Photo: Some pretty saa paper lanterns.

Ban Xieng Lek and Ban Xang Khong

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Ban Xieng Lek and Ban Xang Khong, or the paper and weaving villages, are a quick, easy getaway from town. It’s an ideal trip for those interested in textiles, crafts and handmade souvenirs.

The specialities here are handwoven silk and saa paper, which is paper made from fast-growing mulberry bark naturally shed by the tree -- so you don’t need to worry about being a tree killer. Once the bark is boiled into a pulp, it is spread over a fine screen and expertly swirled around for even distribution and perfect thickness before the screen is lifted and drained. Pressed flowers and leaves can be added to the sheet for decoration before it’s left out in the sun to dry. The paper is beautiful and durable, made into notebooks, scrapbooks, gift bags, cards, lanterns, fans, boxes and art with designs painted in gold. Visitors will likely be able to see the paper-making process. Simone’s saa paper shop at the end of the village is popular and has a great selection, but all the shops do good work and items are inexpensive; expect to pay only $1 for a small book.

Paper-maker at work. Photo taken in or around Ban Xieng Lek and Ban Xang Khong, Luang Prabang, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Paper-maker at work. Photo: Cindy Fan

This is also a great place to watch weavers and pick up a few textiles, specifically silk. Poke around the workshops and you may see silks being boiled, colourful skeins hanging to dry or a loom being prepared. There are a few shops with pieces that surpass the quality found at the night market and shopping here does mean that money goes directly into the village. Check out Patta Textiles Gallery in Ban Xieng Lek, specialising in naturally dyed silk and cotton; the workmanship, colours and designs are exquisite. Opened after 14:00.

A good spot to pick up some beautiful weavings. Photo taken in or around Ban Xieng Lek and Ban Xang Khong, Luang Prabang, Laos by Cindy Fan.

A good spot to pick up some beautiful weavings. Photo: Cindy Fan

There’s not only textiles and paper to be found. Visit Mr Nalongkone’s shop to buy paper from other natural materials, such as banana tree bark and even elephant dung, and his creative works with intricate Lao motifs.

When the bamboo bridge at the tip of the peninsula is up during the dry season, approximately November until June, simply cross the bridge (usually a 5,000 to 7,000 kip toll), go straight and it’s a seven-minute stroll down the road.

The bridge to look for. Photo taken in or around Ban Xieng Lek and Ban Xang Khong, Luang Prabang, Laos by Cindy Fan.

The bridge to look for. Photo: Cindy Fan

In rainy season when there is no bamboo bridge, it takes a little more effort: ride a bicycle or motorbike across the old wooden bridge, take the first left into Ban Phanluang village and follow the road for 2.5 km as it runs along the Nam Khan, then Mekong River. The first half of the journey is paved, the second half is a bumpy, slightly hilly ride on dirt road. It can be very pleasant in good weather. There’s virtually no traffic, the journey is quiet and along the way there are a few temples that rarely see foreign visitors. The occasional minivan of tourists does roll into the village, but a stroll around does give everyone a sense of village life, with chickens, chilled out dogs and the occasional karaoke party.

Avoid taking the highway. This area of Route 13 around the northern bus station is horrendous and traffic accidents occur regularly.

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