Tag Archives: Vietnam

{Travel Diary} Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

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|ABOVE| Hipknoties dress (c/o) // Dolce Vita sandals // TOMS sunglasses // Scala hat found at TJMaxx // bag and jewelry via Sapa artisans

My final stop in intensely touring the entire country of Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. It was a snap back to reality of my city life back in Brooklyn, as this is definitely the most globalized and populated city of Vietnam.

Unless we were in the tourist areas, crossing the street was by far the scariest experience—with Typhoon landslides being a close second. The motorbikes come from every direction and there are more of them than you can imagine. The good news is they’re usually going pretty slowly because of the congestion, but it makes it even more difficult when there are too many to get through. Shopping through the night market, I nearly got run over by a few weaving around pedestrians.

After 16 days of dressing somewhat conservatively because we were visiting temples and in more traditional regions, I was ready to beat the heat with less layers. This garment from Hipknoties that I wore for most of the trip as a scarf, I finally was able to make into a dress and feel like I wasn’t offending anyone.

There was definitely a more Western influence on fashion in this city with boutiques carrying H&M and Zara in them, as well as a Louis Vuitton and Christian Louboutin in the wealthier part of the city. Still, most women on motorbikes kept covered from head to toe to avoid sun exposure. Pale white skin is coveted as an ideal there, so I can see why. I wasn’t quite as adjusted to that heat like they were and ducked into coffee shops to cool off with some iced coffee during the days. After 3 hot days of exploring here, we were ready for an 18 hour flight home to recover.

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{Travel Diary} Hoi An, Vietnam

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|ABOVE| French Connection top (old) // Vagamundo pants // Birkenstock sandals // TOMS sunglasses // Hathamade necklace // bag and bracelets from Sapa, Vietnam

I think the best comparison of Hoi An would be the “Disney of Vietnam.” Only in the past decade or so has this become quite the tourist destination and shopping mecca, so when our trip was planned by our family friend that’s a native to the country, she didn’t want to spend much time there. I can see why. I definitely saw more foreigners than locals hanging out in the streets of the French Quarter, the old city of Hoi An that was once part of the Silk Road and now is filled with shops and tourist attractions.

Still, there was no denying the charm, beauty, and even the history of this port city. The silk lanterns that filled the shops and lined the streets were colorful eye candy, especially at night, when they all were lit up and the streets were filled with the hustling of tourists and motorbikes. I constantly was dodging one or the other as I couldn’t help from looking up and taking pictures (as you can see!).

Of course my favorite destination in this region was hands down going to Yaly, a store that makes custom couture clothing on the spot. I met with a salesperson who took my hubby and I around the shop to pick out fabrics, silks and blends with silks, for the designs we wanted. We had our measurements taken and they give you an infinite amount of design options with books that have styles they can copy, but they just as easily took the Elizabeth & James suit I had on my iphone, as well as the Armani tux and another suit found in GQ that my hubby wanted. You can see the beautiful result here, which they made in just one evening for us, after a few fittings.

The tailors even worked until midnight to make sure we received our order before leaving for the next city the following morning, so we were there late enough to see the entire city of Hoi An shut down promptly at 9:30pm. All of the lights of the lanterns go out then and the tourists are back in their hotels. It’s similar to what I imagine seeing Disneyland is like after hours is like. The magic is not quite the same without all of the energy of the lights and people.

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{Travel Diary} Hue, Vietnam

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|ABOVE| Vagamundo tunic // Hathamade necklace // Urban Outfitters rucksack // TOMS sunglasses // bracelets from H’Mong women in Sapa

The ancient city of Hue was the most magical stop on my 16 day tour through Vietnam, thanks to the rich history of the central region of country. The temples and Forbidden City of the king were both incredible reminders of the culture of the country, as well as the sad destruction from war. What still stood from what was destroyed, gave me the chills, as it was older than anything existing in our own country and it was easy to envision how they once lived here.

For me, the region won my heart over because of the large Buddhist population, which are all vegetarian, so the scenery was zen-like and the food was heavenly. The smell of sandalwood incense became part of me after visiting temple after temple, where the incense burned around the clock. I had to bring some home after stopping at a market, where they showed us how they make incense. Since being home, the smell transforms me right back.

We spent much of our time in Hue on a dragon-shaped boat, cruising down the Perfume River, which owes its name to the fragrant flowers that surround the river banks. In the evening, we were serenaded by local musicians on the boat and then sent our wishes into a candle to float down the river—a wonderful way to end our evening in this city.

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{Travel Diary} Sapa, Vietnam

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My journey through Vietnam continued in the North via a bumpy 9 hour ride on a sleeper train up a mountain to Lao Cai by way of Hanoi. Not quite the luxury vacation, but it’s really the only way to travel to this region, as it’s quite mountainous and the roads are underdeveloped. We did upgrade to first class on the train, which meant there were only 4 to a cabin instead of 6.

It’s impossible to look fashionable when you’re traveling on bunk beds and then go straight to hiking mountains with local Minorities like the beautiful Flower H’Mong Tribe—which put my style to shame (case in point below).

The colors of the few minority tribes we came across were unreal, like out of a painting. The pigments of the dyes are rich and their handiwork crafting woven pieces are impressive. When they pressured me into buying their bags, I told them I was more interested in the stacks of cuffs that all of the H’mong women were wearing. They let me buy a few of the engraved brass cuffs right off of their wrists after we walked down the mountain together and talked about their village life.

While that was a remarkable experience, it was also heartbreaking to see their poverty and hardships, now relying on tourists coming to Sapa to sell their goods to. “Why you no buy from me” was desperately asked by many of them upon purchasing from another. I regret not buying more of those bracelets!

On the weekends, the Minorities Markets are quintessential to Northern Vietnam with artisans and farmers trekking miles up a mountain to set up and sell their goods. I bought an intricately hand woven and indigo dyed blanket from the market we went to, which will be a stunning bed cover in my bedroom.

We saw similar items claiming they were handmade in Sapa all over, including the bag that I bought and later found it was made in Thailand. These markets and visiting the Sapa women directly seemed to be the only way to get the real thing. It’s a shame because these villages could really use the business, as their children have to start working at age 10 and most have to drop out of school because it’s too difficult to get to on the mountain. It makes you appreciate their skills and gorgeous handmade pieces even more.

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|ABOVE| Kimono jacket found at TJMAXX // Liefsdottir tank // Vagamundo pants // Birkenstock sandals // Zara crossbody bag // Urban Outfitters backpack // TOMS sunglasses // necklace and bracelets via Vietnam

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|ABOVE| LOFT top // Express pants (old) // Keen hiking sandals // Zara scarf

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{Travel Diary} Halong Bay, Vietnam

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|ABOVE| Vagamundo caftan (c/o) // H&M belt // TOMS sunglasses // Hathamade bracelet (c/o)

If there was one place I would recommend anyone to go to in Vietnam, it would be Halong Bay. It’s truly magical and there’s a reason why UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.

We stayed on a junk (a boat) overnight, cruising through the limestone formations throughout the bay. While we fortunately didn’t have a Titanic moment, we did bump into a couple of the many tourist boats anchored in the bay. It was startling to see our boat drift into another filled with about a dozen Japanese tourists while we were all enjoying our dinners, but no one seemed to mind, as it has to be a frequent occurrence.

To be honest, the meals were probably my least favorite in the whole country because everything was fried and not as fresh as everywhere else we ate—but for two days on a boat, I can’t complain. The fruit at least, like the dragon fruit below was incredibly fresh.

Hiking through a limestone cave, effortlessly floating in the ocean with 30% salt in the water at a secluded beach, taking a small boat through an opening of the limestone into an untouched lake, peacefully watching the sun set over the bay, and doing yoga sun salutations on the top deck of the boat at sunrise were all up there on the list of my favorite things about this place. Number one may be falling asleep to watching the sky light up with lightening outside my cabin’s window, revealing the most brilliant stars shining and a gorgeous rain storm tapping on the water.

We luckily made it there just in time because the government closed the bay down just as we were leaving, thanks to an impending typhoon—which of course we did not escape on land…stay tuned for all that…

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Just outside of the bay in Halong City, we learned how pearls are harvested by the locals and carefully created. I had no idea the many steps they took to make a perfect pearl. They have women that pry the oysters open in a vice, carefully insert a ball into the shell and they put the oysters back in the bay to make the pearl around the ball. What a process! The results are amazing and now I can tell the difference between a cheap pearl, an okay pearl, an expensive pearl and even a fake one.

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Nothing goes to waste in the Vietnamese culture and they punch out the shells of the oyster to make mother of pearl—like those buttons on your shirt! Who knew?

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