Vietnam Buddhism & Tattoos! Hanoi tattoo shops & Tran Quoc pagoda, FAM or press trip.

buddha bodhi tree, tran quoc vietnam

I’m sad that this is my final dispatch from Vietnam… but we’re ending on a happy note in Hanoi. I’m sure I will be back soon, to see more of this peaceful country.

In this final post, we’ll visit tattoo artists with vampire fangs, a temple where people worship mothers, and eat pho with Pirate Miffy!

(And if you’d like to have the skeleton dress I’m wearing, it’s available on my Depop store — along with hundreds of alt clothes and accessories from my personal collection.)

vietnam night market, bokeh sony a7 camera

Thanks to our guide Bao at Vietnam Food Tour, John and I experienced the best of North Vietnam — including a cooking class with a family, and a boat journey thorough Halong Bay.

For our last days, we decided to explore Hanoi, known as the cultural capital of the country. We stayed in the Old Quarter, a timeless neighborhood that came alive with clubs and street food at night.

(Photos taken with the amazing Sony alpha7 mirrorless DSLR camera.)

vietnamese children balancing on motorcycle

I’m always interested in the juxtaposition of ancient and avantgarde in worldwide cities. We began our day by traveling back in time, and visiting the 6th century Trấn Quốc Pagoda.

Above: how many youths can fit on a motorbike? The footage you see on travel TV shows is true — the Vietnamese are masters of balancing an entire family on a single motorcycle.

coconut popsicles, tongue ring

It was a hot day, so we cooled off with fresh coconut water and coconut milk popsicles, sold right by the pagoda.

Foodie tip: When you’re in Southeast Asia, ingest fresh tropical fruit at every opportunity! You can’t mangoes and coconuts of this quality back home, not even at Whole Foods. Plus, these local fruits cost a fraction of the price.

hanoi famous buddhist temple, pagoda pond

Tran Quoc pagoda rises over Ho Tay (West Lake). It’s the oldest temple in Hanoi, and arguably the most picturesque. The Vietnamese flag, red with a yellow star, waves in the background.

vietnamese architecture, roof curve

Make sure that you visit the temple during its opening hours, which are generally from late morning to the early evening. To enter, we walked through these elegant gates with the distinctive Vietnamese curved rooftops. 

Trấn Quốc Pagoda, hanoi vietnam temple

I paused beneath the Buddhist Bodhi tree. It was a gift from the president of India, in 1959. Legend says that it grew from a branch of the same tree where the Buddha became enlightened. Our Vietnam Food Tour guide showed us how to walk counter-clockwise around the trunk, while reflecting and strengthening intentions.

(Here’s where you can get a similar skeleton dress or sweater — and the exact one I’m wearing is available via my wardrobe sale!)

kreepsville666 skeleton dress

Vietnamese Buddhist monks live in this temple, and are often seen in walking meditation. At the main shrine, visitors light incense and give blessings.

(My cat-eye wooden sunglasses are from Moat House Eyewear.)

vietnamese buddhist altar

I’ve been to Buddhist temples in various parts of Asia (including the Hong Kong Tian Tan statue, and Wat Pho in Bangkok). It’s fascinating to see the regional differences in the design and approach.

Inside this Vietnamese temple, we saw various incarnations of the Buddha depicted in ornate gold. On either side, there were shrines dedicated to folk heroes and ancestors. Many homes and shops — like Mr An’s house — have personal shrines that give reverence to all of the above.

buddha statues, pagoda hanoi

Outside, we admired the towering red pagoda. Each level held a white Buddha statue, sitting in the lotus position. Amazing that Tran Quoc dates all the way back to Emperor Ly Nam De in the sixth century.

鎭國寺 vietnam buddhism shrine

I noticed that many Vietnamese buildings are painted yellow — the color associated with gold and royalty.

hanoi park, pagoda temple on island

We were glad to have our Vietnam Food Tour guide with us, to answer questions and fill us in on the distinctive culture.

vietnamese mother worship, ancestor shrine

For instance, we were surprised to see locals praying in front of doll-like statues of women. Our guide explained that the Vietnamese practice “Dao Mau,” or the worship of mother goddesses — a folk ritual that dates back to the days before Buddhism.

I loved hearing about the local spirituality, which integrates folk and Buddhist traditions in a natural, personal way.

buddhist home decoration, shelf statues

We saw a different type of shrine later on that day. John Skeleton and I wanted to learn about tattoo culture in Vietnam, so we visited several top studios and interviewed the artists.

If you’re looking to get a tattoo in Hanoi, we hope you find John’s following report helpful.

tats studio hanoi tattoo parlor

Tats Studio (Address: 91 Ba Trieu Street, Hanoi)

To get to Tats Studio, you’ll need to follow a long corridor plastered over with tattoo designs in every style imaginable. It opens into the reception area, lined on one side by a wide variety of tattoo inks, needles, and other equipment — and by sofas and alcoves full of skulls and knickknacks on the other.

The studio’s logo is displayed prominently on the wall, flanked by a life-sized silver skeleton. We met head artist and owner of the studio, Tuan, who flashes a pointy smile made even more toothsome by a pair of vampire canines that, he claims, are real.

vietnamese folk art paintings, tattoos

We had heard from our tour guide and others that tattoos were viewed as something only for gangsters, playboys, and maybe a handful of rebellious youth in Hanoi.

However, Tuan impressed us with his strong desire to elevate tattooing to a higher level of appreciation in Hanoi, even working together with other Vietnamese artists to raise the overall level of artistry and technique throughout the country.

hanoi top best tattoo artists

Tats Studio’s business card says “We’ll Make You All Tats-A-Holic.” While the artists at Tats Studios can accommodate just about any range of style, Tuan specializes in portrait tattoos that are photorealistic down to the tiniest detail.

He also told us about the way he and his artists have been incorporating traditional Vietnamese folk paintings of tigers and other animals into their tattoo work to create something that is distinctly Vietnamese.

ninja ink tattoo studio, vietnam

Ninja Ink Tattoo Studio (Address: 35 Nghi Tam, Yen Phu Tay Ho, Hanoi)

Nini Beltran and Jack Bullard not only combined their names to form their studio’s appellation (NinJa Ink), they have also fused their talents to put a fresh new face on tattooing in Hanoi. While Jack was unable to join us at the studio that day, Nini filled us in on how she became involved in tattooing. Starting off in Manila with an Electronics and Communications Engineering degree, it wasn’t long until she realized that her true calling was in artistic pursuits.

hanoi tattoo artist, back tattoo

She specializes in colorful tattoos in numerous styles, but told us that she particularly enjoys photorealistic tattooing because of the technical challenge it represents. Jack’s works covers a wide spectrum, but often employs bold use of black line work to create traditional and tribal motifs, as well as more modern designs.

They are currently expanding their studio to accommodate more artists and clientele, and also offer henna skin art for those who aren’t quite ready to take the plunge into permanent designs.

tattoo studio, artists hanoi vietnam

Many of their clients are women, who trust the aesthetic judgment of the female tattoo artists. In a country where tattooing remains a Wild West (with no licensing requirements and little regulation), Ninja Ink sets the bar for high standards.

toy street hanoi, Luong Van Can

In between the visits, we paused on Luong Van Can, Hanoi’s toy street. Kids will go crazy for these stores, which are packed with stuffed toys.

fresh fruit juice hanoi drinks

Remember my advice to devour all the fresh fruit in sight? I got the best mango, avocado and banana smoothie of my life — and it only cost $1.50 US!

John continues with his tattoo studio report…

hanoi tattoo studio, parlor

Hanoi Tattoo (Address: 73 Hang Bo Hoan Kiem, Hanoi)

The first thing that struck us about Hanoi Tattoo, aside from the spacious and homey interior, was the prevalence of Japanese wabori-style designs — from Noh hannya masks on the wall to framed artwork of bodysuit tattoo designs.

japanese style chest tattoo

Head artist Đoàn Văn Quyền told us that Japan’s style of tattoo design was very popular in Vietnam, especially among older men who admired the elaborate bodysuit patterns seen in Japanese gangster flicks. However, with around 10 artists, he assured me that Hanoi Tattoo could take on just about any style of tattoo design for its customers.

japanese bodysuit back tattoo

While Vietnam’s tattoo renaissance has been slow in coming, his studio was one of the first to crop up in Hanoi, having been established in 2003.

He is a regular at the annual Vietnam Tattoo Convention, which, he tells me, is not about competition among artists. In fact, there is no “Best of Show” award, simply a plaque that each artist receives to show their participation, as the goal is mutual honing of the techniques and artistry behind the craft of tattooing.

Like the Tats Studio, Hanoi Tattoo is attempting to put tattooing, which was previously in the realm of gangsters and playboys, into the spotlight as a legitimate artistic medium in Vietnam.

maison d'hanoi boutique hotel

After all these interviews, it was time to relax at our hotel, Maison d’Hanoi Boutique Hotel. We were fans of the bright, modern meets traditional lobby.

vietnam boutique hotels

The staff always greeted us with big smiles. When we checked in, we got tea and welcome towels. Pirate Miffy gives that an “arr”!

old quarter hanoi hotels

We highly recommend staying in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. This neighborhood seems frozen in time, with narrow streets cross-crossed by motorcycles, and vendors carrying big baskets of fruit. It’s also central, and has many restaurants and clubs within walking distance.

eating pho vietnamese noodle soup

At Maison d’Hanoi’s restaurant, we ate pho — the fragrant Vietnamese noodle soup. An absolute must-have, if you travel here.

Miffy’s expression may be unreadable, but she is bursting with joy on the inside!

pirate miffy toy bunny

A typical pirate, Miffy then plundered the rum at the hotel bar.

maison d'hanoi rooms

Tea and internet — John’s happy place.

It’s important to stay in a safe, top-rated hotel like Maison d’Hanoi, since I’ve heard of travellers getting their belongings stolen in sketchy hostels.

romantic hanoi vietnam hotel

The hotel is also a great choice for honeymooners and couples, since they decorate the rooms in this sweet way. Looks like a certain bunny is the third wheel… oh Miffehhh!

hanoi rock alternative bar, live music club

After dinner, we walked around our Old Quarter neighborhood. Locals and tourists gathered in the streets, drinking and socializing. (See this in action, at the end of our Vietnam travel video.)

We wandered into a rock music bar, RockStore, and had such a fabulous time that we went back the next evening. Drinks were buy one get one free, including a fresh mango and rum concoction that they made just for me.  The pizza was on point, and a live “Funny Band” featured an electric saxophone. We were able to request songs, so we turned the club into an 1980s Italo Disco fest. When you come, say hi to the awesome Benny (above) from us, and he might deliver free shots!

raining vietnam travel weather

What more can I say? Vietnam rocked our socks. John and I are already planning to go back to see the snake village, and fire bazookas on a range!

riding vietnam motorcycles in rain

We are so grateful to Vietnam Food Tour for these eye-opening experiences. The guides went above and beyond to customize our stay, and introduce us to Vietnamese cuisine. I hope you’ll consider traveling with them too (more info on their Facebook page).

The tour company is currently offering a FAM trip (press trip) to Vietnam for travel agents, journalists and bloggers! From Oct 16-26, 2016, they’ll take you to all the best spots including Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh city. If you’re a travel professional and interested in joining (all tour expenses are covered), check out the info here and let them know I sent you.

halong bay panorama view

I leave you with a few iPhone panoramas – and please don’t forget to watch our Vietnam travel video, which shows our adventures in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.

And don’t forget — you can shop my Japanese Goth Cute wardrobe right here, at discounted prices! Shoot me an email and I can put together a bundle for you.

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David Bowie Blackstar: mural & memorial in Brussels. Carnival de Binche with Gilles costumes!

david bowie blackstar mural

Bonjour from the David Bowie “Blackstar” mural in Brussels!

Earlier this year, I traveled to Belgium for a press project with the tourism board. My film team and I dove into the vivacious local art /culture of Brussels-Wallonia.

In this first post, I’ll introduce you to the young Liege artist who memorialized Bowie…

gilles costumes, carnival de binche

… and we’ll celebrate the Carnival of Binche, with feathered hats and Mardi Gras costumes!

(PS – If you’ve been wondering why I’m selling off most of my wardrobe, there’s a detailed explanation at the bottom of this post.)

David Bowie Mural Painting brussels

I know many of you are David Bowie fans… so we’ll start with this beautiful tribute by NOIR Artist.

The Belgian pop culture artist was commissioned to make this mural for the release of Bowie’s latest album, Blackstar (available here). The day after the painting was complete, the world learned that Bowie had died of cancer.

noir artist, david bowie memorial art

I interviewed 20-something year old Lucien Gilson, at the opening of his art exhibition at Mazel GalerieHis striking works are influenced by tattoos, Pop Art, Baroque and magazine covers.

noir artist belgium gallery paintings

He uses the pseudonym NOIR Artist because his paintings use only black pigment. You won’t find any shades of grey in his works.

mazel galerie bruxelles

His portraits of pop culture figures — Bowie, Edward Scissorhands, Darth Vader — have struck a chord with young audiences worldwide. NOIR Artist is very active on social media, and likes to take viewers behind the scenes, such as through time lapse videos of his murals in the making.

japanese face tattoos

That evening, Mazel Galerie unveiled an exhibit focusing on Belgian artists. I walked through the two floors, and was impressed by the range of striking, modern works.

david bowie memorial mural

NOIR Artist took me to see his now-famous mural, located near the gallery at Toison D’ Or shopping mall in Brussels.

It was commissioned by Sony Music Belgium for David Bowie’s Blackstar ★ album — and one day after it was completed, the legend behind Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane was gone.

(I’m wearing a hooded jacket by The Kooples, and sunglasses by Moat House Eyewear.)

david bowie street art, black star

Fans turned the David Bowie mural into a memorial, leaving flowers and gifts below, and writing messages on the wall. I left one too: “RIP, glorious space oddity.”

Words can’t describe what a powerful impact Bowie (aka Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust) has had on so many, especially those who feel like outsiders.

belgian mardi gras festivals

During our trip, we also got to take part in the centuries-old Carnaval de Binche, a quirky local take on Mardi Gras.

Every year, in early February, these celebrations occur all over Belgium. However, the most colorful parades are in Binche: a small town about a two hour drive from Brussels.

french mardi gras costumes

The Belgian Tourism Board arranged for us to visit a local family’s home. There was such a welcoming energy in the room, as everyone gathered to eat and drink, and dress up in the traditional costumes.

These “Gilles” outfits are handmade by artisans, and represent a “strong man” folk character. The participants stuffed their torsos with straw to create the effect — although we thought it made them look a bit more like “fat men”!

gilles costumes history

Binche Carnival’s origins are unclear, but likely date back to the 14th century. Only males from Binche can take on the role of a Gilles, and this tradition is taken very seriously. Many pass along the torch from father to son: we saw Gilles children marching alongside their grandfathers.

binche street confetti, logo

Around 3pm, we headed into the Binche town square for the parade. These celebrations take part over several days, turning the normally sleepy village into a drunken bacchanal. You know there’s a party going on, when you see rainbow confetti strewn all over the streets!

kids harlequin Pierrots costumes

Although only males can be Gilles, women can take part as other folk characters. These “societies” dress up and march together in the parade.

In a scene that looked straight out of a Wes Anderson film, we came across these pointy-hatted, pastel colored Pierrots. 

binche throwing oranges peasants

Here come the harlequins, with ruffled collars and diamond print suits. In between the brigades, musicians played a festive shuffle on horns and drums.

Did you notice that everyone is holding a basket of oranges? As they parade through the streets, these participants throw oranges into the crowd! 

belgian festivals parades

It’s considered proper manners to accept a offering of the fruit — and it’s good luck if you are hit by a lobbed orange. Although take it from me… this can leave a bump on your head. (My faux fur ombre coat is this exact one, on sale!)

Once again, the reasons behind this tradition are unknown. Perhaps it’s simply great fun to launch fruit at people.

young gilles parade binche carnival

Then, about a thousand Gilles appeared in their distinctive bonnets, wooden clogs and copper bells. This special costume can only be worn during the Binche carnival, and is forbidden to leave the city.

belgium wallonia gilles parade

I felt like I had stepped into a surreal universe. Everyone was smiling and dancing, and oranges flew through the air.

The Gilles’ feathered hats weigh a ton, and are easily damaged by rain — which is why only some of the men wore them on their heads that day.

Carnival of Binche costumes

Photos alone can’t describe the sounds and frenzy of Binche! (My coat is available here.)

We filmed a travel video, which we’ll release soon — but until then, check out my Instagram video clip of the parade. You can see children throwing oranges in all directions, and the men shuffling their feet to the live music in a funny “pas de Gilles” dance. 

brussels wallonia tourism travel

Funny how the festival had an avantgarde feeling, even though these rituals have been happening for hundreds of years.

If you are in Belgium during Mardi Gras, the Carnival of Binche is one party you don’t want to miss. 

blackstar david bowie album mural

Much more from hip Brussels to come — including an S&M art gallery, a coffin bar, and the Rene Magritte museum. (I got my jacket in Belgium too; it’s by The Kooples brand.)

Have you heard Bowie’s final Blackstar album yet? If you’re a fan, you may also enjoy my photos from the David Bowie cafe in Tokyo.

goth kawaii japanese fashion boutique sale

Finally, I owe you an explanation… When I announced that I was putting up most of my wardrobe for sale, I didn’t realize that it caused some people alarm. I got messages asking if I was quitting blogging, or if something was wrong!

Don’t worry, this isn’t the case. I am going full steam ahead, and have superb new destinations, photoshoots and travel filmings coming up for the summer. There are still lots of stories from Istanbul, Morocco, Vietnam, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and more going up in the next weeks.

As you can imagine — over the years, I’ve accumulated literally mountains of clothing from around the world. Many designs are from Japan Goth and Lolita brands, and unavailable anywhere else. For a long time, I wanted to make my wardrobe available to you, at less than 50% of retail price — but simply hadn’t figured out a good way to do it.

Now, thanks to Depop, I’m able to easily list and sell my fashion to you. A lot of items are already gone, so I encourage you to check out my shop listings ASAP and let me know what you want. (Email me at gothiccarmina att gmail dotcom). Once again, I’m happy to do a bundle discount, combine shipping, and include personal notes and photos in each package!

Shop La Carmina’s Goth Lolita wardrobe sale now!

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My Goth fashion blogger closet sale on Depop! Selling Gothic Lolita, Japanese clothing & accessories.

depop fashion blogger clothing selling

Ever wish you had pieces from my wardrobe? Well, now you can — because I’ve launched a store on Depop! 

I’ve listed hundreds of unique clothes and accessories for sale: including Gothic Lolita, pin-up, J-rock, kawaii styles.

Most of my items are rare, and found only in Japan. As a thank you for your support over the years, prices are low, and I’m willing to put together a bundle order for you at a discount. Email me (gothiccarmina att gmail dotcom) and let me know what you’d like!

Ready to shop? Then come over to my Depop store – username “lacarmina” – and pick out your favorites! (I ship worldwide; contact me if you have any questions, I respond to everything myself, and can send items with a personal photo and note.)

Click to shop La Carmina’s closet sale now!

style bloggers closet sale

A lot of my clothing can’t be found anywhere else on the Internet. I’m selling designs by Japanese underground brands — including several that no longer exist (like Banana Fish, Peace Now, Sex Pot Revenge).

For example, everything in the above photo is for sale (dress by Banana Fish, coffin backpack by h.Naoto, shoes by Yosuke). You can find it all here on my Depop shop.

grunge gothic nu goth clothes

I’ve gotten many messages over the years from people who wanted to purchase my clothes — like the Miho Matsuda grunge dress above. However, I couldn’t find an easy way to list and sell items.

Depop solved my problem. It’s a free mobile app that makes buying/selling a breeze.

With a few taps on your cell phone, you can browse for goods (makeup, clothes, home decor) or put things up for sale. It takes me less than two minutes to snap a few photos, write a description and publish.

depop screenshop, using app, explore items

Above is a screenshot of my Depop store (lacarmina)! The app loads quickly, and has a fun visual layout similar to Instagram.

It’s easy to click on an item to see more photos, and read the description (size, construction, etc). You can browse by hashtag or use the fast-loading search, and find beautiful designs for sale from all around the world.

fashion blogger clothes for sale

I’ve worn a lot of my clothing only once for photoshoots, so they’re in near-new condition.

Almost everything on my store is listed at 50%below the retail price, and I can ship to any address worldwide.

lace market, sweet lolita egl auctions

I’m selling a lot of my Gothic Lolita EGL dresses, skirts, corsets, accessories. These labels include Innocent World, Angelic Pretty, Baby the Stars Shine Bright, Alice and the Pirates. 

pinup vintage alternative fashion buy

I’ve put up a fantastic selection of alternative, Goth and pin-up fashion. This Iron Fist dress and heart purse are available! 

sailor pin up wiggle dresses

Don’t worry: my store has clothes in all sizes, and I’m selling dozens of accessories starting at a few dollars. Skull bracelets, kawaii jewellery, purses from Japan and Hong Kong, and more.

depop app shop bloggers closets

In addition to tons of Gothic, Jrock and Gyaru styles, I have a range of fashion by international designers. Floaty summer dresses, bohemian tops, you name it.

depop app, selling old clothes online

I’m loving the experience of using Depop. Payments are easy and secure through the app (PayPal, credit card) and I can ship to any mailing address in the world.

I’m personally responding to all comments and messages through my Depop store, so it’s also a fun way for us to chat and interact!

visual kei jrock egl lolita sales

Message me and I can put together a bundle order for you, at a discount. You’ll also save on the shipping cost for the package.

fashion blogger closet sale

Items are going fast from my wardrobe sale, so I encourage you to check out my store before your favorites are gone.

la carmina depop wardrobe sale

This dress, that skirt… it’s all for sale now, on La Carmina’s Depop shop! You won’t find this fashion sold anywhere else online, and I’ve priced everything low.

I hope you enjoy my fashion blogger closet sale. Looking forward to chatting with you, and putting together a package for you — with a special signed note included! 

Ready? Set? Let’s shop La Carmina’s closet now!

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Visiting Hobbiton, New Zealand’s Hobbit set! The Shire location, Lord of the Rings movie tour.

hobbit tour, hobbiton movie set

If I had to pick the highlight of my Contiki New Zealand adventure… it would be my tour of Hobbiton, the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie set!

LOTR director Peter Jackson personally scouted this spot for his films, and had his team build a Hobbit village from scratch. These Shire scenes are some of his most memorable, and put New Zealand’s idyllic landscapes on the map.

hobbit theme park, lotr

The “Hobbit holes” were too cute to tear down, so Peter Jackson agreed to preserve them as an attraction. Today, fans from around the world come to frolic in the footsteps of Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalf.

lord of the rings movie set new zealand

As you can see from these photos, it felt like I had stepped right into Middle Earth!

Read on for the scoop on how to visit Hobbiton, and photos of the famous set locations — including the Green Dragon Pub, Mill, and double-arched bridge.

lord of rings movie tours

First, a primer for those who aren’t familiar with Hobbits. These tiny, furry-footed creatures are a human-like race in the J. R. R. Tolkien fantasy novels: Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit. (These books are cult favorites, and I encourage you to read them all.)

In the 2000s, director Peter Jackson released three Lord of the Rings movies, followed by the Hobbit trilogy. The films were box-office successes and generally loved by fans. All of the outdoor scenes in the Shire (home of the Hobbits) were filmed right where I’m standing.

hobbiton tickets, tours, price

I’ve written before about the ease of travelling with Contiki, a travel company for 18-35 year olds. Our tour manager Monique gave us info on the best activities in the North Island, including Hobbiton. If we wanted to book, she did all the arrangements for us, including drop-offs and passes! Contiki’s prices are also lower than if you reserved the same tour on your own.

(Close-up of my Alex Streeter Gothic rings, and nail art by Glam Nail Studio).

Hinuera, New Zealand

Most visitors come in from Rotorua, the Maori hot springs town about three hours south of Auckland. (We spent time here with Contiki; I’ll show you more in the next post).

The Hobbiton bus picked us up from our Rotorua hotel, and we enjoyed an hour-long drive through bucolic farms and the Kaimai Ranges.

the shire, hobbit holes houses

If you want to drive here on your own, Hobbiton is located in Hinuera, Matamata. Note that you can’t visit the adorable set unless you join the official tour, so book early as the spots fill up quickly.

We met our energetic guide, and she took us on a two-hour tour of the twelve acre site. She told us juicy behind-the-scenes tales, and led us to every area of the Shire with lots of time to take photos. 

Hobbiton Movie Set Tours

I’ve been to some movie sets that feel like cheesy theme parks. Thankfully, Hobbiton is nothing of this sort.

I walked through these gorgeous gardens, basking in the patches of sunlight and scent of flowers.

east west farthing sign, hobbiton

The designers put remarkable thought into every aspect of the village, and never ruin the effect with modern incongruities or cash-grabs. (I’d die if there were a souvenir vendor in front of the Baggins’ home!).

Tolkien fans will appreciate details like this signpost, which shows the “farthings” or subdivisions of the Shire.

hobbiton location Hinuera, New Zealand

Some of the “Hobbit holes” have fences that prevent you from going into the yard, but you’re welcome to play with the props outside. Let me tell you… that wheelbarrow was heavy!

Check out the clothesline hanging above the houseHobbits are about the size of human children, and their garments are adorable.

the shire props, hobbit

Hobbiton gives you a glimpse of daily life in the shire. Next to a pumpkin patch, there was a rack of (fake) dried fish. 

shire new zealand location

How did this paradise come into being? Our guide told us that director Peter Jackson spotted this slice of New Zealand countryside from the air, as he searched the North Island for shooting locations. He immediately knew that Alexander Farm (as it was known) was perfect for Lord of the Rings.

hobbit play houses, homes

Peter Jackson took up temporary residence in a nearby farmhouse, and oversaw the massive set transformation. His team of builders turned the bare Waikato farmland into a real-life version of Tolkien’s Shire. 

hobbiton tour, cosplay, costumes

The houses look outstanding in the films because everything was built at the highest standards. The wood, plants and glass are all the real deal.

But here’s something you might not know… Almost all of the Hobbit holes are only exteriors! There’s nothing behind the round doors, as the indoor scenes were filmed in a Wellington studio.

hobbiton entrance fee, entry tickets

The Hobbiton tour does takes you to one red door, where you can duck your head and pop inside. (Since Hobbits are little, all the structures are sized down to fit them.)

peter jackson new zealand set

Our guide pointed out where key scenes in LOTR were shot. She showed us the pond, and the fence that Frodo Baggins jumped over in The Fellowship of the Ring.

black milk great wave skirt

Outfit details: My “Great Wave” skirt from Black Milk Clothing is currently my favorite item in my wardrobe. The floaty material and Hokusai print are a stand-out.

Everyone in Lord of the Rings seems to wear a cloak, so I paired it with a black cape (similar) and matching blue purse.

shire artificial tree, hobbits

I gained a new appreciation for Peter Jackson’s movies during the Hobbiton set tour. Our guide told us stories of the hard work that went into the making of LOTR. For example, the oak tree overlooking Bag End is actually a stump, which was hand-decorated with thousands of artificial leaves!

hobbit door, houses

The film crew built about 40 Hobbit holes for the Shire scenes. I learned how they used tricks in perspective to make Gandalf (played by Sir Ian McKellen) seem much taller than Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his fellow Hobbits.

alex streeter silver rings

Close-up on my Alex Streeter claw and skull rings, and realistic-looking prop pots of honey.

As I previously mentioned, most of the indoor and special effects scenes were shot in Wellington. If you come to NZ’s capital city, don’t miss out on the Wellington Lord of the Rings Movie tour.

hobbiton new zealand

No special effects needed, to bring out the beauty of New Zealand’s fields. The cows and sheep are also the real deal. 

travel blogger hobbiton girl

Quite a few fans dress up in Lord of the Rings costumes, for the Hobbiton tour. While I didn’t do a full cosplay, I paid tribute to Middle Earth by wearing a dramatic cloak.

inside hobbit homes, door

You can’t take the fake pastries home with you… but there’s a gift shop at the entrance, called the “Shire Store.” Inside, you can purchase a wide range of products like posters, action figures, and Gandalf’s wizard hat.

new zealand butterfly

One of the most charming natural features of Hobbiton: there were butterflies everywhere! I saw white and colored wings fluttering over the flower gardens, and managed to take this photo of one drinking nectar.

hobbiton guided tour review

Tip: bring both sunscreen and a light jacket, since the weather can change quickly. I encourage you to check the weather forecast on the day you’re visiting Hobbiton (and remember, it’s advisable to book your tour slot and bus ride well in advance).

hobbit outfit, great wave skirt

And bring your best camera — you don’t want to miss out on the unbelievable photo ops! (These photos are taken with my favorite travel camera, the light but full framed Sony alpha 7, a mirrorless DSLR.)

green dragon inn hobbiton

I think author JRR Tolkien would be thrilled about how Hobbiton brought his world to life. We crossed the stone bridge and passed the Mill House, on the way to the Green Dragon Inn.

hobbit barrel, carriage

Hobbiton produces their own Southfarthing range of ales, ciders and ginger beers. This giant barrel was near the May Pole and party field.

hobbiton pond, water wheel

At River Churn, we passed The Old Mill that was owned and run by the Sandyman Family, according to the fantasy novels.

hobbit theme house

Hobbiton does a wonderful job at creating an authentic setting for fans. There’s also a limited number of spots per tour, so the set doesn’t feel overly crowded with tourists.

lord of the rings super fans

The homes feel so real that I half expected Hobbits to pop out behind me!

(Photos by Salima Remtulla)

inside green dragon inn

At the end of the tour, we headed inside the The Green Dragon Inn. This is the bar and meeting-place for the locals, as featured in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.

lord of the rings cloak

The scenes inside the inn were actually shot in the Wellington studios, but Hobbiton faithfully recreated the pub for fans to visit.

How charming are these messages left by Hobbits? “Lost, green cloak! If found, please return to the Ivy Bush.”

green dragon inn inside

Everyone got a free Southfarthing beverage (ale, cider or ginger beer) and could order country fare at the counter (cheese scones, meat pies and more). From the dragon decor to the round windows, this is a perfect reproduction.

hobbit font, tolkien memorabilia

I was tempted to apply for the “Cooper Wanted” job, so that I could stay here forever…

the hobbit tours, fan

What more is there to say? Hobbiton captured my imagination, and was one of the best moments on my New Zealand journey.

I hope this post inspires you to watch the Hobbit movies, and read J. R. R. Tolkien’s marvellous books: Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit.

rotorua hobbit movie set

So grateful to Contiki for sending me to Hobbiton. I thoroughly enjoyed travelling with Contiki (on a bus with other millennials) on their Sun and Steam New Zealand trip. Be sure to check them out; they offer tours to destinations around the world.

Are you a LOTR fan? Have you heard of this Hobbit heaven before?