LUANG PRABANG SHOPPING TIPS
Exhorbinant Baggage Fees & Importing
Airlines in the region have become eager to collect overweight luggage fees, which at minimum can be a hassle (in Hanoi you must leave check-in and pay at a seperate counter, then return) but can also cost quite a lot. The airport in Vientiane was recently charging US$7 per kilo over the 20kg (44 pounds) limit. one way to reduce charges is to carry on heavier items from your checked luggae, such as books, or that carved stone Buddha you bought in the local market.
Luang Prabang is famous for its silverware and textiles, although there are few places in Southeast Asia which have the wide variety of handicrafts that are produced here. Many of the shops and markets below you may also read about in the travel press, however we can arrange private gallery visits and artist encounters as well as visits to local villages where handicrafts are produced to witness production and meet artisans in person.
Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center (TAEC). Launched in July 2007, the TAEC seeks to promote understanding of Laos' ethnic diversity and advocate for the survival and transmission of its cultural heritage. It is the only independent non-profit museum and resource center in Laos dedicated to the collection, preservation, and interpretation of the traditional arts and lifestyles of the country's ethnic groups. TAEC is centrally located on the foot of Phousi hill behind the Dara Market. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 9am to 6pm. Web: www.taeclaos.org.
All along Thanon Phothisarat are a number of souvenir shops and there are some specialty shops between Dara Market and the Vieng Keo Hotel that sells high-quality textiles and handicrafts.
Caruso Lao Handicraft. Longtime expat Sandra Yuck's collection of locally-produced housewares, furnishings, silk and other textiles. Sakkarine Road, Phone 071/254-574). Daily 8am to 10pm. Web: www.carusolao.com.
Baan Khily Gallery. Located in a beautiful old building, this seminal gallery was responsible for reviving interest in local paper arts and features unique Lao crafts such as handmade mulberry paper, a distinctive product Luang Prabang. including handmade (mulberry bark) paper. The gallery also exhibits works from students at the nearby Fine Arts school along with books in a gallery on the 2nd floor. The upstairs terrace is also a pleasant spot for tea-sipping and conversing with the longtime German owner. Xiang Thong Road (opposite Wat Sop). Tel: 071 212611.
Kopnoi Arts & Crafts. This large shop features an excellent selection of local handicrafts, fashion, housewares, art, gifts, jewelry, teas and spices. Partnered with with the NGO called Stay Another Day their goal is to support and preserve local culture and heritage, including community projects benefiting local people and the environmental impact of tourism. Located at Pommattha and Kingkitsarath roads. Tel: 071/260-248. Web: www.kopnoi.com. Daily 9am to 8pm.
L'Etranger Books & Tea Bookstore. Used and new books covering Southeast Asia. A pleasant stop for tea on the second level terrace with local art displayed on the walls. Kingkitsarath Road. Tel: 020/537-7826. Open Monday to Saturday 8am to 10pm, Sunday 10am to 10pm.
Lao Buddha Shop Arts & Crafts. As the name implies, this is the place to buy a Buddha statuette or image. Pottery and jewelry is also sold here. Sakkarine Road. Phone 071/260-332. Daily 9am to 9pm.
Monument Books. Short of reading material? This chain with other branches in Cambodia and Myanmar, carries coffee table books on the region but also foreign books and magazines. 2 Thou Gnai. Phone 071/254-954. Web: http://www.monument-books.com. Daily 9am to 9pm.
Naga Creations Jewelry. In the center of town. Naga creates a wide variety of custom-made jewelry for any budget. Craftsmen can also be seen at work on the premises. Sisavangvong Road. Phone 020/777-5005. Daily 8:30am to 9pm.
Pathana Boupha Antique House Arts & Crafts. Founded and managed by Pathana Boupha, the daughter of former government official before the 1975 changeover. The house is actually a lovely French colonial-era mansion, worth visiting for the setting alone. Much on display is from Ms. Boupha's private collection of antique statues, jewelry, silverwork, and textiles. 29/4 Ban Visoun, Luang Prabang Phone 071/252-383. Daily 8:30am to 7pm.
Tithpeng Maniphone Silver. This high-end silversmith is famous for work done for the royal family in Thailand. The most expensive in Luang Prabang, but also the highest quality. Located opposite historic Wat That Luang. Daily 8:30am to 6:30pm.
Larger hotels, including the Phou Vao, Amantaka, Phousi, and Villa Santi Resort have high-priced gift shops although with limited selections. Unlike street and some local vendors, these shops accept credit cards.
Crafts & Textiles*
A good place to begin studying Lao textiles is the Tribal Textiles Web site with extensive information on Lao and other textiles in the region. Carol Cassidy manages Lao Textiles in Vientiane and not to be missed if you pass through Vientiane (Lao Textiles Web site). Dara Market is the place to go for silver items and textiles. Silk and cotton sinhs are available; silver jewelry and other items are sold by weight, and often purchased by Hmong hilltribes as portable wealth. Larger hotels-the Phou Vao, Phousi, and Villa Santi-have higher-priced gift shops with these items as well.
Fibre2Fabric. A non-profit that produces a series of free exhibitions that focus on hand-crafted textiles as a way to explore and explain Lao culture from different regions and ethnic groups in Laos. There are films and documentaries about Lao ethnic cultures and textiles that can be watched on the upstairs level. Located next to L'Elephant Restaurant at 71 Ban Vat Nong 071/254-761. Web: www.fibre2fabric.org. Daily 9am to 8pm.
Strung out along Thanon Phothisarat are a number of souvenir shops. There are a few specialty shops-between Data Market and the Vieng Keo Hotel is a shop that sells high-quality textiles and handicrafts; down by the Mekong, near Villa Santi, is a silversmithing shop with items made on the premises. Opposite War Mai is a woodcarving place.
OckPopTok (East meets West). This chic, foreigner-founded initiative both designs and produces textile handicrafts. Established in partnership with the Lao Women's Union and rural artisan communities, OckPopTok combines craftsmanship and tradition with artistic creativity and market knowledge. The initiative now provides livelihoods for nearly 200 people in both Luang Prabang and six northern provinces. Their Weaving Center is both a workshop and learning center where visitors can witness the weaving process or participate in a number of classes, workshops, and seminars. The riverside garden comprises a weaving workshop, an area for dyeing, and a Mekong Sala where classes take place. Under the traditional Lao wooden house is a weaving exhibition and cafe featuring the food of Tamarind Café. The shop carries pretty, contemporary clothing and silks, and provides significant benefits to Lao communities. Sisavangvong Rd City Luang Prabang Phone 071/253-219 Web: www.ockpoptok.com. Daily 9am to 8pm.
Lao Antique Textiles Collection. One of the oldest establishes in town offering a great selection of textiles and weaving equipment. A good place to visit and meet with the longtime owner who is very experienced in the industry and knowledgeable about the textiles of the region. Sisavang Vong. Tel: 071/212775
Outside of town are the Xangkhong weaving and handicraft villages.
* Many textiles claimed as silk are in fact "Vietnamese silk" made of polyester on machines, not looms. A quick way to tell is use the "lighter test," burning a small thread of the textile on a piece. If it curls away from the flame, burns slowly or self-extinguishes, and smells like singed hair, it is likely silk. Note that cotton also burns into ash also burns quickly and will not self-extinguish. However, if it melts into a shiny hard ball with a slightly sweet smell, it is polyester or some other synthetic material.
Night Market. Every evening in front of the Royal Palace this sprawling market is setup along the main drag, running for blocks in length. It is one of the most pleasant markets in Southeast Asia, low key with a wide and interesting selection of carvings, handicrafts, local art, fashion, silk, jewelry, bags, ceramics, and much more at bargain prices.
Phousi Market. Ask your guide to take you to the Phousi market (pronounced "poosi") if you are interested to see where the locals shop. A large, outdoor and indoor market, selling all manner of clothes, electronics, produce, meat (some exotic), and almost everything else residents need. Phousi market should definitely be on your list if you're more interested in Lao culture than actually shopping, come here to sip Lao coffee while people watching. Daily 6am to sunset.
Dara Market is the place to go for silver items and textiles. Silk and cotton sinhs are available; silver jewelry and other items are sold by weight, and often purchased by Hmong hilltribes as portable wealth. Located at Kitsalat and Kingkitsarath Roads at the southest foot of Mount Phousi.
Lane Xang Bank is right near Luang Prabang Tourism along Sakkrine Road. Exchange rates are higher for cash than for traveler's checks (around 3.5% transaction fee), with change for checks made in kip, the local currency (as US Dollars are exchanged into).
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