What About Vietnam - Series 2 - 5

Explore Mau Chau and its threaded history in textiles

Kerry Newsome: Welcome to what about Vietnam today I am talking to the lovely Cynthia Mann, and I'm going to be talking to her about a recent trip that she did to a place called Mai Chau. Now Mai Chau is one of those places a little off the grid about three hours out of Hanoi, but it is absolutely wonderful experience if you are looking for a place in Vietnam that can take you back in time in some ways as its features the minority groups the Hmong people and the Thai people.

Cynthia has a lot to do with these ethnic communities as she operates a business called Future Traditions and has a showroom in Hanoi which I strongly recommend that you pop into. Using the traditional weaving and textiles of all the Hmong people and the Thai people she's been able to create the most amazing contemporary designs in homewares and fashion

She is definitely a person in the now and with lots of years of experience in the area, she was able to join us today from Hanoi and tell us a little about her trip.

Please welcome her to the show …...welcome Cynthia to the program.

Cynthia Mann: Thank you, nice to be here.

Kerry Newsome: Great to have you on the show. Look today I am going to be picking your brains about a trip that you did recently to one of my favorite places call Mai Chau. Tell us a little more about where Mai Chau is, where it's actually located and how you get there just so we can appreciate where it is on the map.

Cynthia Mann: one of the nice things about it is Mai Chau is that it's actually like a drive from Hanoi, so it doesn't require flights itself, its maybe three hours now that's quite a good road to get there, so you can leave in the morning and be there for lunch.

It's in the mountains with beautiful valleys,  it's home to some minority villages in the area. The Mai Chau town itself is quite small it's got a really nice kind of “old world” feeling unity there: there are some beautiful waterfalls and fantastic whopping like

It's just a really fantastic place to get away from it all, and I don't really know one people I mean You can jump on a bicycle and ride around the villages really easily it's a lot less physically demanding than Sapa, but yes absolutely not as touristy which is part of its appeal.

Kerry Newsome: Exactly and I think you made a good point about referring it to Sapa.

I mean Sapa kind of sits very high on the tourist map but Mai Chau traditionally hasn't, and I'm not sure why. Because like you, I found it fascinating.

I went there about three years ago, and I had to ask my travel agent to create this tour for me because you know they said not many people know about Mai Chau . I went well,  I'm going, I want to experience it.  So where did you stay, and why did you choose the place you stayed.

Cynthia Mann: Traditionally I started going to Mai Chau in about 2008 and there really was only one or two Homestays and a hotel called an Echo Lodge. And now there is  two Echo Lodges, one on the road, and then there is just a beautiful big one.

Yes, and now there's quite a lot of different places to stay but this is where I stay at Mai Chau is a place called Hide Away, and it's actually about fifteen to twenty kms out Mai Chau town, on the edge of this huge hydroelectric reservoir. So very beautiful, one of the biggest in Southeast Asia, so you've got all the options as in kinds of water activities like kayaking and things like that.

And we really went after lockdown, as we just wanted to have a bit of a getaway and feel like we were human again.

Kerry Newsome: Escape the world.

Cynthia Mann: Escape the world, l put in a sense you know at that during the locked down I was locked in the house by myself, so I was really a bit desperate to talk to people and that was partly why  it was fantastic. To be there.

Kerry Newsome: Now you mentioned that the Mai Chau place you stayed at was a homestay.

Cynthia Mann: No, the place we used to stay would be the only option, but now this was kind of a four-star kind of hotel

Kerry Newsome: A four-star, okay and what would the average night stay there be just roughly for our guess to understand price-wise.

Cynthia Mann: That's a good question can't remember because we got a special deal and I think it was maybe it was about a hundred and something.

Kerry Newsome: A hundred U.S.

Cynthia Mann: Around that much I think we'll have to check on that one and so.

Kerry Newsome: And as a list of things to do around Mai Chau what would be like your top three things to do if you base yourself at the Hideaway what would you do?

Cynthia Mann: If you've never been to Mai Chau town, going to Mai Chau town is essential and spend some time in their kind of tourist villages there, because it's where their ethnic type villages do some weaving.  They have a lot of textiles which is my first love as you know.

Kerry Newsome: Absolutely.

Cynthia Mann: I would go on one of the little boat cruises. Actually sounds a bit glamorous it's kind of one of those you know pop ups!

Kerry Newsome: That’s a good point.

Cynthia Mann: It was March and it was very pretty particularly just before sunset. So you hit down the reservoir, and then we had dinner at this amazing dinner at this fish farm, so we cruise as the light shadows us which is gorgeous. It's a little like it is at Ha Long Bay, you know you've got these amazing kinds or rocks coming out of the water.  And then on the west side we cruise while heading into the sunset which is absolutely stunning. It was really beautiful and the dinner was incredible. We were the only guests.  Their job was cooking all this amazing array of fish dishes , all sorts of different one’s, barbecued with various flavourings, and it was just delicious.

Kerry Newsome: Can you explain a little about that fish restaurant because if I got it right it's a fish farm that sits in the middle of the lake.

Cynthia Mann: Yeah.

Kerry Newsome: And now they built a restaurant around it is that right?

Cynthia Mann: In the middle yeah;  it's basically a series of farms that supply to the area and I think they also send  it up to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.  It's very locally driven. You would most probably not hear about it, but you get some table you can sit at and they just bring out the food

Kerry Newsome: So glad that's happened because when I was there  buildingit  and I actually walked away with a piece of the bamboo that they were using to build the structure with.

I planted things in it back at home when I got home. God knows how I got it through customs. I knew all the plans that they had to create this restaurant so it's great to hear that they've done that.

I'm sure tourists coming into the region are going to love it.

Now I want to get back to something that I know you're going to be able to speak to everyone a lot about. And that's about the ethnic communities and about those textiles that we talk about that you offer in Future Traditions, through your handcrafts. .. tell us a bit about that.

Cynthia Mann: Sure. I think, when I was down there, I actually also did a bit of business

I have some textile producers down there. So because I met with them while I was there it is predominantly ethnic and minority communities down there. Hmong and Thai. They do all the famous embroidery the Thai weaving is famous and it’s incredibly affordable to buy.

Kerry Newsome: Do they still hang the bedspreads on the lawn?

Cynthia Mann: Yeah, they do.

Kerry Newsome: I bought one.

Cynthia Mann: They actually made those from recycled Hmong skirts and not actually thai at all. I love the beautiful Hmong gathered skirts that are made from a number of different pieces featuring appliqué and embroidery, and they construct those and then make them into this kind of blankets sheets and bedspreads whatever you want call them.

And that's where one of the interests I got is, what you're saying now often has printed polyester yes the fabric that looks the same. But is no longer hand made because it's cheaper for them to buy in from China and then just to sew the skirt, because for Hmong traditional woman's clothing it can take like outside doing other things. Like rice harvesting.  roasting and other things. It can take a year for them to make a new piece of clothing which they usually do, so everybody in the family will get a new set of clothing for the new year.

If I can afford to do that, and now they have a quicker and cheaper way to do it.

Which is on one hand is great right because it’s cheaper, and it’s quicker and everybody will get more time to do other things and perhaps potential earn more money?

But it also means that those Integral cultural traditional skills, and the skills and also just the look is being diminished so one thing.

The work I bring back to the boutique is work I give to a couple of ladies in one of the villages outside the Province border, where they do the hands stitches, applique & ribbon.

Which is the traditional form of the skirt. However, on to the outer skirt, it is in red, black and white, then they do a bit of a floral through it, and then the black and white little squares.

It's cheap it's just going by what many can stick it straight on their skirt so it's it doesn't take long, but then that's actual croft is being kind of loss so It’s is one of the things that I first fell in love with the first time I went to the Hockomock at a store when I have to have some of that I have to. Is that and some so what happens is over time I've worked with some of the ladies that make it, and I've given them fabric in different color schemes so that they then produce a version for me that fits in with some color scheme that I'm working with for the next election.

Kerry Newsome: That's right it was really great to know.

Cynthia Mann: During that time with the petite once those beds spread or recycled old skirt.  I don't have to use, and I doing that in some of my signature jackets, antique fabric which is all right and to try with. All right that's going to run out and I don't want I didn't want to say that I was just using recycled on lunch mission new fabric right side also are being worked with women in a different part and just outside of Parco village. Might change specifically for me that I decided to take which I use incorporate into my clothing?

Kerry Newsome: So, I'm just too to recap on where that situated the Parco village that that you referred to is actually kind of at the back door of where I was staying last time. So that Eco log that set up on the hills you can actually go down the back and kind of interests.

Cynthia Mann: Through the bank the little villages that are set up between that's different I can't so that's great and that there is school like that it's behind it's between you will launch a what you study that and the town and in the background that's the three little Connor what we originally got this sort of tourist.

Kerry Newsome: Pretty basic where not much is there.

Cynthia Mann: Yeah, Paco village itself is actually set on a canal in a small of village mainly for locals on a Sunday morning.

Kerry Newsome: Yeah, I didn't get to.

Cynthia Mann: It’s kind of like a triangle between the town, so it's a kind of triangle distance, so it's about another fifteen minutes.

Kerry Newsome: So that that helps me. How long would you suggest a person should plan a stay there? Is it a day trip is it an on overnight trip or would  two or three days be better.

Cynthia Mann: Definitely an overnight if you want to go to the Paco market which is really lovely, it's a very small market. But all about the locals not touristy.

Kerry Newsome: Yes, I know.

Cynthia Mann;  It’s a Sunday morning, so you need to go there early.  Be there by seven thirty, eight o'clock because it's all over by ten.

And I would stay, ideally stay two nights and stay somewhere like the Eco Log in the valleys behind the main town. Then you can hire a bicycle and just cycle around and to different villages and you know talk to the locals and like and you know it's yes, it's a really lovely valley to explore and it's really easy to explore.

Kerry Newsome: Just to clarify on the timing you went in, we think around about June.

Cynthia Mann: Yeah.

Kerry Newsome: Because you and I just love the heat. I went when it was actually quite cool.

Cynthia Mann: Yes.

Kerry Newsome: So, I went in February/March so I was wrapped up. It was quite chilly but you went in June.  When would you think are the good months to go from a timing perspective?

Cynthia Mann: Autumn in the north is probably best. Anywhere in the north is probably the best season -  starting September October November.

Kerry Newsome: September, October, November.

Cynthia Mann: Yes, becasue once you get it in December /January it can be quite cold, and for February can be cold. Tends not to be as humid up there which is nice and especially for tourists who are not used to it.

When we were there and were chatting with some friends online and they were saying better you're enjoying the cool weather down there. And I looked away and it was actually the same temperature, and it was thirty-nine degrees. But in Hanoi so you know it was no different it's not as high, or as cool as Sapa, but it's also tends not to be as humid, so if for a lot of people that's a big relief.

Kerry Newsome: I think any time in the middle of the year anywhere in Vietnam is pretty warm let’s face it.

Cynthia Mann: And once you enter towards the end of July, we're just starting the rainy seasons. It will be more overcast, and then you will have rain.  On the other hand the rain cools everything down. On Sunday we had this huge downpour and an old friend of mine and I just whistled around on bikes in the cool it was like…. WOW... I haven't felt this for a long time, it was just fabulous.

Kerry Newsome: Delicious especially after lockdown.

Cynthia, look it was great to chat about my channel and what I am doing.

Cynthia Mann: Absolutely.

Kerry Newsome: I just wanted to say thanks again and we will be chatting soon.

Cynthia Mann: Excellent. Be safe everybody and look after yourselves and looking forward to seeing you in Hanoi, Vietnam at some stage in the not too distant future.