I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in Laos (8)


A few more good things from the trip



Uploading photographs from our trip, I came across a few which didn't quite fit in earlier posts but which I think are interesting in some way, for example, these shampoo and shower gel bottles in an hotel.



What about the "odd" tile in the Cao Dai temple? To illustrate that only God is perfect, perhaps.

Is buying rice a simple purchase? A market stall in Saigon, Vietnam.

I loved the way the yellow building brought this Saigon view to life.

On the Mekong, in Laos, the flowering teak trees of the forest are doing fine above the high water mark from last weekend's flood.


A store selling handmade paper and books in Luang Prabang, Laos.

The outside of the same store


Rice cakes drying in the sun, Luang Prabang, Laos

Silk scarves, Luang Prabang Night market, Laos.

Bead store in the Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Woven wall hangings for sale in hotel shop, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Three characters from the garden, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

In case of boredom, a basket of wooden puzzles from the bar, Chiang Mai, Thailand.


A few interesting roof structures


coconut leaves, Mekong delta area, Vietnam





clay tiles, Luang Prabang, Laos


clay tiles with stencilled wooden battens, Buddhist temple, Luang Prabang, Laos


Irregular clay tiles on plain wooden battens, Luang Prabang, Laos.

wooden shingle on canopy, Chiang Mai, Thailand


Oh yes, the weaving workshop

 In all the excitement of being here last night, I neglected to tell all about the weaving workshop. Suffice to say that it was hugely enjoyable and, as I feared, I could easily get hooked on weaving - fortunately we have no room for a loom!

My first task was to wind some bobbins of silk thread on the ever-so wonky swift. I needed five of black and two of pale green. Whilst I did this, I had an audience of my teacher Miss Lin, Mr Morn the interpreter and a charming "Blue Hmong" lady working in a corner of the workshop doing some indigo batik on a length of hemp fabric for a skirt.


They giggled as I negotiated various challenges, including snags in the thread, a loose traction belt on the swift and my sheer inexperience and unfamiliarity with the device. But they were very supportive and were as thrilled as I was by the end result!


The loom was already set up and my first challenge was to work 20cm of plain weave. First I watched Miss Lin go through the process slowly...two pedals, one shuttle, one heddle. Right pedal, throw shuttle, left pedal, beat, throw shuttle, right pedal, beat... Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, Miss Lin would correct my hand position, remind me to beat a little harder...replace my hand into the middle of the heddle. And often, when I relaxed and lost concentration for a second, she'd giggle and put me right with the correct feet and shuttle position.

I was just getting the hang of it...lunchtime! I enjoyed a freshly cooked Lao-style lunch with Mr Morn and his colleague Mr Noy, both young students of English and glad of an opportunity to chat and relax a little. They explained each dish of food and how to eat it, tucking in themselves and joining me in enjoying a great meal. Clockwise from the front, a clear vegetable soup, a pork and bamboo shoot salad, fried tofu with chilli and leaves, a salad of spinach-type leaves and chillies, aubergine dip in the middle and green, purple and white jelly dessert with coconut. All accompanied by Lao sticky rice in the round cylindrical basket container and eaten with the fingers - except for the soup, of course.

Half an hour's break then, when Mr Morn and Mr Noy both had a nap and I took the opportunity to wander around the garden and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Then back to work. Time for the pattern. The loom had been set up with the "hook" pattern, a traditional Lao motif and a new challenge was thrown into the pot. Not only did I have to remember the pedal and shuttle throwing sequence, I now had to manage the strings which created the pattern rows - having been warned that setting up a pattern on a loom took time and skill...and if I lost one of the strings or got it out of place, then it would create difficulties.

First was four rows black, four green, four black, four green and so on. Then a little introduction to the string business. Three more stripes and then into the pattern fully.

New respect for these skilled women who not only create such wonderful textiles but do it so easily, so quickly and so creatively...for they introduced different colours along the row, working instinctively to create the most beautiful effects.


A short time later, a cheer from Mr Morn - half way! Now the pattern strings, which I had been moving from pegs at the top of the loom to pegs at the bottom were going to move back up again, creating the mirror image of the design.

At the same time, distraction came in the form of shouts - the young men from the village were about to practice for the boat race on Sunday and my young teacher was eager to have a look and give a shy wave. They waved back and their antics created great hilarity as we all stood and watched them power away on the fast current. The Hmong lady stood and shook her head with a smile, as if to say "young people today...."


When I'd added another 20cm or so of plain black weaving to my masterpiece, Miss Lin finished it off with a few rows of cotton, ready to cut the fringe. As I worked on this last piece, another more experienced weaver came over and gave a little advice about my edges which I admit were rather less than perfect!

Miss Lin finished the weave and set up the loom for the next piece before cutting it away and twisting the fringe. She did this in the same way as we've seen Maori women make their skirts from phormium leaves - by rolling it down her shin - and tied the knots so deftly, I couldn't quite work out how she did it!

I was delighted with my "masterpiece", wonky edges and all. What a great way to spend a day!





Blue hands

After all, who did a dyeing workshop and came home with clean hands?



I've had a wonderful day at the Ock Pop Tok workshop, having the place all to myself and completely individual attention. What more could I ask?

A warm welcome this morning from Mr Morn, the interpreter and guide who greeted me with a mug of bael tea (delicious - hadn't had it before) and who introduced me to the programme for the day. After a bit of background information about sericulture he explained about the natural dyes used in Laos - illustrated by a walk around the garden where most were growing. The view from the workshop was breathtaking and the cool breeze from the river most welcome.


After an introduction to Mr Khum, master dyer, it was straight to work.





First task, chopping tumeric for the yellow colour. That had to be pounded to a pulp before boiling with sappan leaves to achieve the colour I wanted.



Whilst that was cooking, I chopped some fresh indigo leaves and soaked them in cold water for the green dye.



That was a new one for me - I've only ever done the hot fermented indigo dyeing before, so thought this would be something different.


I'd never heard of sappan wood before but clearly it's a useful one, for it can give pink, red or purple depending on the mordant used.



The sappan wood liquor had been fermenting for several days and was at a steady boil at my side ready to accept the skein of silk which I'd soaked with a huge alum crystal in the water to give the gorgeous rich purple colour.

Having squeezed and rinsed and totally admitted defeat in untangling those wet skeins, I handed them to Mr Khum who laughed as he shook them out into perfectly straight hanks to hang in the sun to dry. I guess he's had a fair bit of practice.


Later in the day, he came over bearing three beautifully presented skeins of silk for me - and a small plastic carrier bag.
What had I left behind in his dye kitchen? Nothing at all - it was his present of a few pieces of sappan wood, some tumeric root, indigo leaves and some annato seeds for me to take home.
Next on the programme was weaving - as absolute first for me. Far too much to report now though, so that will wait until tomorrow.
Our last night here in Laos, a beautiful country with the most gracious and delightfully friendly people. What we have seen has been unspoiled and so natural. We have loved every minute of our stay.







Temples and Markets

A bit of culture today - there are so many temples here, we relied on Ming to take us to the most interesting. I think she did rather well in making sure we stopped whilst we were still enjoying them!

We liked the fact that the temples we saw were all old - and looked it. Those we've seen in Bangkok have been gilded and polished so highly, all personality and spirit of place is sometimes lost. Not so here.

The roof lines were lovely and I took many photographs of them. I also enjoyed the stencilled interiors, so detailed and each one different. Every interior wall was decorate with such stencils or with small pieces of mirror stuck into the wet plaster before it dried.


Stacks of buddhas lined the sides of the temples, here creating a fascinating little group with one peering over the shoulder of another as if to ask "what are they up to over there?"

After a short nap and some p & q we took a ride in a tuk tuk back into town where we enjoyed a little independent exploring. We've booked dinner here tomorrow night whilst we were passing by - it's Friday so we can join in the special barbecue meal which sounds good fun.



Luang Prabang is a really attractive place and deserves its World Heritage status. We feel privileged to have been able to spend time here.
As darkness fell, we could see the lights of the night market at the other end of the street and headed in that direction like moths to a flame. Oh my goodness...so many silks, pieces of embroidery (reverse applique bedcovers a plenty) bags, slippers, paper lampshades, scarves, silver - almost everything was attractive and interesting and there was so little "tourist tat" that we took time to browse down both sides of the path.


What's more, it's on again tomorrow. Better go to an ATM I think.