Ethnology Museum, Ha Noi: This wonderful museum houses a terrific and wide-ranging collection of textiles and crafts from the 54 ethnic minorities living in Vietnam. An absolute must visit for anyone interested in the history and culture of Vietnam’s minority communities.

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Sapa: Textiles and clothing are a one of the key ways in which Vietnam’s many ethnic minorities express their identity and cultural traditions. Many communities live in and around Sapa, including the Black H’mong, who wear clothes dyed in indigo with embroidered embellishments on their sleeves and leg wraps. Similarly the Flower H’mong are renowned for their brightly coloured embroidery and beaded fringes.

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Visitors can view the work and the collection of ancient designs by local weavers, as well as the processing of hemp into fabric. Visit indigo and hemp farms and study the batik and tritik techniques in H’mong and Dzao textiles. And in the evening enjoy the traditional music performed by H’mong people.

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The Ancient Silk Village Of Van Phuc Near The Town Of Ha Dong: Van Phuc village has 785 households who weave silk. Each year, Van Phuc produces up to 3 million square meters of silk. Observe how silk is made and see many beautiful designs both traditional and contemporary. The three 3 commercial streets in this extraordinary village contain more than 100 silk shops and boutiques; the perfect place to buy unique, hand woven gifts for anyone special back home.

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Central Highlands:

Vietnam’s magnificent Central Highlands are home to a treasure trove of craft & textile traditions belonging to several different ethnic minorities. It is still possible to meet local weavers in the villages of the Ja Rai, Ede and Banar people. A special highlight is an overnight stay in a Banar long house – traditionally a communal house with its signature sky-high, curved roof.

  • A-Luoi Weaving, Hue: The A-Luoi tribe in Vietnam practise a long-venerated textile art of hand woven cloth with beads incorporated as design elements. Woven on backstrap looms by a community of women, the cloth is emblematic of many cultural traditions as more formal and elaborate patterns are sewn into ceremonial dance costumes. Intricate patterns are created by placing each bead by hand on every weft thread. A two meter piece of cloth represents a month’s work but there are only limited opportunities to sell it. This has put this time-honored cultural tradition on the ‘endangered’ list. If it goes, so will the knowledge of how to make it; a skill that has been passed down from one generation to the next for many centuries.
  • Danang: Visit the Cham Museum and travel to the charming city of Hoi An, a UNESCO heritage site renowned for its silk and wonderful tailors. We also have a free day for those who wish to have clothing tailored in Hoi An or spend a day at the lovely beach in Danang.

Chic, Unique And Boutique

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Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are fast becoming a paradise for shoppers tired of the over-commercialised chains that increasingly dominate cities all around the world. Saigon, Phnom Penh, Yangon, Luang Prabang, Battambang, Hanoi, Hoi An and Danang increasingly boast chic and interesting galleries, boutiques, local brands and cool bars. Over the next few newsletters we are going to be highlighting some of our favourites, city by city. Of course there are new outlets opening all the time so do ask us for our recommendations when you next visit. We’re going to start this new section of our newsletter with our home town here in Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon

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1. Gallery Vivekkevin (www.galleryvivekkevin.com), fabulous contemporary jewellery from some of the best artists in the world.
2. Ethopen (www.facebook.com/ItsHappenedSaigon), great, if a little eccentric, Thai designer store. Also has a café and beauty salon upstairs
3. L’Usine (www.lusinespace.tumblr.com) , excellent downtown café and designer warehouse. Big space, high ceilings and great food all hidden inside a maze of alley ways right in the centre of HCMC
4. Cuc Gach Quan (www.cucgachquan.com.vn/en), delicious Vietnamese restaurant in a characterful architect’s house
5. San Art (www.san-art.org), the best of Vietnamese contemporary art
6. Marou Chocolate (www.marouchocolate.com), delicious, high quality, chocolate fresh from the Mekong Delta
7. Last Call Bar (www.lastcallsaigon.com), quiet, stylish bar serving excellent cocktails downtown till late in the night
8. Villa Royale (www.villaroyaletreasures.com), a tearoom which sells great quality antiques from all around the world in a lovely Villa

Circuses & Shows In Southeast Asia

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A trip to the theatre or the circus is often a great highlight of a visit especially during this festive season so we thought we’d showcase some of the new productions from around the region.

1. Saigon, Vietnam: À Ố Show
À Ố Show is a fun new show that is part circus, part concert and part dance performance. All the details that are portrayed reflect the spirit of the Vietnamese people, their daily lives and their heritage e.g. bamboo, basket boats, farming, bustling city life etc. During the 60 minutes show, the audience is gently introduced to many different tones of emotion. To quote the producers themselves: ‘it is as if the audience were captured in a Vietnamese dream of life, survival, love and everything else in between.’

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2. Cambodia: Phare, The Cambodian Circus
Phare is another interesting mix of performance styles including theatre, story-telling, dance, high-energy music and circus arts. Phare, which translates as “brightness of the arts”, is an NGO founded in Battambang in the 90s by former Cambodian refugees to assist disadvantaged young people through the arts.

The Siem Reap show is a spectacle of acrobatics, theatre, music and incredible youthful energy and talent. The narratives, which change regularly, are based around themes of contemporary Cambodian life. The great stunts, performed by the young disadvantaged people in the Phare programme, are a constant.

The performances take place each night in a circus tent behind the Angkor National Museum. It’s a fun, physical show and the tent brings the audience very close to the action.

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3. Myanmar: Spark! Circus

Spark! (That’s with the !) is a group of volunteer circus performers who try to add a little sparkle to the lives of disadvantaged children in refugee camps, migrant schools, hospitals and orphanages along the Thai-Burmese border. More than 200, 000 refugees are based in camps along the border, with a large proportion of them being children.

In addition to all the fun that the children have learning circus skills, Spark! is designed to develop their creativity, physical fitness, communication skills, teamwork, confidence, and cultural awareness. Play is a fundamental part of children’s development and Spark! bring a big Spark! of happiness, love, amusement, and entertainment into these children’s lives and the lives of those who work in the camps and orphanages. Saffron Travel can arrange for visitors to see the Sparks! Team in action and enjoy one of their many unique workshops / performances.

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