In May 2013 I traveled to Laos and the unique town of Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang sits on the confluence of two rivers, the Nam Khan and the Mekong in northern Laos. Declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO it is home to more than 33 Buddhist temples, french architecture and great natural beauty.
Luang Prabang is also known as the land of artisans with the local hill tribes excelling in many types of handicrafts: silverware, hand-made paper, woodcarving, basket weaving and especially handwoven silk and cotton textiles which reflect a very old weaving tradition. Bamboo basketry products are not only sold as souvenirs but are widely used by locals in everyday life.
During my stay I visited Ock Pop Tok (East Meets West) Living Craft Centre which promotes the learning about Lao textiles and crafts and also offers textile and bamboo weaving classes. Master bamboo weaver and hill tribe member Doua Thao patiently shared his knowledge and demonstrated his amazing weaving skills.
At Ock Pop Tok, I was also provided with a printout of some worth sharing information about bamboo and bamboo weaving in Laos:
“There are over one thousand varieties of bamboo in the world. Bamboo grows in many different climates, from jungles to high mountainsides. It is environmentally friendly, and self-sustaining. When harvested it recovers rapidly unlike trees as it is one of the fastest-growing types of grass on Earth. It is both decorative and useful. In many parts of the world it is food, fodder, the primary construction material and is used for making great variety of useful objects from kitchen tools, to paper to dinnerware. Bamboo contains silicates and is 23% harder than oak.
The most common types of bamboo in Laos are:
1. Mai Bong – Very solid, used for building joists and weaving. To dye this type of bamboo black the villagers take the bark of the Quittance tree and boil it in water. Then the bamboo is placed in the water for twenty minutes and finally left to soak in a pool of muddy water for three days. After cleaning it and drying it in the sun, it is ready for weaving.
2. Mai Sang – Wider than Mai Bong, used for weaving, building joists, roofs, wall sections, flooring, house frames or pillars depending on its age.
3. Mai Pai – The widest of Laos bamboo, it is the most common as it grows everywhere and very quickly (4cm per day). Used for cooking and building purposes.
4. Mai Hear – The fastest growing bamboo, very wide and easy to split. Ideal for making walls.”
Places worth visiting around Luang Prabang:
Ock Pop Tok Living Craft Centre, http://www.ockpoptok.com
The Living Land Organic Community Farm, http://www.livinglandlao.com/
Tad Thong Waterfall and Nature Trail (plus peaceful Khmu Village a bit off the trail)
Ban Had Hian Blacksmith Village (Handmade tools, sometimes from old bombshells)