local markets: A very different item
What to buy: Kai paen is dried river moss and has a consistency much like nori, a Japanese seaweed wrap used in sushi. When fried in seasoned oil, it becomes more crunchy and can be used like chips to dip into another local delicacy, jaew bawng. This tasty sauce is made from chilies and dried buffalo skin. It all sounds pretty putrid but actually was quite tasty. It might be better if you did not know what it was. ;)
What to pay: It tended to be a bit expensive at the cafes, but you could buy a huge roll of it very cheaply in the market. It was a bit chewy right out of the package, though. It was 15000 Kip ($2) for the moss and a sauce.
- Food and Dining
local markets: local markets offer local color and bargains
Luang Prabang has its fair share of markets and casual shopping is one of the draws in this relaxed town. Not only will you find things at a fraction of what they cost back home but you will get to interact with locals and contribute to their economy.
What to buy: One of our favorite things to buy is fruit. You can get lots of exotic produce like dragon fruit. This is a magenta fruit that looks much like its name and the inside resembles a kiwi in both appearance and flavor.
What to pay: Dragon fruit is one of the more expensive items so expect to pay more than for something like bananas. We paid 7000 Kip (90 cents) for a very big one but later in Vietnam, we got three for a dollar with some hard bargaining. Not sure it it was just more here or we were the new kids on the block who got taken. At any rate, it was not too expensive. On returning to Munich, we found them at the market for about ten Euros apiece!
The Hmong Market & Other street markets: Go flea market shopping!
You can't miss the Hmong Market - a whole square of stalls selling colourful but almost identical items.
There are some snack and drink stalls on the fringes but wander inside you'll find a labyrinth of stalls selling local arts and crafts, some costume jewelries, bags, blankets, T-shirts and while exciting at first sight, will grow a little haggard after a couple rounds of exploring.
Still, if you are hunting for the weaved bag you must absolutely own....well, this is ground zero.
(Note: Thankfully, there aren't a lot of cheap fake branded goods around)
Aside from the Hmong Market, folks can also make your way along Sisavang Vong Road to the 2 streets near the Luang Prabang Museum for more night markets. They close the streets in the evening and stalls simply occupied the space. Nothing extraordinary here as they sell the same items as in the Hmong Market. For folks who loves bright lights and weaving through flea markets though, you'll be pleased to know that the further second street has an offshoot, with stalls stretching all the way to where Coleur Cafe is. I must warn you though: After a few minutes, you'll realised that you're essentially looking at the same things with every step you take.
However, the flea markets make for wonderful walks at night and the colourful cheery goods and wares made for great photography.
NOTE: Most of the stalls will start to pack up at 10pm and by 12 midnight, the vendors will be on their merry way home.
What to buy: Hmong weaves (shirts, bags, sling pouches for water bottles, coasters, handphone punches, coin pouches, blankets and bedsheets), mulberry paper lamps, waxed paper umbrellas, paintings, sculptures, and the standard "you've been to Laos" Beer Lao T-shirts etc.
What to pay: Bargain. It's easier to bargain when you hit the stall just when they are closing.
- Budget Travel
- Women's Travel
Shopping at night
In the evenings, Luang Prabang's main street turns into a giant night market of some 300m. One market stall comes after the next, all of them selling very beautiful weavings and other Laotian crafts. I would propose to just stroll around the first night and compare the designs; on the second night you should start buying. Remember that prices are a matter of good bargaining skills - the competition is enormous, so you should be able to get everything for a fair price.
What to buy: There's a hell lot of things to buy: scarfs, tableclothes, handbags, shirts, all kinds of souvenirs... whatever you wish! I got a very beautiful tablecloth for less than $ 10.
What to pay: Depends on what you buy and your bargaining skills - anything above $10 seems to be too much to pay
Market: Mae Kong seaweed
Try this seaweed in restaurant before buy it.
They put some garlic then make it dry. Cooking : put into hot pan and eat with sauce.
They have 2 kind of special sauces ., one is spicy with fish ,smell funny!!. . The another one is also spicy ,cooking with buffalo 's skin....
What to buy: In Fresh market near Mong Market.
What to pay: Dry seaweed, 3 pastic wraps with 100 Baht ( around 25,000 Gips)
There is an interesting night market every day (at least in august) in Sakkarine Rd, the main street, about in front of the Phousit Hill. The road is cut to traffic in those hours.
Here you can find local crafts, paper lamps, fabrics, wooden pieces... don´t forget to bargain!
The stuff is very cheap, I bought 2 scarves for about 2 USD each and a paper lamp for 1 USD. You can get almost any piece here for less than 6 USD. Don't look for real antiques here, just beautiful souvenirs...
- Budget Travel
Buy traditional textiles at the Night Market
A night market is held every evening in Luang Prabang along the main street outside the royal palace. It starts a little before sunset and ends around 10. The sellers are almost exclusively women, and the market caters primarily to tourists. It is very pleasant to stroll up and down the market, and the sales pitches are very low pressure.
What to buy: While you can find cheap t-shirts, jewelry, and other local crafts, the market is predominantly for Lao and hilltribe textiles. Lao weaving is some of the most beautiful in the world, and the night market has an incredibly vast array of textiles in all color and sizes at very reasonable prices.
What to pay: A small silk scarf can be had for as little as US$3-4 and larger pieces for US$6-12. Always haggle for a better price, but do it with a smile.
- Arts and Culture
All around LP you can find souvenir shops, selling mostly:
- Scarves and fabrics
- Antiques (or copies mainly)
- Hand made paper notebooks
- Silver jewelery
- Wooden carvings and wooden boxes
- Paper lamps.
They are all really cheap considering western standars, so if you like this kind of things go for them, and if you have no room, buy a bag, they are cheap too!! :-)
- Budget Travel
Ban Lao Natural Products - Ban Lao Center: Fair Trade in Luang Prabang
We came across what is probably the sole Fair-trade organization based in Luang-Prabang and it is just GREAT ! While fair-trade stores pop up in most of the developed world's capital cities doing a fantastic job in building awareness of how conscious customers can dramatically improve the economic life of people on the other side of the planet, i am always surprised not to find "local" fair-trade stores in the touristic cities of the developing world.
Ban Lao Natural Products, or Ban Lao Center, was created by a French young lady who fell in love with Laos and its people. It promotes the local handicraft and textiles that it develops with producers around Luang Prabang, but also from remote provinces of Laos.
They train weavers of the villages along Mekong to provide them with means of social and economic development. Part of the revenues goes to a newly created foundation which finances development projects in the area.
They have 2 spaces: one for traditional handicraft and the other for more fashonable accesories. They continuously exhibits local or foreign artists' work in the gallery upstairs, where some of the nicest ikat and other traditionnal textiles are on display. This space is filled with books on Luang Prabang, Fair Trade, Weaving, and Asia in general.
What to buy: You'll find a selection of traditional handicraft from Sa Paper made from Mulberry tree, to baskets and textiles in the Ban Lao Handicraft Center. Everything there is natural: wood, silk, cotton, and even the colors made from leaves, fruits, etc.
Next door, but actually the same old house overlooking the Mekong river, they have developed a more aesthetic collection, where tradition meets fashion. Bags, jewelry, women clothes, cosmetics, etc.
We really liked their silk scarves, which they export to Europe.
Upstairs are some really nice but upscale traditionnal weavings from Xam Neua and other provinces of Laos. This is probably the best souvenir to bring back home (if your not travelling on budget...).
The friendly staff serves natural drinks: herbal teas and fruit juices/shakes.
What to pay: For naturally died silk scarves, expect to pay from 10 USD (a quarter of retailers' prices!)
They have really cute bags, from 1USD (yes! but these are really small), and lovely
The must remains the Xam Neua textiles, which starts from 100USD (for over a month work...)
- Arts and Culture
- Women's Travel
- Family Travel
Lao Antique Textiles Collection: Antique textiles - the best?
Mr Keomontree Duangbupha is a rather special man, with a rather special textile shop on Sisavangvong Road (Ban Xieng Moune).
Now having a textile shop or stall doesn't not automatically confer 'special status' in Luang Phabang or anywhere else in Laos. Every second shop and market stall is piled high with silks, cottons, hemps and tourists are hoovering up the stuff loike there is no tomorrow.
No. Mr Duangbupha is special because he doesn't sell the textiles. He lets you have one in exchange for payment, but it is obvious that he grieves every time one of his silks or cottons leaves his shop. He genuinely loves the textile art of his country, and he has contributed to books and exhibitions in Laos and abroad.
You do not ask him "How much?" and bargain. You ask "How was this made?" and "Who made it?" and he will tell you. He will tell you where the scarf or blanket or skirt came from, and when, and probably why.
Many of the articles in his museum-cum-gallery are not antique at all. They are recreations of originals (most of which change hands for many thousands of dollars). These recreations are carefully woven in different parts of Laos, usually in the same place as the original.
Thank you, Mr Duangbupha, for demonstrating that there are still young people in this world you care more for art and passion than simple monetary return. He could surely earn far more churning out the most popular designs in local villages and piling them high. Or even by opening a boutique shop such as Satri Silk or like the ones in the big hotels.
For me, the quietly spoken Mr Duanbupha is the icon of a new Laos.
What to buy: The indigo dyed fabric 3m rolls (US$10 each), scarves (from $60 upwards), original pieces (US$200 upwards).
You can buy good hand-made stuff on every market, in every stall, in every shop for a few dollars. But wouldn't you like to have one 'pride of place', one artefact or memory that comes with a true Lao pedigree?
What to pay: Varies
Woodshop: Beautiful Woodwork
This shop had the most beautifully crafted timber products, many of which were made from mulberry tree timber. From small carvings, boxes, Buddha images to larger pieces of furniture, the workmanship was excellent. All locally made around Luang Prabang.
What to buy: Depends on the amount of shopping space in luggage!
What to pay: A fair price for the handcrafting skills.
- Road Trip
- Arts and Culture
Beer, Rice Wine & Whisky anyone?: Calculating the alcohol content
Every SE Asian country has at least 1 beer. In Laos, it's Beer Lao. Reviews about this beer seems to be rather positive.
Lao Brewery was established in 1971 and began its production in 1973. Following political change in Laos in 1975, the Lao government bought back all the overseas shares it become a state enterprise under the Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts called Lao Brewery Co. Ltd. (LBC). After 2002, Carlsberg Asia, and TCC, a Thai company who is Carlsberg's partner in Thailand, each agreed to acquire a 25% stake in LBC. The remaining shares are still held by the government of Laos.
A can of Beer Lao costs 7000 Kips from a grocery shop (circa Nov 07).
Made from glutinous rice, Lao-Lao is a rice whisky brewed in Laos. Along with Beer Lao, Lao-Lao is a staple beverage for both tourists and natives of Laos. Contrary to popular belief, the name Lao-Lao is not the same word repeated twice, but actually two different words pronounced with different tones, the first meaning "alcohol" and the second meaning "Lao" (as in the Lao people).
Aside from rice whisky, one can usually also get rice wine....either in the clear form or in the clear red form (made from dark glutinous rice).
You can get them easily by visiting the infamous "Whisky Village" near Pak Ou Caves.
A small bottle of the rice wine is about US$2 (circa Nov 07).
- Budget Travel
- Beer Tasting
Night or Day Market: Buy a Bedcover from the Markets
After my first visit to Luang Prabang, I promised myself that I would return to the market and buy one of the Hmong bedcovers if I ever returned. They are all very similar, but each has something individual about it. I can only imagine how many hours these ladies toil to make these large pieces. The covers and smaller wallhangings or throws all tell traditional Hmong stories about their customs and lifestyle.
I ended up buying 3 pieces - 1 large bedcover and 2 smaller throws or wallhangings. No wonder she looks so happy!
What to buy: If the larger ones seem too expensive, or you don't think you'd put one on a bed or a large enough wall, buy a smaller one - or two!
What to pay: Starting price for the larger covers was US$120 - and smaller ones started at $30. I got the 3 pieces for $150. We were both happy, which is the ideal outcome.
- Road Trip
- Arts and Culture
Browsing the Hmong Market
At the corner of Xiang Thong Rd and Setthathilat there is a marketplace where the local Hmong gather to sell their local wares. A browse throught this small streetside marketplace can be very rewarding. If you take the time to take your time, you may find something small yet valuable in your own eyes. I especially enjoyed some of the little stalls where they sold brass, silver and gold trinkets. There was an old lady selling teeth that came from a very large feline, and gold hoop nose rings the size of saucers. From her, I picked up a brass bracelet engraved and antique looking for just a few bucks.
What to buy: textiles, local crafts, antiques, trinkets, jewelry
What to pay: Have fun bargaining and get used to the "lucky you by this today, sir" girls...
Mercado Nocturno - Night Market
Por la noche cortan el tráfico en la calle principal y montan un mercado nocturno donde la gente de las distintas etnias con sus trajes tradicionales pasan allí las horas dándole un colorido y una tranquilidad e intentando vender sus artesanias
Es una escena realmente inolvidable
At night they cut the traffic in the main street and they install a night market where the people of the different ethnic groups wit their traditional costumes spend there the hours giving to it colour and peace and trying to sell their handicrafts
It is a picture difficult to forget
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