Hoi An First Impressions

Bicycle - Hoi An
Classic street scene in Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An is considered the architectural and culinary gem of Central Vietnam, receiving the stamp of approval from UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. We arrived there on a tourist bus from Danang and were dragged through the typical Vietnamese tour routine.

The bus conveniently stopped at one hotel where we got a hard sell. Those tourists who returned to the bus were taken to a second hotel, with guesthouse touts literally following the bus until its final destination.

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Custom-Made Clothing and Tailors in Hoi An, Vietnam

Despite what my husband says, I am not a clothes junkie. I avoid shopping if I can get by another season with the same clothes as last. Why is it that I turned into a custom-made clothes fiend searching for tailors while in Hoi An, Vietnam?

The Hoi An Clothing Craze Begins

As soon as we entered the first tailor shop (there are over 200 in Hoi An), a recommendation from the Swedish travelers we had met in Sapa, I wanted all the silk tops and dresses I saw hanging on the wall. The saleswomen quickly tuned into my excitement and went to work taking advantage of it.

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Vientiane First Impressions

“This place is a shxxhole.” These were Dan’s first words when we arrived in Vientiane. We had just spent several hours on a dustbowl trail, which eventually transformed into Grapes of Wrath meets full blown industrialized pollution. Oh, and the scowling faces. Someone forgot to tell these people that the rest of their countrymen actually smile. Vientiane's roads seem to cake pained looks onto the faces of its motorbike drivers who struggled to breathe as they drove without face masks.

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Big Brother Mouse

Big Brother Mouse (BBM), a book publishing and literacy program in Luang Prabang, produces children's books in the Lao language to help promote the love of reading and learning in children. The organization was started by a retired American publisher who saw the need for children's books and decided to try to fill the gap himself. The project is taking off and growing.

Big Brother Mouse Sign
Big Brother Mouse in Luang Prabang

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Three Levels of Hill Tribes – Luang Prabang

Diversity is tucked into the hills surrounding Luang Prabang. Our trek took us through three distinct layers of hill tribes, culture, and life – Lao, Hmong and Khmu. Our guides patiently waded through all of our questions – from life in the villages to the American bombing of Laos in the 60s and 70s – and our group (two Australians, one Guatemalan, and two Filipinos) kept the conversation lively throughout the day.

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Lao Food Lowdown

Authentic Lao food can be difficult to find in well-touristed areas like Luang Prabang where Thai curries are often cloaked as local fare. Fortunately for us, we stumbled upon Tamarind Café early in our stay. Its unique menu made a point of introducing and promoting Luang Prabang cuisine.

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The Other Side of Luang Prabang

One American traveler we spoke to quipped that Luang Prabang actually felt like Sante Fe, New Mexico. A fair comparison, we suppose, given its café-equipped, mid-mountain artsy demeanor and copious artsy shopping opportunities. These features ensure that tourists will keep ‘a coming to this quaint yet polished French colonial outpost on the Mekong. But if you are looking for a deeper cut of authenticity, catch yourself a water taxi to Ban Xieng Maen, a peaceful village just across the river, but half a planet away. Its simplicity and low-key temples belie the fact that we were only minutes from well-traveled Luang Prabang.

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