Luang Prabang’s paper and weaving villages
Published: 2nd December, 2018
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.
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 by a local designer; the workmanship, colours and designs are exquisite. They also have a cute garden cafe serving fresh fruit smoothies. T: (071) 213 047
There’s not only textiles and paper to be found. Visit Nalongkone’s to buy paper crafted from other natural materials, such as banana tree bark and even elephant dung. The workshop is known for their relief artwork using sand, glue and paint to create intricate Lao motifs such as the tree of life.
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.
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 journey is a slightly hilly ride, 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.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you'll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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