Sunday, February 23, 2014

Afternoon Tea at The Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong

Meredith, Kaitlin, Kathy and I made a quick stop in Hong Kong before returning to California and all agreed that Afternoon Tea at the Peninsula Hotel would perfectly cap off our three week trip. Born to Shop readers know how much I love this hotel, and while tea is served in other Hong Kong venues, the traditional service at the Pen tops all charts. This is the event where others strive to compete, but seriously folks, it’s a one-tea-town.

Afternoon tea at the Pen honors the British tradition dating back to the mid-1800s, when tea was a time to share gossip and show off one’s prettiest teapots and china. Hostesses competed with each other to prepare the most refined menus and elegant table settings. Traditional offerings included savory sandwiches, hot teacakes, English muffins and scones, along with a choice of traditional teas.

The Pen continues this tradition by serving tea in eggshell-thin bone china. Delicate finger sandwiches with choices of smoked salmon, egg salad, chicken salad, and prawns with cucumber are offered on silver tiered tea trays. Next, warm buttery scones arrive, made from a recipe unchanged at The Pen for over half a century. They are served with jam and Devonshire clotted cream.

 Cocktails, champagne and other beverages are also available, along with egg dishes, smoked salmon and an assortment of tarts.


The celebrated Peninsula Classic Afternoon Tea (HK$ 338 for one person or HK$ 598 for two) is served daily in the hotel lobby from 2:00pm to 6:00pm, accompanied by live classical string music. Reservations are not taken and a queue forms early, but don’t hesitate. This experience is well worth the wait.

Many thanks to The Peninsula for hosting us!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

ThuThuySilk tailor in Hoi An Vietnam

For years, I’ve had custom clothing made in Asia… Irene Fashion, a division of W. W. Chan in Hong Kong is the best in the world, but a little pricey for most budgets. In Shenzhen, LoWu Commercial Center has a whole floor of tailors but you need to know who to see and communication can be difficult. I knew there were close to 500 tailors in the small village of Hoi An, Vietnam, so I couldn’t wait to test the waters…

First off, Hoi An is so charming (especially at night), with streets lit by thousands of colorful lanterns, and many restaurants serving fresh seafood and local delicacies. It’s easy to be distracted, but we knew we were there for a reason. Meredith (my daughter), Kaitlin (her friend) and I had a list of clothing we wanted to have made and we feared it would be a challenge to find the right tailor for the job. Well, it was easy. We were so impressed with ThuThuySilk, 60 Le Loi Street, (, we marched right in and got to work.

In all, we had four coats, two blazers, four shirts, two evening gowns, and three dresses made. We selected styles from the books provided, roamed through the fabric racks to find the perfect choices, and were measured from head to toe by the kind and very efficient tailor staff. I’m picky about buttons and buttonholes, so I was lead to the head seamstress’ office where there was a WALL of buttons; so much fun.

The first day we made our selections. Day two, we returned for more fittings, and the third day, our clothes were ready. A final fitting was made and while we had dinner, a couple of items were tweaked for a snugger fit and everything was ready and packed for travel when we returned.

Price? Less than $1000 for our entire order. And the quality was excellent!

Furama Resort in Danang Vietnam

From Hanoi, we took a quick flight to Danang where we were met at the airport by the transport team from the Furama Resort (; fifteen minutes later, we arrived at their fabulous beachfront property. We booked this hotel because we wanted to stay on the beach, reviews were good and the photos looked great on their website. Also, the price was right. Four nights with buffet breakfast and airport van for under $1200. Normally, I try to stay at a property where I know the Manager or at least someone who has stayed there and recommended it. In this case, we took a chance and picked a winner.

The property consists of a series of buildings spread out along a clean wide sandy beach. There are pools (2), a small but very good spa and several restaurants. The food was excellent and the breakfast buffet at Café Indochine (the resort’s signature restaurant)fueled us until dinner time…. Eggs were prepared as desired, fruit was fresh and plentiful and for those seeking Asian dishes, there were many to choose from. The bread and pastries were warm from the oven and service was impeccable.

We tried Don Cipriani’s Italian restaurant one evening and were impressed with the Vietnamese take on classic Italian cuisine. Homemade pasta with fresh sauces, lots of seafood and the pizza, served bubbling from the wood-fired oven, was perfect.

We were upgraded from a pool view room to one facing the beach with a separate seating area and comfortable balcony. The service was top notch and our fresh fruit platter was replaced daily.

It was a quick drive from Furama to Hoi An (about 30 minutes) and we had a choice of taking the hotel shuttle either in the morning or afternoon. One day, we hired a taxi (about $25) to take us to town in the early evening and pick us up four hours later, as we wanted to have dinner in one of the restaurants in Hoi An.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lanterns in Hoi An Vietnam

It was a quick drive from the beachside Furama Resort near Danang to the ancient city of Hoi An. We went for the tailors (there are about 500 of them) and fell in love with everything in the charming village - ancient homes with yin-yang clay roof tiles and moss covered walls, ancient temples and plenty of beautiful outdoor restaurants. We strolled through the Old Town, browsed in shops. At dusk, we crossed the Chur Bridge and walked along the riverbank, taking in the beauty and light of hundreds of thousands of brightly lit lanterns.

The lantern stalls are all similar and prices are uniform - $4 for a lantern purchased at night, $3 during the day. The lanterns come in many designs, colors and patterns, and each vendor will be happy to tell the story behind the construction and style. Typically, the artisan selects bamboo an soaks it in water for ten days or so to sanitize it (au revoir, pests and termites!). The wood is then cut, bent and formed into various shapes to make the frame. Silk is stretched cover the lamp et voila, it's ready to go. Less expensive versions have metal frames with synthetic covers. All can easily be collapsed to ship or slip into your suitcase. 

The lanterns range from simple round forms to intricate octagonal, hexagonal and tulip shapes. Each shape and color is symbolic; the simple round ones reflect harmony, balance, warmth, peace and good luck. The craft was introduced to Hoi An in the late 16th century when Chinese traders first settled in the area. According to lore, the first lantern maker in town was a Chinese man named Xa Duong who was an expert in making dragonheads and lanterns for various festivals. Eventually, lanterns that were once reserved for special occasions were used every day.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Bat Trang Ceramics Village near Hanoi

Once I found out that there was an entire village of ceramics shops near Hanoi, I hired a taxi for the half-day excursion (about $40). The drive took less than an hour. There is a city bus but take my word, you want to splurge for the taxi.

Bat Trang is a tiny village, with a tourist ox cart, and heaps of dishes; shopping it takes a good eye and a strong back. I have heard of people who hated it here, mostly because there is a lot of duplication and they don’t care if the vases cost $3. I’ve now been here three times and brought a tour group. I’ve had the time of my life, bought beautiful pieces and was exhausted afterward. Actually no one in our group cared about the ox after the photo op, they wanted to go shopping and were delighted to buy the pottery.
If you want the ox-cart tour, you go to Minh Hai Ceramic Co., which is one of the large shops on the right as you enter the village. To tell the truth, communications with the oxen were a tad difficult; it seems there’s no charge for the tour if you buy from the shop. We didn’t want to buy from the shop – too touristy—and in the end gave the driver $10.

The InterContinental Hanoi Westlake

We’re big InterConti fans, so it made sense to stay at this hotel in Hanoi. The InterContinental Hanoi  Westlake is a five-star resort with 327 rooms and 36 apartments, most of which have lake views. It’s a resort that floats on a lake.  Note that Westlake is becoming a destination unto itself, but it is not in downtown Hanoi.  A taxi from the hotel to the downtown shopping district takes about ten minutes and costs $5. The hotel stretches into the water so there is a lounge and bar with large wicker beds right up against the lake itself—very romantic. At night there are torches burning, music playing and at some times of the year, mosquitoes biting. Oh well. Rooms begin around $150 and go up. We paid a little less than $200 for lake view rooms with Club InterContinental privileges.