Tag Archives: Shopping

Lantern Town

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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.

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Truly Asia

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Get any Malaysia Air flight and you’ll be treated to this a little gem, or something of a similar ilk.

 

 

OK, so the video might be a bit cringe and there is a rather high white-foreigner to Malaysian ration, but after having it on repeat during a 10-hour flight, you get the idea; Malaysia IS truly Asia.

This is quite a big claim to fame, and they’re obviously very proud of it. But what the hair oil are they on about? What is a true representation of Asia?

 

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Frankly, I haven’t a clue. But if the slogan is correct and if Kuala Lumpur is anything to go by, then I guess it’s all about sheer contrasts and diversity; an exhausting mix of bustling street stalls and new-age high-risers, samosas on the roadside and a Starbucks on every corner, temples and mosques and the occasional church thrown in for good measure.

Let’s put this into context. So we arrived sleepy and smelly into Kuala Lumpur late in the evening not really knowing what to expect, hop onto the train to the city centre and notice that this is probably the smartest train that either of us have ever caught. All the other passengers are well-dressed and smothered in electronics, there are flat-screen TVs at the end of each carriage with yet more advertisements proclaiming Malaysia’s Asian-ness, each stop is announced and clearly marked on an LED board with every station, the train is more refrigerated than air-conditioned, the stations have glass doors between the train and the platform so suicidal passengers don’t upset the timetable. In short, this is high-quality stuff. Yet, alighting in Chinatown, the area where we were staying, we walk straight into a night market. It’s similar to stumbling upon five different children’s parties happening simultaneously while someone slaps your face with a damp towel and shines a light in your eyes. The stalls are so close to one another that there is hardly room to pass between them, and glorious smells of cooked meat drift between the racks of fake sunglasses and Abercrombie T-shirts.  Hawkers beckon us into their stalls with promises of ‘good price’ and ‘gifts for lady’. Obviously we are awestruck, we never know quite which way to turn, we keep bumping into one another. Hectic, yes, but hilarious.

This contrast wasn’t a one off. Take the following day, for example. Suffering from mild jetlag, we spent the first morning sweltering our way up the 272 steps to the Batu Cave Indian Temple – a Hindu shrine in the cavernous interior of a limestone outcrop, frequented by bona fide Hindus, hoards of tourists, and a bunch of extraordinarily bold monkeys who are surprisingly adept at nicking your lunch. At the top, we were casually asking a bystander about the meanings of the various marks being painted on the worshippers heads, and we suddenly found ourselves ushered to the front of the temple to receive a blessing. Pretty moving stuff.

The 40-something metre high statue of Lord Murugan at the Batu Caves

The 40-something metre high statue of Lord Murugan at the Batu Caves

 

Starting the climb...

Starting the climb…

Inside the caves

Inside the caves

Monkey plus stolen goods

Monkey plus stolen goods

Compare this with the afternoon, where we found ourselves in hedonist heaven Bukit Bintang. This is an area of the city devoted to shopping malls, as in a WHOLE AREA THAT IS JUST MALL AFTER MALL AFTER MALL. No joke, this makes Oxford Street look like the ‘Reduced to Clear’ section of Tescos. For anyone that knows Celyn and I, we were TOTALLY lost. We’re not really that accustomed to shopping, even window shopping, and now we were being faced with square miles of brightly lit consumer culture. Sorry guys, but we were a little overwhelmed. We got lost in one mall, the Sungei Wang centre, which was actually TERRIFYING. It was like one of those scenes from a horror film where no matter which way they turn, they always end up at the same place. In a horror film, they are trying to escape from some sort of mad axe murderer, in our case we were trying to escape from the crazy ladies who wanted us to buy some sort of skin-lightening moisturizer. They KEPT RUBBING OUR HANDS. Weird.

In all seriousness, this area is phenomenal. There is just so much evident wealth. One shopping centre, the Starhill Gallery was more like a hotel, or a museum showcasing how millionaires spend their time. There was a jazz band in the foyer playing to no-one, the escalators were red a la red-carpets and the lifts had no numbers for the floors, just enigmatic labels such as ‘Relish’ and ‘Adorn’. What the..?!

Starhill Gallery Shopping Mall / Museum / Playground for the rich

Starhill Gallery Shopping Mall / Museum / Playground for the rich

Developing expensive tastes...

Developing expensive tastes…

Chef in a lift

Chef in a lift

 

??

?? 

Anyway shopping-mall-stress aside, we’ve come to see that this is what Kuala Lumpur is all about; contrast. And despite being a truly modern cyber-city, it is clear that it’s still managed to retain every ounce of the integrity and tradition from which it was originally built.

 

And we’ll leave you with a few more pics…

 

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Early morning at the Petronas Towers.

The view from the Skybridge of the Petronas Towers - 170m up

The view from the Skybridge of the Petronas Towers – 170m up

Building on fire?? View of a high-rise bank taken from floor 88 of the Petronas Towers

Building on fire?? View of a high-rise bank taken from floor 88 of the Petronas Towers

Some of the flower garlands sold on the streets which can be bought as temple offerings

Some of the flower garlands sold on the streets which can be bought as temple offerings

 

Lord M again

Lord M again

One of the malls even had a HARRODS!

One of the malls even had a HARRODS! (Quite enjoying the ‘Please do not touch me’ sign)

PTs again.

PTs again.