Luang Prabang

20 Feb

Before our journey, I read a book on Lao history that called Luang Prabang “the still eye in the typhoon of Indochina’s history”. I wondered at the description when I read it, but after spending almost a week in the tranquil city, I completely understand. Orestes, Mo, and I all agreed that Luang Prabang is quite literally the prettiest, most relaxed city we have ever been to. Everywhere you look there is charming architecture, flowering trees, and cute little cafes. The colonial influence is clear; half of the buildings look like they belong in the French countryside. The other half are similar to the delightful wooden buildings found all over northern Thailand. (Interesting side note: there are actually more people of Lao ethnicity in Thailand than in Laos. Much of the northeastern Isaan people are actually Lao.) None of the buildings are over three stories high, and every single one is surrounded by lush, tropical greenery. Add in tidy cobblestone sidewalks, gorgeous golden wats, and the Mekong flowing by, and the result is just stunning. I think I used the words “cute” and “pretty” to excess during our weeklong stay.

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Luang Prabang is a city made for lazy wandering and idling in cafes. We took full advantage, and enjoyed many ambling walks, bike rides, and cups of coffee. Both the Lao and French cuisines available are delicious, and we treated ourselves to some fabulous meals. Other highlights include:

  • Visiting the Kuang Si waterfall and marveling at the bluish green water. Mo and I also enjoyed a random hike to nowhere in the woods around the falls 🙂
  • Shopping at the night market, where we purchased bracelets and other souvenirs made from UXO dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War. We got pretty bangles and practiced responsible tourism, whoop whoop!
  • Eating every croissant, latte, hunk of cheese, vinaigrette-coated salad, and bowl of pho that came across our path.
  • Learning how to weave at the Ock Pop Tok weaving cooperative!

The day spent at Ock Pop Tok was quite the adventure. Mo and I were given a tour of the location (Orestes declined to join us), and shown some basic info on weaving and dyeing. Then we put on aprons and went to work! Ock Pop Tok specializes in maintaining traditional Lao dyeing and weaving techniques. They use natural materials for the dyes, and weave on wooden looms to create traditional patterns and motifs. We gathered berries from trees, chopped wood with machetes, IMG_0459and added chunks of beetroot to steaming pots of water to create the dyes. Once the dyes were ready, we carefully dipped silk skeins into the boiling pots, then rinsed out the extra dye and hung them to dry. Post-lunch, we settled in to weave. Under the watchful eye of our master weaver, we spun silk onto bobbins (backbreaking work!) then seated ourselves at the looms. We were making a basic pattern, using only two colors of thread. The process is laborious; move a pedal, slide the shuttle through, tap the threads into place, move a string from the pattern, and begin again. The pattern is a ghost of the piece you create. It took approximately two and half hours to weave our simple placemats. It definitely grew easier with practice, but by the time we finished, both Mo and I were exhausted. I have a new appreciation for the amazing multicolored tapestries the master weavers create!

All in all, our week in Luang Prabang was fabulous. I highly recommend a visit! O’s verdict? “Loved it. May be my new favorite place in Southeast Asia…”

 

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One Response to “Luang Prabang”

  1. elaine mccormick March 19, 2015 at 4:25 pm #

    What a beautiful place to visit; I will have to add it to my list of possible adventures for the future. love you both. Mom

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