Tag Archives: culture

Lantern Town

Pretty lights and calm nights - Hoi An the Lantern Town

Pretty lights and calm nights – Hoi An the Lantern Town

A million moons ago, when we were marooned by the rain in Tonga and seriously considering building an ark, we met a few travelling Norwegians who asked us about our plans and on finding out that we were going through Vietnam, turned and said, ‘Just wait until you get to Hoi An. It is the most beautiful place that we have ever been to. ‘ (Isn’t Norway beautiful??) ‘You won’t want to leave’. We nodded and smiled and politely registered their opinion but at that point in time, we had no idea. Hoi An was just two syllables that sounded a bit like an Asian condiment. We didn’t forget though, and despite trying our utmost not to arrive in a place with high preconceptions, it was a good thing that Hoi An met and surpassed all our expectations.

Casual commute

Casual commute

It’s picture postcard old style Vietnam in all it’s glory: hanging baskets, multi-coloured lanterns, mollusc hats, Chinese temples, ancient tea shops..it’s every cliche that the camera-wielding tourist could ever want. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and for a modest fee, you buy an admission ticket that allows entry to five heritage sites, including a traditional musical concert or stage play. To be fair, it is a steal, although hard to know what to choose as the town is saturated with historical buildings. We were lucky enough to catch a traditional music performance in an old wooden hall, decorated with bright lanterns and guilded Chinese calligraphy. Virtuoso musicians on bamboo flutes, zithers and animal skin drums; operatic singing; and traditional dance-drama.

Lanterns and a typical street by the river

Lanterns and a typical street by the river

Our wily entertainers

Our wily entertainers

Operatic singing and traditionally dressed musicians

Operatic singing and traditionally dressed musicians

Vietnamese dance-drama

Vietnamese dance-drama

The water-carriers dance

The water-carriers dance

Another string to Hoi An’s bow is the proliferation of shops offering tailor-made clothing, and there are more than 200 tailors in town. Obviously, Celyn and I being the high-flying yo-pros that we are, we bought five trouser suits and some snakeskin moccasins each (um…) OK, so we might not have splashed out, but you can find some beautiful clothes, including handmade shoes and silk ao dai (the traditional Vietnamese tunic and trousers).

At one end of the Old Town is the grocery market, a walk through which is akin to running a gauntlet. It is definitely the domain of the female and there are hundreds of women sellers, all sporting the typical woven hats to protect them from the sun, clucking and cooing at one another while they barter back and forth. Women carrying two heavy baskets balanced on their shoulders saunter past, some sleep in the shade of their stall, others call out for you to come and look at their wares – ‘Hey lady, lady. Come buy something’. How can you resist? All the while, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians push for a passage through, which was near impossible and every so often you would feel a light tap on the back of your leg and turn to see a moped carrying a family of four patiently trying to run you down.

Some market sellers

Some market sellers

Selling pho (rice noodle soup) at the roadside

Selling pho (rice noodle soup) at the roadside

The actual food in the market was plentiful; greenery and bright vegetables everywhere, live chickens in cages, baskets of ducks with their legs and wings tied shaking and quacking nervously amid the chaos. Hoi An is famed for it’s food and cooking courses and we had planned to do one – an excursion that started in (semi-)disaster but ended rather well. On one of our two precious days in Hoi An, we arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed at a course that we had booked the day before only to be told that the chef was ‘too tired’ and couldn’t be bothered so could we come back tomorrow? We were leaving the following morning so were turned out into the streets rather like Oliver Twist when asks for more gruel (we hadn’t  had any breakfast). All was saved in the afternoon as we managed to find a restaurant with space on a short afternoon course and, as it was pricier than we had hoped, we did this strange ‘sharing’ of the work. I.e. The chef did the cooking, I stood around and looked professional in a nice white apron, and Celyn was put through his paces as he scribble down everything that was being done. Still, with a finished menu of fresh spring rolls with pork and shrimp, grilled fish in a banana leaf with lemongrass, and pork in a clay pot, we left feeling thoroughly educated and very full. Nyom.

Imminent digit damage
Imminent digit damage
Just call me Nigella..

Just call me Nigella..

Team effort finally paid off..

Team effort finally paid off..

Hoi An was beautiful by day, but magnificent at night. All the shops had hanging coloured lanterns which lit up like luminous balloons when the sun set.  Little girls bedecked in gorgeous traditional silk dresses sold candles in coloured card which were set afloat and bobbed on the dark surface of the river. Music floated down the streets and people gathered on the illuminated bridge to watch the reflections below. In the darkness, with only lantern and candle light against the inky blackness, you couldn’t tell where the ground met the river or the river met the sky. It had this sort of other-world-ly feel. Either that or it was like the Green Fields of Glastonbury just after sunset.

A lantern seller and his son at the night market

A lantern seller and his son at the night market

Even the street signs were picturesque!

Even the street signs were picturesque!

Stopping for some 'fresh beer' - brewed in Hoi An and costs about 12.5p

Stopping for some ‘fresh beer’ – brewed in Hoi An and costs about 12.5p

Some of the lights on display

Some of the lights on display

I think the pictures speak for themselves.

What a Wat


Just a few extra choice photos from our petit sejour in Bangkok. Mostly taken from Wat Pho and the Grand Palace…


Arriving at Wat Pho from the river ferry

Arriving at Wat Pho from the river ferry









The reclining Buddha - 46m long and 15m high

The reclining Buddha – 46m long and 15m high




These two were wearing matching outfits. At what point do you wake up in the morning and say, 'Let's both wear our white sailor suits today, honey'. We LOVED IT.

Matching outfits. Classic. 

Wat a place.  (Sorry, I couldn’t help it..!)

We. Are. Co-Creators.


Luminate is an earth friendly festival of music, art, dance, creativity and sustainability.

Returning for an epic sixth year, Luminate 2013 is a place to re-energise on the dancefloor, participate in workshops, be inspired about living sustainably, receive a massage, join in drumming around the fire, relax with a warm chai, watch an enlightening movie, be in harmony with nature, and celebrate a sense of conscious community


Excuse the relative silence for the past week or two, we have been very busy enlightening ourselves, casting off the shackles of society, liberating our souls and spirits, joining in harmony with other creative beings…


That’s enough, Ed.



OK, so perhaps we didn’t get THAT into it, but we have been at the hippiest, free-est and in our opinion, one of the loveliest festivals in Aotearoa. Very enlightening indeed.


The location, biblically named Canaan Downs on Takaka Hill, could not have been more fitting for this week-long ‘creative meeting of souls’. Much like Bristol’s Clifton Downs, Canaan Downs consists of an enormous flat expanse of grassy land although unlike Brizzal, they are located on a mountain top, surrounded by towering forested peaks. The Luminate Festival organisers must know how to sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of their punters, because actually getting there was almost off the scale in terms of effort. After a stomach-churning drive to the summit of Takaka Hill through a series of uphill hairpin bends, a 10km gravel track takes you alongside terrifyingly steep drops until you arrive at your destination, a veritable hilltop oasis. For the record, 10km is a VERY LONG WAY when you’re going about the same speed as a lame sloth, avoiding potholes deep and numerous enough to rival Edinburgh city centre, and getting gradually covered in fine film of white dust.


In spite of this, all 3,000 ticket holders, volunteers, artists, acrobats, animals, hare krishna fanatics and general weirdos managed it.


And it’s well worth it.




Arriving was akin to reaching our very own hilltop paradise. The downs are covered in tufts of yellow-green grass (think Russell Crowe in Gladiator) and dotted with forests, handily separating the various areas. As if having a festival on a mountain wasn’t quirky enough, the whole site is covered with random sink holes. No, we don’t know how they were created (next 20 questions?) but we are taking about huge holes, almost inverted peaks, in the ground. Some might view this as irritating. The Luminators (can we say that?!) made them into features of the festival; for example, the epic (for that is the ONLY way we can describe it) opening ceremony took place in a giant sinkhole – think of it as a natural amphitheatre. Oh, and did we mention the crystal clear bubbling mountain stream about 10 minutes walk from the campsite. Most refreshing shower facilities we have ever experienced. FACT.


So we’re all set for our idyllic, at-one-with-the-earth, hippy fest. To be honest, we approached it with a little bit of trepidation. For a start, it was a strictly no alcohol no rubbish get up. As in NO ALCOHOL. AND NO RUBBISH. AT ALL.


Yeah, we were a bit confused too. In fact, it was utterly brilliant. The no rubbish thing was definitely something that we could use more of in the UK. Instead of wading through used noodle boxes and crushed Strongbow cans by day three, the site remained pristine for the duration of the festival. Each person was advised to bring their own mug or plate or bowl or fork or spoon or chopstick or whatever suited their culinary needs. Whenever you wanted something to eat, you merely handed over the required piece of crockery and it was promptly filled up. If you forgot it (which happened often) you could hire a piece of miscellaneous kitchenware for a pittance (50c) and return it when you were done. Absolute genius. On the campsite, it just made you a hell of a lot more aware of what you were wasting, and a lot more respectful of the environment because you knew that you’d have to clear it all up at the end (and no one wants to tidy up a broken tent that smells of fish. Ray)


The no-alcohol thing was a bit different. As confirmed beer-wine-whatever’s-going-we’re-not-fussy drinkers, we never thought we’d say this, but it actually wasn’t so bad. Although we definitely lost the ability to dance until the early hours (we just got SO TIRED so QUICKLY!), waking up each day without a sandpaper mouth and a brass-band headache was absolute bliss! Also, we remember the WHOLE THING. The names of each act, what we learnt in our Yogic Sleep and Mbira classes, how to do contact juggling – we REMEMBER IT ALL.


In fact, despite the clear no alcohol rule, there were definitely one or two or a few hundred people swigging suspiciously coloured liquids from water bottles. The same went for the ‘no dogs’ and the ‘no camping under trees’ enforcement; hush puppies were prancing around the grounds and people cheekily hooked guy ropes onto the signpost of the latter. Yet, the disregard for rules at Luminate was (if possible) the most amicable disregard that we have ever seen. Unlike other festivals, where there is a clear us vs them rapport between punters and security, this casual rule bending was taken as a given and any sense of insolence or tension was totally non-existent. The organisers knew that they had to state basic rules for box-ticking purposes only; if a tree falls on a tent, or an inebriated nutter falls into a sinkhole, any liability is tactically avoided. And with these stated rules (guidelines), the authorities can leave the hippies alone.




For fear of boring you, we ain’t going to do a blow by blow account (we’ve just checked the time and using a computer is VEE EXPENSE here), so here are a couple of highlights.


THE MUSIC, of course. Some amazing global beats on the Live Stage, which would not be out of place on Glastonbury’s Glade Stage (if that even still exists). Check out Beyondsemble, The Underscore Orchestra, Matiu Te Huki, Carolina Moon and Adam Sheikh if you can. THE KIDS were also fantastic. Never before have we seen so many little ones running around a festival and what made it all the more cute was that they were all mini-hippies! Mullets, face-paints and mud everywhere. Very very sweet indeed. The array of MASTERCLASSES and WORKSHOPS made us do things that we would never have thought of doing before. Contact juggling, acrobalance (which ended up with a broken toe, but we have SO MANY tricks to show you on our return), yogic sleep (recommend this SO much), regular yoga (so sweaty. Regular exercise needs to be on the agenda from now on), contact staff, mbira and many others. Although we’re not accomplished in any of it, by any stretch of the imagination, at least we can say we tried. Another quirk (how bloomin’ quirky is this festival?!) was the proliferation of BIKES at the festival. Can’t be bothered to walk from your tent to the main stage, then cycle.. GENIUS! Standard mention to the FOOD – organic, handpicked, handmade, healthy, superfood goodness. Nyom. (And we did manage to find some meat. Win). There was also a hella lotta FIRE. Never quite appreciated how mesmerizing it is, nor how WARM it is. It gets awful chilly beans up the top of a mountain I’ll have you know. A final mention must go to the overall friendliness of everyone at the festival; volunteers, stall owners, artists and general punters, everyone was a bona fide happy camper.




Saying that, I think we weren’t so fussed on the excess nakedness (including Naked Man. Always lived up to his name), nor were were taken by the slightly weirder masterclasses, such as Family Shamanism (eh??!), Mantra Music and a whole lot of Co-Creator bullsh….




Is seven days of festival too long? Don’t think so. We had an absolute blast and it was the first time we’ve ever left a festival feeling more refreshed than when we went in. However, fun as it is talking about yoga and tantra and the importance of spirulina (?) in your diet and homeschooling and unicycling and doing fire-poi and dancing naked before having a cup of organic sugarless milkless everything-less herbal tea, we have come to the conclusion (in the words of Celyn Thomas) that being a hippy occasionally is fine, but perhaps ‘surf and beer’ is more our style.



For the time being, we’re still walking barefoot and learning how to do hairbraids..








We’re Off…


South Island it is bais.


Ferry to Picton at ridiculous o’clock tomorrow morning and then on to Takaka Hill for Luminate Festival.



Don’t be alarmed if there is no contact for a week or so. Proof of life not needed. We’ll probably be playing the didgeridoo and making bracelets out of recycled flip flop like the filthy hippies we would love to be.


Click the orange writing to check out where we are heading

The Wedding Haka?


What makes a good wedding?


A photogenically cute couple. A cake. With layers. Overly emotional speeches. Tears. A really nice dress. Bridesmaids. A drunken uncle. Loads of seriously dubious dance moves. A haka?


Although hakas may not chime with our notion of a typical wedding, our recent experience of a Samoan wedding right here in windy Wellington has proven that throwing in a couple on the big day is none too shabby.

Held in the Old Museum Building of Wellington’s Massey University, this was an insight into Kiwi life, Pacific life, and one hell of an experience (which has now bumped up our combined wedding attendance to a grand total of 3 weddings in 3 countries. Whoop) Although this time, we were on the serving rather than receiving side of the table.

Massey University, Wellington – where the reception was held

The blushing bride was Kiwi through and through; a beautiful, slight and sporty blond girl in an amazing backless light pink (very light pink) dress. Her dashing bridegroom was from Samoa, and was large on a Pacific-Islander scale. Which is ENORMOUS. Think Jonah Lomu holding a Polly Pocket.

For us, seeing a Kiwi wedding was good enough, but getting a chance to see how they combined Polynesian tradition was awesome. For a bit of background, Samoa is just under 3,000 km north west of New Zealand – an island chain lounging in the Pacific. Following hardcore missionary work from 1830 onward, religion is a pretty big deal in Samoa; which explains the  motto ‘Fa’avae i le Atua Sāmoa’ (Samoa is founded on God). Although Samoa incorporates a number of religious groups (including one of seven Ba’hai houses worldwide), nearly all are Christian with the majority belonging to the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa. The wedding, which was relayed to the reception on a big screen, as well as many in the wedding party were very religious, which meant a few fewer mojitos and a few more cranberry cocktails.


When the bridal party arrived, after the video had been played to the not-at-the-actual-ceremony guests, they were ushered into the hall with a hair-raisingly raucous haka from the ushers (no pun intended). A haka is traditionally used for battle (and before rugby matches..) but what we gathered from the charming mother of the groom, this Kapa Haka (Haka group) was purely for entertainment and as a form of ritual. Whatever the purpose, it was pretty effective not only in shutting everyone up but also showing respect to the bride and groom.


The rest of the reception continued in much the same manner as it does 18,000 km across the world. There were canapes and drinks and a sit down dinner and speeches and a lot of clapping, laughing and general getting-on-very-well-thank-you-very-much. However, as the speeches ended, the ushers once again performed a haka. Following this, there was the first dance. Instead of swaying woozily to ‘My Girl’, the bride stood up with her bridesmaid entourage and together they performed a dance, typical of the South Pacific, to the guests. The ushers and bridegroom whooped and shouted as they danced, presumably egging them on. As the dance came to a close, the groom and best man (slash MC) joined in, and fought (in dance off terms) for the bride’s attention. The groom of course won, and everyone cheered as the song came to a close and there was the long awaited kiss. Pretty romantic, don’t you think? Or a bit stressful if you’ve got a seriously good-looking best man. Accompanied by a dodgily dressed wedding DJ (they’re a funny breed), the party went on till the wee small hours. No worries, we all managed to amuse ourselves by stuffing cake (legit) into our mouths and then trying to serve the guests without laughing. Fun.

Gimmicky promo from a popular TV series in NZ, Shortland Street. The best man at the wedding is the dude third from the left. Of course it doesn’t actually mean ANYTHING to Celyn or I or any of you. But we’re not ones to pass up a name-dropping opportunity…!

In all, it was such a great insight into wedding traditions over here and I guess the best weddings are a combination of the original and the traditional, as well as respecting customs from both families. In this case, it worked a treat. Roll on next weekend when we’re working another..


Wellington is to Auckland what Melbourne is to Sydney, and what San Francisco is to Los Angeles. It has character instead of homogeneity; it is compact, not sprawling; it is quietly confident, not brash and in-your-face

Well that’s Wellington for you. Or so says Anna Fifield of the Financial Times. Known as one of the best small capitals in the world – population a mere 164,000 to Auckland’s sprawling 1.2 million – Wellington actually does have a lot to shout about. The whole art-loving, rollie-smoking, music-making, alternative-facial-hair-sporting creatively cool culture that Welly is famous for does actually exist. And, thankfully, it exists in the most fantastically unpretentious way; making all those art-house cinemas and cafes, the d&b album launches, the world music exhibition days, and the scores of restaurants and bars wholly accessible to even the anorak-wearing guidebook-toting traveller geek.

Anna’s right about Melbourne and San Francisco, although I think she’s perhaps missed one major player out; Wellington is to Auckland what Bristol is to London. Fact.

Quote Unquote

Kicking up a Stink


Rotorua smells bad.


And I mean bad.

As in really bad.


This is a far cry from your run of the mill city smell, this is broken-egg-left-in-direct-sunlight-in-a-room-with-minimal-to-no-ventilation-and-a-five-day-old-fart bad. No sooner had we passed the Haere Mai sign into Rotorua than the dry stench of sulphur seeped through the car windows, which we thought exciting at first (ohmigoshohmigoshlookeventhedrainsaresteaming) but soon realised that the novelty of breathing with a scarf on your face wears off pretty sharpish.


The reason for the smell? Geothermal is big here. Rotorua is known as NZ’s most dynamic thermal area and is famed for it’s bubbling mud pools, hyperactive geysers and, of course, it’s distinctive whiff. To a nose-less person, it would be perfect. To a dog, it’s probably the equivalent of hell.


The smell (which I don’t think I’m exaggerating – there was definitely a middle of the night rage where the window was slammed shut and ear plugs were rapidly removed and jammed up nostrils) doesn’t deter tourists, however, and Rotorua is one of the most visited spots on the North Island. You can see why. There is loads to see and do, and the thermal activity, although pungent, is strangely mystifying.

Lonely Planet’s walking tour (although we know we’re being slightly spoonfed) was an absolute shout (most likely due to the watering hole, the Pig and Whistle, at the finish line). Not only did it take us round all the colonial buildings of the town, including the pastiche Tudor building that went from bath-house to nightclub to museum in the space of about 150 years, but also it wound through the historical Maori village of Ohinemutu and through the bubbling springs of Kairau Park, one of the few places where you can see the hot springs in action without being rinsed (financially).

The museum (beforeyougotosleepIpromiseIwon’tsayverymuch) is actually well worth the $18 entry fee. Chirpy museum staff (including the tour guide who claimed she couldn’t smell the sulphur any more. Harumph.) and informative exhibits about the town, both geographically (geothermally?) and historically actually made for a very interesting couple of hours. Namely the museum more than compensated for the lack of information about Maori culture that we had been whinging about in Kohukohu and Hamilton. It was all there, and we gratefully lapped it up (including the bit about cannibalism. Nyom.) Not so much the ‘historical Maori village’, which seemed pretty anti-historical i.e. totally fake. The gardens were pretty, but stank. End of.

Rotorua may smell, but the thermal springs are fascinating. That’s the reason why people settled here. Imagine freezing in winter and just popping outside for a ready-made hot bath. Or needing to cook something when it’s too windy for a fire so all you do is pop your boil-in-a-bag bag into the lake and in five minutes it’s done. I think this is probably worth burning your nasal cavity for.


Yet Rotorua isn’t the only one spurting steam from it’s sewage system (I’m talking about the thermal waters, not the other steamy sewer filler…) as we had discovered a few days before at Hot Water Beach, a few hours drive north from Rotorua. Here, armed with a spade and your bathers, you could happily while away a few hours in a home-made bath of warm water on an otherwise extremely chilly beach. Likewise, the famously cold lake at Taupo has it’s own thermal springs just below the surface, causing random warm patches (that can be explained). It just goes to show that NZ is geographically tumultuous. The volcanic pathway that runs through the centre of the the North Island is well and truly alive – forget our puny land of the mountain and the flood, this is more like land of eruptions and earthquakes and boiling mud.


Granted, it’s terrifying, but still fantastic at the same time.