Luang Prabang in northern Laos must be one of the most languid, beautiful cities in Asia. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage City for its unique and remarkably well preserved architectural, religious and cultural heritage, Luang Prabang sits on a picturesque peninsula between the mighty Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers.
Happily, it also happens to be the best place in Laos to find the country’s remarkable textile treasures. Lao textiles are considered by collectors and connoisseurs to be amongst the finest in the world, making Luang Prabang a must-visit for textile lovers. Read more about Lao textiles in our journal.
Hunt / Gather
Ock Pop Tok - a pioneering ethical company set up by Laotian weaver Veomanee Duangdala and English photographer Joanna Smith. Promoting Lao textiles worldwide, Ock Pop Tok is almost a reason on its own to visit Luang Prabang. Their success is evidenced by the fact they have 3 stores in this small town. The first store is at their main center, just outside central Luang Prabang and is a must-visit. The centre is beautiful, perched above the Mekong River. You can take tours of the textile production, classes in weaving and dying, enjoy a meal at the charming Silk Road Cafe and visit exhibitions at the Fibre2Fabric gallery. They even have a small guesthouse at the centre where you can stay. The other two shops are also well worth visiting and are nearby one another on Sakkaline Road, down from the Night Market.
The Ock Pop Tok store on Sakhaline Road.
Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TEAC) - this was one of my favourite shops in Luang Prabang for it’s mix of authentic, ethical textile products. It’s not a vast collection, but it’s a beautiful one. They in fact have two stores - one at the TEAC main centre and another down from the night market on Sakkaline Road.
Passa Paa - The brain child of Heather Smith, Veomanee Douangdala and Joanna Smith (the latter two of Ock Pop Tok fame), this ethical design collective hand crafts contemporary textiles inspired by traditional Hmong techniques, such as appliqué and cross-stitch. I found some very unique, beautiful scarves here.
Night Market - Not the highlight I had expected. Busy with tourists and the products made for a market demanding cheap and quick souvenirs. There were lots of textiles but their authenticity and origins are unclear. Still, it's worth a visit to meet and talk with some local dealers and artisans.
Weaving village - cross the Nam Khan river via the bamboo bridge below Wat Siphoutthabath. Follow the dirt lane for about a kilometre and you will discover several weavers studios producing fine, authentic Lao textiles. Come early to avoid the tourists.
Ma Te Sai - A small store with a fabulous collection of textiles and homewares.
Ankara/The Blue House - stocks a carefully curated, high quality collection of beautiful textiles and home wares.
Vintage textiles & collectibles - this is a small, dusty store tucked away near the hotel where I stayed. Located on the side street behind Mekong Sunset View Hotel. The store will be on your left side, with its collection of vintage textiles and other treasures spilling out onto the path.
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Eat / Drink
Viewpoint Cafe - Located in the lush gardens right on the point of the peninsula, this cafe serves tasty food in a beautiful outdoor area, where you can watch over the meeting os the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. Try the Lao speciality "Iced Dog Tea" (so named for the picture of the dog on the tea packet, apparently). Not to my taste, but something very different, this tea is made with orange-flaovoured tea and lime juice.
Viewpoint Cafe, where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers meet.
3 Nagas - An award wining restaurant in a boutique hotel, 3 Nagas is what I considered the best restaurant in Luang Prabang. The small restaurant was utterly charming and the food was delicious, if a little pricey.
Tamnak Lao - This is in fact one of several cooking schools in Luang Prabang. It’s in a grand old building, and while it may not have a great deal of charm, the local sausages with rice were delicious. I ate here several times during my stay.
Morning Market - The most fascinating market in Luang Prabang. Mostly deals with food and you'll see some very different offerings here!
Lan Kham Riverside - I stayed at this charming hotel on the Mekong River. It’s clean and comfortable, very central and well priced. Ask for a room with a balcony looking over the Mekong.
TEAC - the highlight of my trip to Luang Prabang, this museum is finely curated and has loads of interesting information about the ethnic groups and their cultures and textiles. A must-visit!
Fibre2Fabric gallery - Located at the Ock Pop Tok centre, check if there are any exhibitions showing during your visit.
This article forms part of our Travel Guide Series to discovering the best of Asia. In this series, I condense my most memorable and special experiences of travel across the continent into essential travel guides for finding the most beautiful and authentic textiles, the chicest teahouses, the choicest shopping and the sites which will show you a beautiful but lesser-known face of Asia. SaveSaveSave