pichay Ilul of Angie’s Yakan Cloth alongside the other female patrons of the tribe, I was able to interpret the immeasurable emphasis of how important weaving was to Yakan culture and their livelihood. With farming on the decline, climate change on the up and jobs in short supply, these women wrap on their back straps day in and day out weaving their wear’s to keep a roof over their head, traditions alive and a fractionalised community united. It is easy to see why their designs are seductive to both traditional and trend setting consumers, when the never ending variety of weaves are available in a wide range of products from backpacks to table runners. I think there’s room for a little Yakan spirit in everybody’s life’s.


 

Are you a weaver? Have you visited the Yakan tribe before or want to go? Do you know any other tribal groups in the Philippines? Please share your experiences, ideas and suggestions in the comments box below.

Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe here and never miss a post from my fashionable adventures around the world. Sign me up!


Useful information

To buy Yakan Cloth please contact Angie’s Yakan Cloth on Facebook to place a order.

Safety Notice
Due to recent civil conflict in the region it is advised that all tourists contact the Department of Tourism in advance to seek travel advice and recommendations. To book a to visit the Yakan Village in Zamboanga City please contact the regional director Mary Bugante at mgbugante@tourism.gov.ph

Department of Tourism IX
Gen. Vicente Alvarez Cor. Claveria Sts.
Zamboanga City
Tel. No. (63)(62)9552477
Tel/Fax No.: (63)(62)9930030

Countries Hmong Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Tribes Vietnam

Textile Tribes of Vietnam: Black Hmong Hemp & Indigo with My & Ker

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Hi everyone I would like to introduce My, a Black Hmong girl living at ETHOS – Spirit of the Community with her mum, and Ker, a tour guide at Ethos specialising in hemp and indigo cultivation. These two lovely ladies will be our teachers today, explaining and demonstrating how Hmong people still grow, weave and dye hemp fabric and indigo for their clothes.

The aim of these video demonstrations is to create a understanding of Hmong heritage, traceability and to encourage the future production of Hmong organic fabrics and fashion. 


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

Red Dao Weddings, Ta Phin, Sapa

Red Dao Wedding Sapa

The Red Dao hill tribe population of Sapa are one subdivision of Dao people living in the highlands of North Vietnam. Red Dao women are considered the most skilled embroiders of all hill tribes. Their scarlet drenched ensembles are sophisticated examples of hand stitched cultural symbology and showcase generations of dedication to sewn storytelling. The Red Dao wedding dress is seen as the summit of success in a women’s sewing accomplishments. Mother and daughter are known spend up to 1 year making nothing else but a brand new ceremonial outfit in preparation for the big day.

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

Bac Ha Market: Flower Hmong Fashions

Flower Hmong Hill Tribe at Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

Bac Ha market is heavily populated with the colour clashing, pattern loving, bead encrusted, Flower Hmong hill tribe people of Vietnam. Women and girls of all ages are a sight of sore eyes sporting an almost psychedelic colour pallet of rainbow adorned cultural clothes that contrast against the drab concrete backdrop of the town.  2 1/2 hrs drive from Sapa makes Bac Ha market it a worthy destination for any textiles tourist traveling the Lai Chau and Lao Cai provinces.

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

Ethnic Travel in Vietnam: The Black LoLo Hill Tribe of Bao Lac

Ethnic Travel in Vietnam Black Lolo Bao Lac

My ethnic travel adventures in the North of Vietnam unexpectedly introduced me to the Black Lolo hill tribe of Bao Lac. The Black Lolo (also know as the Lolo Den and Lolo Noir) reside high in the mountains surrounding the small town of Bao Lac in Cao Bang Province. The Black Lolo are identifiable by the black cultural clothes they wear from which their name derives. In August 2015 I motorbiked from Ha Giang to Bao Lac to research the cultural costume and textiles of some of the 54 ethnic minority groups that live in these rural areas. It was on this visit to the Lolo village that I began to question the ethics and responsibility of my research when visiting remote communities.

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

Flower Lolo Ethnic Minority from Vietnam

haute culture flower lolo minority costume vietnam
Preserving the beautiful cultural traditions of LĂ´ LĂ´ ethnicity.

The Flower Lolo are the elaborately decorated ethnic minority people of Meo Vac, Vietnam. Their kaleidoscopic costumes are meticulously embellished with approximately 4000 hand appliquĂŠd triangles resembling tetris block formations. Five triangles can take up to two hours to sew, I know because in August 2015 I motorbiked from Hanoi to Meo Vac to learn for myself. Constructing a single costume takes about one year to complete, outfits are sewn by mothers for their daughters, only worn on best occasions and stored in a lockable chest. For that reason the Flower Lolo‘s dress is publically revered as one of  Vietnam’s finest sartorial accomplishments.

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Countries Shopping Thailand Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles

Mo Hom the Traditional Thai Tie-Dye of Phrea Province

Mo Hom Indigo Dyeing Phrea Thailand

Mo Hom is the traditional indigo dyeing process of the people in Phrea province, North Thailand. The creative community of Ban Thung Hong is a small village where local artisans are renowned for their textile technique and line the streets with their inventive indigo designs.


The term Mo Hom literally translates to Mo meaning pot and Hom which is the name of the indigo plant growing local to the landscape. Mo Hom is more than just a dying process, it is known as the pride of Phrea and is the signature style of labours to that area. Mo Hom clothes have been worn by local workers for generations as the original demand for the style was developed to meet the robust needs of living on the land. The design of the fabric is said to be more durable than regular cotton but cooler and more comfortable than denim, perfectly in tune with the Thai climate and it’s people.

Mo Hom indigo womens dress from Phrea Thailand

I love my new Mo Hom dress, it was only $15! The style is simple, chic and really comfortable.


Similar to Shibori, the art of Mo Hom has advanced in recent years to meet the design desires of creative consumers who are more than ever on the look out for authentic artisan products. Fabrics and fashion are often mathamatically manipulated into various arrangements. Depending on the strength of dye and time soaked in the solution, when the process is finished stunning shades of indigo will vary across a spectrum from midnight to sunlight blue, leaving behind the pretty pre-pleated patterns (watch the video).

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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 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 habituÊ 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 Thai Lu Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles Tribes Vietnam

Mai Chau Vietnam: White Thai Weaving 

weaving leason thai people mai chau vietnam haute culture

Mai Chau is a seeming easy 150km cruise out of Hanoi. Only a 3-4 hour drive they say! Hmmm well, Im currently sat in my idyllic stilt house listening to White Thai women sing their folk songs in harmony with the crickets, but it didn’t start out that way. For those of you the don’t follow me on Facebook yet please click the link to read the funny story that matches the picture below of what actually happened on the first day of the rest of my life. (Reading time 4 mins)

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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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Cambodia Countries Traditional Dress & Textiles Traditional Textiles

Silk Spinning, Shrines and Sun Rises in Siem Reap, Cambodia

ankor silk farm silk spinning

Occupied by monks and monkeys, and surrounded by tropical forests and flourishing gardens, Siem Reap in Cambodia is famously home to some of the most mesmerising archeological architecture in the world.

The UNESCO protected Angkor world heritage site houses the astonishing ancient capitals of the Khmer Empire. Dating back to the 9th Century the site covers a colossal 400sq kilometers and is literally littered with temples and Tuk-tuks. I had 3 memorable days of meeting musical monks, learning to spin silk with local artisans at the Angkor Silk Farm and temple trekking.

I fell in love with it’s colourful and cheery people, fascinated by the meticulous attention to detail of the dramatic masonry, and got lost in the wondrous awe of the diverse ancient architecture. Siem Reap is hand’s down my favourite destination so far, lets see why…. Reading time 10 mins.


Ankor Silk Farm Siem Reap

On day 3 I visited the Artisans of Angkor Silk Farm. As educational centers go it’s pretty well organised and hands on. You can book a free tour on arrival or just walk around and the super friendly staff in each section will explain about silk worm cultivation. You get to go to the mulberry bush plantations where the silk worms traditionally live and feed. Learn about the hibernation and incubation cycle. See them being boiled alive 🙁 and even have a go (i specifically requested this) at removing the  silk thread from the cocoon and spinning silk like a real life spinster! A life long ambition of mine. After that you can read all about natural dying ingredients before seeing the silk woven into luxurious brocades on the hand looms. There is even an exhibition of traditional Cambodian silk textiles and costume history. Boom! What more could a cultural fashion and textiles lecturer want? I highly recommend this place.


Temple Trekking

Before the crack of dawn, there is 4am. This is the time your alarm will go off if you want to see the sun rise behind the magnificent silhouette of the world’s largest religious monument, Angkor Wat. What you don’t want to do, is drink a skin full the night before (just saying). It was my birthday and to celebrate I booked a long awaited weekend from Hanoi to Siem Reap. My friend and I arranged a Tuk-tuk to collect us at 4:30am. It was pitch black and surprisingly very cold driving to the entrance of Angkor Archeological Park which was about 25 minuets away from the city centre.

When we arrived I was naively shocked by how many people were there. Hundreds of Tuk-tuk drivers, motorbikes, coaches, tour groups, families and backpackers, all pushing in line to get their entrance permit.  We arrived at Angkor Wat with just enough time to find a good spot for sunrise. The energy was electric with the anticipation of seeing the building shrouded in darkness in the near distance. Known as the 7th wonder of the world, nothing can really prepare you for just how beautiful it is, maybe I’m romanticising over my memories but shear scale of Angkor cannot really be described.

Built by King Suryavarman II the monument was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. It’s outer walls are ornately decorated with stone carvings of stories, myths and legends from life time lived long ago. The design itself is meant to represent the cosmic world and the universe on earth. The five peaks in the centre of the building correspond to the five peaks of the mountain Meru located in the Himalayas in India, and the 200 meter wide moat is surrounded by flooded gardens, ponds and rivers to symbolise the ocean. It took over 30 years to construct and spans over 500 aches.

The park is practically impossible to explore by foot and at $20 per day walking would not be the most economical option either. We had a great Tuk-tuk driver who spoke fluent English and seemed really proud to explain and accompany us around the sights. Temple trekking in Siem Reap was one of the most surprising and impressive experiences that I had seriously under estimated. “You’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all” right? Believe it or not (for those at home) that’s how it sometimes feels traveling in South East Asia. People become desensitised through over exposure of everything being amazing all the time. This is fondly referred to in backpacker land as being “templed out”. But NOT in Siem Reap. Every site is completely different. Competition was fierce as each Khmer King had his own memorable mark to make in place of the previous ruler.  The diversity of the environment, the design aesthetics, the style of architecture, the stone, the colour, and the craftsmanship is all different, making you feel like Christopher Columbas with every new site explored.

Musical Monks

Although Angkor was built as a place of Hindu worship in the 12th century, the grounds have been recycled over the centuries to accommodate different religious faiths of the ruling king of the time. Currently enclosed within the gardens of Angkor Wat today is a working Buddhist monastery. It was here wondering around I fell completely in love with the kind nature, cheery but peaceful ambiance of both Cambodia and Buddhism.The sweet smell of incense burned gently in the air, and there was a faint sound of wind chimes and mantras being chanted in the distance. Everywhere you turned there was a beautiful kaleidoscope of rainbow coloured paintings, fabric, decorations and shrines, all in honour of Buddha and his teachings.

Set back from the main drag, there was a communal tea room where monks were playing traditional Cambodian musical instruments and welcoming passing tourists to participate. Being the musical misfit that I am, I gladly took part in embarrassing myself just for the experience of having a go and spending a bit more time in their beautiful environment.


Cambodian Calamity Concluded

A long weekend in Siem Reap was a hard pushed escapade to fit it all in, but I’m so glad I did it. Sometimes we/me can put things off waiting for the right time to do it all at once. Just arriving in Cambodia for this trip was a personal victory for me. In 2011 I had flown into Bangkok and travelled directly to the Thai Cambodian boarder with high hopes of spending a 3 weeks gallivanting around on my first solo adventure. However this didn’t pan out. As I presented my passport to the boarder control officer, the page with my visa attached painstakingly fluttered out and landed on the floor. “You no come Cambodia. You go Bangkok and see you embassy”. Flabbergasted, confused and gutted, I returned to Bangkok and spent 3 days in and out of the British embassy. With an emergency visa in hand my Cambodian expedition had finished before it had even got off the ground, my options were to go home or stay in Thailand. I chose the latter and dedicated my remaining time to traveling Thailand, a previously shunned option.

This trip to Cambodia was just a sweet snapshot of what the country has in store for me. In 2014 I hitch hiked from Thailand to Cambodia on Christmas day to Koh Rong Island, that was an incredible journey but not really suitable content for this blog. On my way back to Hanoi I stopped in Siem Reap City and cycled my way about town taking snapshots of the local street style fashion. My experiences thus far in Cambodia have challenged and inspired me on both a personal and professional level. I’m so looking forward to going back in 2015 and exploring the full potential the country has to offer.

Has anyone else had a planned adventure stopped in it’s tracks and had to adopt a new strategy? If so i would love to hear about what happened in the comments below. 


Useful References

Carrie Parry How Silk is made fibre to fabric
Youtube Silk Farm Cambodia: This is how silk is made
Artisans of Angkor Angkor Silk Farm
Tourism Cambodia Angkor Wat 
UNESCO Angkor World Heritage Site
Round the world traveler Angkor Archaeological Park