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The Art of Ikat

Laos

Shopping in Laos

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Popular souvenirs from Laos include handicrafts and textiles, which are sold pretty much everywhere.

The market is usually a good starting point as are some of the minority villages. Boutique shops are now available predominantly in Luang Prabang, with a handful in Vientiane. The smaller, less touristy towns sell silk at the cheapest price. Xam Neua and around is where some of the best naturally dyed silk is weaved, but it is not the easiest place to purchase it. Much of this high-quality silk makes its way to Luang Prabang and Vientiane, where it is sold at much higher prices. There are a number of ethical places to buy, however, including the TAEC boutique in Luang Prabang, and Sao Ban in Vientiane. Vientiane’s markets are also worth a browse, but it is best to take local guide if possible.

If you wish to have something made, most tailors can whip up a simple sinh (Lao sarong) in a day but you might want to allow longer for adjustments or other items. Ock Pop Tok in Luang Prabang also has a fantastic reputation for producing top-shelf, naturally dyed silk. Vientiane and Luang Prabang offer the most sophisticated line in boutiques, where you can get all sorts of clothes from the utterly exquisite to the frankly bizarre. Those on a more frugal budget will find some tailors who can churn out a decent pair of trousers on Sisavangvong in Luang Prabang and around Nam Phou in Vientiane. It is a good idea to bring a pattern/picture of what you want.

Silverware, most of it in the form of jewellery and small pots (though some of the ones you see may not be made of real silver), is traditional in Laos. The finest silversmiths have always worked out of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Chunky antique ethnic-minority jewellery, including bangles, pendants, belts and earrings, is usually found in markets in the main towns, or antique shops in Vientiane, particularly around Nam Phou. Look for traditional necklaces that consist of wide silver bands, held together with a spirit lock (a padlock to lock in your scores of souls). Though silver is common, gold jewellery is the preference of the Lao Loum (lowland Laos) and its bright yellow colour is associated with Buddhist luck (often it is further dyed to enhance its orange goldness); the best quality gold is to be found in Vientiane. Craftsmen in Laos are still producing wood carvings for temples and coffins. Designs are usually traditional, with a religious theme.

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