You’ll discover as many different styles and techniques as there are ethnic groups in the country. Although these will not be obvious to many first-time visitors, the groups all have distinctive aesthetics as well. A stroll through the Night Market, where you’re likely to see textiles from the Hmong, Khmu, Akha, Tai Lue, and other groups, will give you a glimpse into the richness of these traditions.
Walking or cycling around Luang Prabang, you’re very likely to see women working at traditional wooden looms and even spinning cotton and silk thread. For many of the groups in Laos, textile production knowledge and skill have traditionally been an important part of village life and community identity. Today the extra income provided by textiles, particularly in cities like Luang Prabang, helps to support weavers and their families. It also means the traditions won’t be lost anytime soon.
Ban Phanom is a village steeped in traditional textile-making with many families in the village working their looms to provide goods for sale at the night markets. Ban Phanom textiles were once supplied to the royal family, and weavers today use many of the same techniques and patterns, resulting in a distinctly old-fashioned look. Cotton and silk materials with a range of coloured threads are intertwined to produce a shimmering effect and silk is added to create a pattern.
Some of the families work from their own small workshops with the whole village operating as a co-operative supplying to a handful of manufacturers. Prices are open to negotiation and very affordable; bargaining quietly is expected. In addition to shopping and enjoying a cultural experience, the area around Ban Phanom makes for a great place to take a bike ride and to explore some ancient remote temples.
Ban Phanom takes about 10 minutes by tuk tuk from the city centre of Luang Prabang. You can also make the trip by bike, but it is quite a hilly ride and best for experienced riders. Many tour companies also run excursions to the village, and these often include a side visit to French explorer Henri Mouhot’s grave.
Ban Xieng Lek and Ban Xang Khong
you can watch villagers making posa paper (from mulberry bark) and weaving traditional textiles. You’ll see this paper around town — at the markets, as the end pages for restaurant menus — and a visit to Ban Xieng Lek and Ban Xang Khong give you the opportunity to understand first-hand the way it is made.
3 km to the north of Luang Prabang town along the river, accross the Nam Khan river from the city centre, these villages can be reached by tuk tuk (though you will need to cross by the new bridge) and by bicycle or even on foot. After crossing the old bridge, make the first left and follow the road as it turns north along the Mekong River. You’ll see crafts shops — and probably mulberry paper drying in the sun — as you approach.