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Traditional Treats: Luang Prabang night market & Lao fashion

Traditional Treats: Luang Prabang night market & Lao fashion

Luang Prabang is the fourth biggest city in Laos and a true gem in Asia. No high rises, no shopping malls, not even a cinema, yet a tourist paradise.

Luang Prabang is drawing more and more tourists each year, yet it has managed to keep its authenticity without ever becoming tacky. And that is especially true of  unique merchandise. The Night Market of Luang Prabang is said to have the most extensive collection of handicrafts for sale in Laos.

It so happened that from our hotel balcony, we could overlook the most popular and colourful shopping distraction in Luang Prabang. A whole street transforms in the city’s centre at around 5 pm, to create one long open air market, with friendly ladies selling their home made products – up until 10 pm when everyone packs up. No hassle, no scamming, no pushy vendors like in many other Asian cities where mass tourism has taken the best of sellers and buyers.

Probably the biggest pleasant surprise is that you will not find abibas socks, no Luis Vitton bags, no Dolce Garbana t-shirts, no fake watches, no screaming plastic toys, no made in China crap at all! I am just thinking back to the main market for tourists in Singapore’s Chinatown with the worst ‘souvenirs’ (and food) of all times. It doesn’t matter how rich a country is, you just can’t import culture. The beauty of Laos lies in its cultural riches.

The Night Market is located on the main road in the centre of Luang Prabang.

Laos

 

Right opposite the main entrance to the Royal Palace complex.

Laos

 

It is so delightful to walk through the aisles of souvenirs, laid out nicely on big plastic blankets on the floor.

Laos

 

A distinctive feature of the smiling sellers is that the ladies are so ready to please with discounts, right after you have inquired about the price, they will propose a reduction – despite the first amount truthfully being very cheap already.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Embroidery on textiles.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Our friends who are branded by market procedures in Egypt, where they lived for some time, haggled hard and bought beautiful hand made lamps, each for 5 USD. Amazing. Prices are usually in the local currency, which is Kip but there are so many zeros on the bills, it is easy to confuse amounts. I do like to convert to make it easier. Most Lao businesses accept USD and Thai Baht just the same.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos

 

After a purchase the ladies will tap the bills three times against the floor, saying something along the lines of ‘lucky money’.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

MY LAO OUTFITS

Amongst wooden bowls, plates, pretty hand made garments, tablecloths and textiles, basketry, paper lamps, stuffie toys, exquisite bags, uncommon slippers and other particular accessories, I was thrilled to find fantastic folk outfits with the distinguishable character of ethnic minorities. The kind I have only seen and bought from ethnic groups in very remote areas of Vietnam.

Obviously I couldn’t resist and have treated myself to some nifty Lao garments. The black skirt with red rim was initially 7 USD and the white dress was 12 USD. After a symbolic haggle to 15 USD for both, I felt so bad that I paid the full price.

So these are my new outfits for Laos. I got a skirt and dress (for 19 USD), a silver bracelet (13 USD), a bag (10 USD) two matching shirts (for 4 USD) and a hairband (2 USD). Love it!

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Red shirt variation.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

White variation with market heaven in the back.

Laos

 

White variation with belt.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Zoom to bag.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Zoom to bracelet.

Lao silver bracelet Laos jewellery Dasza Traveler

 

Zoom to manicure. Given the bright colours, I opted for a subtle nailpolish. Inspired by my mum in law – who mixes nailpolishes herself to make new colours, I came up with that. Tomek was less enthusiastic about the outcome and called it ‘ zombie flesh’.

Laos

 

Finally my Hong Kong purchase of mustard ballerinas would come to good use.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Perfect for any season.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Talking about the seasons. It sure was the rainy season. One day, I was just about to try on another hairdo when it started to rain, then pour, then trying to wash the market away!

 

LAO FASHION

Street fashion in Laos is a lot less vivid than ethnic clothing and not as dainty as the textiles sold to tourists. Ankle length sarongs with embroidered rims and blouses (often buttoned up) with little cleavage in toned down, earthly colours are prevalent. Silk and good quality linen are used to tailor outfits. Men wear long pants and Asian style long sleeved shirts. The younger generation tends to wear western-style clothes at work and in private life.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

The new age variety of traditional dress. Worn to special occasions such as weddings or the Lao New Year.

Laos

 

You will find a big variety of the above Lao style ensembles in the capital of Laos, Vientiane.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Vientiane has two shopping malls with market like shop-stalls. I found one store at Talat Sao Mall selling traditional outfits. Most are new and not as elaborate (patterns are printed, materials are cheap) but they also have piles of hand stitched, beautiful folk dresses, thick belts and bags.

Hmong dress consists of a wide belt, usually has a round head, some decorated with dangling beads.

Laos

 

Shiny laces in all colours are part of contemporary fashion. I prefer the old rims with neatly stitched folk patterns in primary colours, without the glimmer.

Laos

 

Hmong hats.

Laos

 

Sadly, most of the ethnic villages prefer modern, western looking outfits. T-shirts and shorts have taken the place of beautifully elaborate clothing, by which ethnic minorities stand out. I have marvelled at stunning traditional dresses which distinguish and are authentically worn by minorities in North Vietnam. In Laos, I have mainly seen children being dressed up for tourists, in costume-like Lao clothing. Traditional patterns were not sewn onto garments but imprinted onto cheap materials, which carry little of the true beauty of ethnic embroidery. Still a very cute young Lao girl!

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

I was positively surprised to find old skirts, sewn traditionally at this store at Talat Sao Mall in Vientiane. The prices were incredibly cheap. A skirt for 75.000 kip, which the selling lady reduced to 60.000 kip each, as I bought three. I am going for a folk look in autumn. Yep, folk is the new city look!

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

LAO FASHION SHOW

Another fashion treat was our visit to Luang Prabang’s Hive Bar, where you can see a local fashion show organised by female students (followed by a break dance session to keep the guys busy, too). I think it is performed on Tuesday, Thursday,Friday and Saturday (unless it is raining – catwalk is an open air stage). Admission is free. You can order drinks and the students are happy about donations.

I was impressed by a truly professional looking fashion presentation. We even received a handout informing the audience about ethnic groups represented by traditional clothing which we were about to see, like Khmu, Lahu, Lanten, Akha, Tai and Hmong outfits.

The handout had a funny comment which is one of many examples of the sincerity of Lao people and their ability to criticize themselves and apologize for mishaps (characteristics lacking in Chinese culture from which we arrived to Laos) – the first sentence said: “We normally have a presentation on big screen. Unfortunately the projector is in the repair shop. Sorry for the inconvenient.” No one would have noticed but there you go.

Have a taste of the catwalk fashion show! (Annoyingly, You Tube muted the sound because it “may have content that is owned or licensed by PIAS” – whatever that means.)

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Modern Lao fashion.

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

 

Break dance!

Laos - Luang Prabang and Vientiane

More from our PTworld – tomorrow!

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2 Comments

  1. Hi love your story about the market in Lao. I am trying to purchase a complete traditional lao H’mong costume for an exhibit I’m putting together in Melbourne. Do you know someone I can contact who can help me purchase one please? The exhibit will support a small charity I run each year to support children and elderly H’mong in North Vietnam, please see my website for information: http://www.sapachildrenscharity.com

    • We actually bought traditionally made Hmong outfits at the colorful clothing market in North Vietnam, which for me is the very source of the most beautiful Hmong costumes but they do look different to what we saw at the fashion walk in Laos. Maybe you could contact the fashion show people in Luang Prabang or the store I mentioned at Talat Sao Mall in Vientiane. They did speak English when I was there. Good luck!

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