Archives for posts with tag: Luang Prabang

I have been completely taken by the textiles here. They’re vibrant and colorful, seemingly simple patterns meld to form complex ones. I can’t help walking through the night market and want every single piece of fabric I see. But I restrain myself, because I’m a little limited for space in my backpack. Not to mention funny money. Funny money: worse than credit cards.

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I was so excited when I found out that I could take a weaving class in Luang Prabang and learn from local master weavers. Forget the cricket loom; Freshy went full speed ahead with the floor loom. And it was AWESOME. I rarely put things in caps, people. This was AWESOME. Oh, look, I did it again. On this journey of self discovery and whatever, I have decided two things: One, I want a puppy. Two, I want a floor loom. Ok, the order is actually reversed. I need a floor loom. I need it now. I need it real bad. It has to be the second most addicting craft I’ve picked up next to knitting.

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Because it’s low season I was the only person in my class (not that I was complaining…). The first thing I learned about was where they get their silk from and how they dye it. They use the silk made from the Bombyx Mori Silkworm, which can produce over 300 meters of silk filament per cocoon.

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They dyes that they use are all natural and come from tree bark, tree leaves, insect resin, fruits, and seeds. They combine them with mordants (component that sets the dye) which can be lye, limestone, mud, ash water and iron.

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I got to dye three small skeins of silk. We picked the leaves and the seeds from their garden and got to work boiling them in water, mixing them with the mordant and soaking the yarn in them.

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I have only ever dyed yarn at the Knot Hysteria retreats, so this was a great contrast to that. It was amazing to see how the silk took the colors. The water from the seeds was bright red, but as you can see, it produced a very bright orange skein.

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Before we started with the weaving lesson, I got a tour of their workshop, where many local women are employed and weave a variety of fabrics. Some were weaving simple scarves and some were doing amazingly complex tapestries. Each movement they made was swift and with purpose. There was no wasted energy that I could tell and they were cookin’! Even as they were working, though, they were talking and laughing amongst themselves, and it made me really miss craft nights with my friends.

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When I sat at my loom, I was absolutely bewildered. What are all these strings?! How does this work?! Why do my edges suck?! It was definitely a crash course on weaving, but it was so much fun and so rewarding to see the pattern motif take shape on my scarf.

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I had a weaving master help me along the way and a translator there to explain what I was doing. I definitely fumbled through for most of it and it took two days to complete the scarf. I believe it would have only taken the master about half that time, if that. I took so many pictures of the loom, because I want to be able to go home and see if I can remember how it all works. The translator told me that just to set up the loom, it takes them about 2 days for a scarf and about a week if they are weaving a large tapestry!

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The textile patterns that they weave depict stories of Nagas (a mythological water serpent with magical powers), or of spirits traveling to the afterworld. Girls would weave items as a dowry to give to their groom’s family or to boys that they wanted to seek affection from (all I can say is that boy better deserve it!).

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This is it! The edges are gross, and the picture doesn’t really capture the color correctly, but I made it! And it has led me down another hobby hole, from which I don’t think I shall ever return from. Seriously, you guys don’t even get how much enjoyment I got out of weaving. So priority number one when I get home: procure floor loom.

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Did I mention that so far this has been my favorite place? Well, it is. I love the views, the people, the food…pretty much everything. The only thing that is really bringing me down these days are the mosquitos. I think they’re some sort of mutant breed because they can bite you through your clothes. It’s just not right. I won’t divulge how many bites I have on my bum, but it’s really hindering my ability to sit down comfortably. And I’m sure that the amount of deet that I’m putting on isn’t doing my body much good either. What’s a girl to do?

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After my experience in Thailand, I was super hesitant to do a tour with my travel partners. But I read nothing but great reviews, so I thought it was worth a shot. Fortunately, it was a great experience and our guide was so friendly and informative. The first stop we made was to Pak Ou Caves. It’s about 25km up the Mekong River (I actually took pictures of it on the slow boat, not realizing what it was).

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Inside the limestone caves, there are literally thousands of tiny Buddha statues, mostly made from wood. From what I understood, our guide said that it was one of the most holiest places in Laos and it gets pretty busy in April when the locals come to pray at the new year.

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After the caves, we met the elephants and their mahouts (or trainers). Right off the bat, I knew that this would be a great experience. The elephants looked happy and healthy, and you could tell by the way that the mahouts interacted with them, that they had a special and loving bond.

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This was also the first time I have seen mahouts without sticks in their hands. They used just their voice and knees to nudge them behind their ears. We were given a quick lesson on how to command an elephant in Laos and were quizzed so we could try to ride them on our own. Those 10 minutes I was riding the elephant bareback on my own was probably the most intimidating and terrifying and thrilling thing ever. Also, my elephant didn’t listen to a damn thing I said. Maybe it was my accent?

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Eventually the mahout jumped on with me and off we went into the river, where my elephant proceeded to shake me off her back and into the river. I accidentally drank some of the Mekong… that wasn’t disgusting at all. I bought some bananas after and made friends with the baby elephant (4 years old!). They are such amazing creatures from the pads of their feet to the tips of their trunks. Absolutely incredible. There was a moment there when I thought it would be entirely possible to live in Laos and become a mahout of my very own elephant. Then I remembered that I hate jungle mosquitos.

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The next day, we woke up bright and early (read 9am), rented some bikes and began a 32 km (roughly 20 miles) bike ride to Tat Kaung Si. I almost gave up halfway through; it was a steep climb to make in the heat. But I persevered, mostly because I was too proud and embarrassed to hail a tuk-tuk to take me the rest of the way. After the initial climb, and after I managed to catch my breath, I was able to take in the views. I took two photos, because I knew if I stopped to take a picture every time I saw something beautiful, I never would have made it to the falls.

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I have never sweated that much in my life (except for that time in hot yoga, which I’m still trying to figure out what the hell I was thinking doing that). So jumping into the swimming area at the falls was absolutely heavenly. We were down at the lower swimming area so long until we realized there was a rope swing a few pools up from us. So worth the brutal bike ride to get there.

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Other than that, I have just been enjoying walking around the city and eating the street food. There are some interesting buffets going on in the alleys by the night market.  $1.25 for a plate full.

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And these little coconut pancakes…I’m kind of glad I discovered them late in the game, otherwise I would have been pigging out on them everyday.

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I finished weaving a scarf on a floor loom today and it has gotten be all kinds of excited about crafting again. Now if only I had some place to put a floor loom….

I was a little apprehensive to take the slow boat down the Mekong River to get to Luang Prabang, Laos. I’m not exactly the most sea-worthy person and I was thinking that being on a boat for two days would really suck if the sky was hazy and you couldn’t see any of the views and had motion-sickness.

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But aside from the hour long wait at the border crossing to get our visa, a fight between two Laotian hotel touts on our first stop, and a protest staged by the passengers on the boat when we arrived in Luang Prabang, the trip was incredible. Not that l’ve ever taken a bus into Laos, but I think that the slow boat is the way to go.

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The views were absolutely gorgeous and surreal. I couldn’t believe I was just floating down the Mekong River. The boat itself was kind of an odd thing. The seats looked like they came straight out of a minivan and they weren’t bolted down to the floor. The engine was just sitting in the back of the boat, and there wasn’t too much between it and you if you were walking towards the toilet. But the ride was smooth and the Beer Lao kept flowing.

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Our first night, we stopped in a small town called Pakbeng. We were all standing on the deck waiting for our luggage to be offloaded when a fight broke out in front of us. One more reason why you should just ignore the hotel touts when you get off the boat. Just grab your bag and make your way up the hill. Accommodation is abundant and cheap and only a quick walk away. I had my first Lao dish: buffalo laab. Delicious.

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The second day was much of the same, but the views never got old to me. If you take the slow boat, don’t sleep and miss the views. Otherwise, you might as well just take a bus. When we arrived in Luang Prabang, they dropped us off at a new dock before you get into the old city. This caused much confusion amongst everyone, because they never told us beforehand and we were all expecting to be dropped off right in town. So a majority of the passengers refused to get off the boat until they took them further downstream to the original dock. According to the Laotians, they moved the landing dock 2 months ago to avoid the crowds in the main street of the old city. Apparently it was just getting too crowded with all the tourists coming in.

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My travel companions and I decided that we didn’t want to participate in the protest, so we took a tuk-tuk into town. Later we ran into a guy who stayed on the boat. He told us that at some point, a passenger stole the keys to the boat and the boat driver (with reason) became visibly upset and called the police and the tuk-tuk drivers refused to take anyone into town. I’m so glad we avoided that fiasco.

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So far, Luang Prabang has been my favorite place on this trip. The weather is cooler, the air cleaner, the people friendlier and baguettes. Oh my god. I forgot how much I love bread. I have been hanging out here for almost a week just taking it all in and enjoying every minute of it. So much so, that I keep forgetting to blog about it all. But it’s coming, don’t worry. Tomorrow: Another elephant experience (a good one this time), Buddha Cave, Kuang Si waterfall and in case you think that I’ve forgotten all about crafting: traditional Laos weaving (yup, I learned how to work a floor loom and dyed some silk yarn).

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