April 16, 2014

Textile Trip 2014: Ock Pop Tok and Almsgiving Ceremony

This post is about the rest of the time we spent in Luang Prabang. It's going to be photo heavy and I will keep the writing to a minimum. Ock Pop Tok, means East meets West. It was started in 2000 by a Laotian weaver and an English photographer. Combining a passion for textiles and natural dye, OPT brings people together through textiles: exchanging knowledge and ideas. We booked in a full day workshop of natural dyeing and weaving at OPT. As you can imagine, it was the best day of my stay in Luang Prabang. 

I will walk you through our workshop at OPT with the photos. In the second part of this post I will show you some photos of an alms giving procession ceremony in Luang Prabang. Enjoy! 

The picturesque setting of OPT when you arrive

Hands of natural dyed threads hanging out
to dry

Weaving is part of the workshop.
I wove this piece from indigo
and natural silk

The weaving pattern made out of fine threads.

Woven cloth samples at Ock Pop Tok

An experienced weaver working on a masterpiece

Wooden shuttles from the workshop

Work in progress by  a master weaver

A commissioned piece by a master weaver.
This is the underside of the work

Tool bag on each loom made from
indigo dyed fabric
Now for dyeing workshop. I do this back to front. I should start with dyeing because that what we did that day. We booked in for a whole day of dyeing and weaving workshop at Ock Pop Tok. We got dropped of in the morning. When we arrived we saw hank of dyed yarns hanging out to dry in the yard,  we knew we would have a smashing day there.

Sample of  plants used in natural dyeing

Sappan tree, I was pleased to see it live

Different kinds of plants were cooking
ready for us to use

These were Sappan wood-chips I chopped up

Here are the silk yarns we dyed that day

Ikat silk yarns dyed and ready to be revealed 

As promised on my last post I will post more photos and tell you about the Almsgiving ceremony. Each morning at down in Luang Probang the local Buddhist monks form a procession around the streets of this charming town, collecting alms of rice and vegetables from the local population. Almsgiving is an integral part of the Buddhist philosophy, earning the giver merit, or 'bun', towards their next life, enhancing their chances of improving their existence next time around. Taking part in this daily ritual was one of the highlights of my stay in Luang Probang.

How to respect the Tak Bat:
  • Observe the ritual in silence and contribute an offering only if it is meaningful for you and can do so respectfully.
  • Bring freshly prepared food or sweet for offering.
  • If you do not wish to make an offering, please keep appropriate distance and behave respectfully. Do not get in the way of the monks' procession or the believers offerings.
  • Do not stand too close to the monks when taking photographs; camera flashes are very disturbing for both monks and the lay people.
  • Dress appropriately: chests and legs should be covered.
  • Do not make physical contact with the monks.
Take part in the Almsgiving ceremony by protecting its dignity and its beauty. Information taken from Dept. of Information, Culture and Tourism, Luang Prabang.

The ritual of Almsgiving

Monks walking in a row or individually from
6:00-6:30 am 

For a magical reason each group of monks
would have one or two street dogs running
in front of them

Monks were barefoot on the Almsgiving round

Each monk was carrying Alms bowls to receive
the offerings 

Recalling the event of Almsgiving ceremony brought back a nice memory I experienced there in person. I woke up at the crack of dawn to be there. It was worth every minute. We actually went back there the next day and did it all over again. After the Almsgiving ceremony we visited the morning market. 

My next post is about Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. There is so much I can tell you about Siem Reap so don't miss it. I will be away for Easter break for a couple of weeks so please be patient. 

Until next time

April 11, 2014

Textile Trip 2014: Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang has so much to offer. The beauty of the country and the people and culture of the place are truly special. We stayed there five nights and enjoyed every minute of it. First impression counts and my first impression of Luang Prabang was when I arrived at Satri House Hotel. The hotel is an old colonial-style house that was previously the residence of Prince Souphanouvon. The Laotian monarchy no longer exists but the family members still live in Laos. We went to see a Royal Ballet performance and one of the members of the orchestra was an ex-prince from the royal family. 

The following eight photos are of  various scenes from Satri House Hotel. I will add some short captions to each photo. 

A statue of a novice monk (young monk) in the
grounds of Satri House Hotel 

A cone shaped flower arrangement for offerings

A long passage running from the front door into
the courtyard of the hotel

Blue and white ceramics as part of
wall decorations

An old bench. This is my favourite subject
to photograph.

Hotel guest sitting area

Silk wall hanging - a Laotian gentleman's robe

Cynthia at the desk on the veranda
outside her room 

Luang Prabang morning market. After our Alms giving ceremony our guide La took us to the morning market that runs through a lane next to his childhood home. The market scene was so colourful, vibrant and full of life. The vendors bring the produce that they grow themselves. 

Rice is not just rice. Sticky rice is the staple
diet in Laos,but you can get varieties of rice
at this market 

Garden produce simply displayed on the
side walk

Here are some hot spices. The one in the
 bowl is chilli powder

Ready made cuisine is also available 

Fresh tofu and noodles are made daily

Some cooked fresh peanuts, brown rice,
soy beans etc.

You can find medicinal roots and barks
there as well

Bouquets of flowers for offerings at temples
are readily available

A traditional Laotian house close to the

The lane leading to Nam Kran River

Young novices on their way to Buddhist

Monks on their morning Alms giving

I will be posting more about the Alms giving procession in a later post. These monks are very photogenic with the brightly coloured robes they are wearing. I have taken some great photos of them.

In the next post it will be about Ock Pop Tok, the weaving and natural dye center in Luang Prabang. I hope to get it ready before we leave for Tasmania during the Easter Holiday. The highlight in this post for me would have to be the morning market. 

Thanks for coming along with me on my textile trip journey. It's fun to share my travel experience and photographs with you after I got back.

Until next time

April 7, 2014

Textile Trip 2014: Vientiane

I decided that I will start the story of my textile trip from the time I left home. I have seen so much and did so many things in those three weeks, it's hard to put it all into words. I took over 1500 photos in three weeks. The best way to share them is to group them in a few collages. 

Vientiane was the first stop on our trip. We stayed there three nights. Vientiane isn't the textile capital of Laos, but like all of Laotian cities there are small cottage industries for weaving in most households. We visited two weaving centres in Vientiane. I will tell you about them later in the post.

Sawasdee (pronounced Sawatdee because the letter 's' in the middle of a word in Thai is spoken as a 't') is a greeting word in Thai. It is also the name of the in-flight magazine for Thai International Airways that I flew on my first leg to meet up with my friends in Bangkok. I arrived in Bangkok early in the morning expecting to meet my friends in a couple of hours. I later learned that my friends' flight was delayed by 7 hours. I connected to wi-fi as soon as I got to Bangkok and found emails from Janine and Audley Travel telling me to proceed to Vientiane and they would meet me there later that day. You can plans as much as you like, but something are out of one's control! So best just to go with the flow and hope for the best.

I arrived in Vientiane at the expected time. I was met by Audley's guide Kam. He was friendly, gentle and lovely. He made me feel very welcome and relaxed. He took me to our hotel Ansara. Ansara is a boutique hotel in down town Vientiane. It was one of my favourite hotels in the whole of our trip. Next door to the hotel was a Buddhist temple, I could see it from the top of the stairs. I could see the monks going about their routine and activities. It scene was calm and peaceful and a welcome experience on the first day of the trip. 

I went for a walk in the neighbourhood around the hotel that afternoon before the rest of my friends arrived. I saw familiar items like the charcoal burners in the above photo. There was a pile of bamboo scaffolding and a shop front with an interesting Mondrian style stained glass doorway. I also found a few textile shops in the area. I could not wait to take my friends there when they arrived. I went to pick-up my friends that same evening and we were finally together to start the trip!

The next place we stayed at in Vientiane was a home stay at the La Residence Mandalay. It's a beautiful Laos/Thai style home that Gilles and Marie originally from France built over twenty years ago. The home is full of beautiful art work of the region. The house reminds me of The Jim Thomson House in Bangkok. We enjoyed the lovely hospitality of Gilles and Marie over the two days we stayed with them. It was a good welcome to the Vientiane experience.  

Later, a car picked us up to start sight seeing. Some of the places we planned to visit were closed because of Women's International Day, but Talat Sao market and all the shops were open. Apart from textiles there were antiques and collectible items everywhere for us to browse. Laos being a Buddhist country a lot of artefacts were related to Buddhism.

Talat Sao was packed with Laos textiles like clothing, silk sarongs, silk fabric and nick-knacks of every kind. Wow, if you are a textile lover you have to step back and take a deep breath before you enter the market. I didn't have anything pre-planned what I was looking for to bring home. I just enjoyed all the eye candy of colours and textures of the fabric. I got a few pieces of Hmong Indigo dyed fabric and some small purses. Remember that was only the first few days into our trip!

The next day we visited Mai Savanh to see the weavers from the north and south of the country. At Mai Savanh they raise silk worms, spin the yarns, dye it with natural indigo then weave it into fine silk. At Mai Savanh they weave fine silk scarves and silk to make into high fashion clothing. 

These are a collection of old braids displayed at a Mai Savanh showroom. These were for sale for a reasonable price. I only brought home the photo!

The next weaving/showroom was at Carol Cassidy's Lao Textiles. There were plenty to look at and  in the showroom to buy, but photography was not allowed so no free advertising for them! I managed to take a couple of photos outside in the yard of a man shaving bamboo to make the yarn winder. 

Next stop was the temple Ho Phra Keo (Emerald Buddha Museum). In the photo our guide is explaining the history of the Emerald Buddha for Janine, Cynthia and Kris before we enter the temple. 

Each stairway on the temple has dragons running the length of them with their heads at the entrance, guarding the temple

This is the main temple. It was still empty and quiet at that time of the morning before the tourist buses got there. 

One of the dragon hands was holding a fish. So much to see and take note of everything. You would need a full day to discover everything that was there.

Around the outside of the temple are full sized Buddhas sitting in different positions. It was quiet and peaceful!  I'm glad we woke up early to be there.

A small sala for passers by to rest. It's a common sight to see in Asia. Life is slow there, but there is a reason for that. It's very hot and humid all the year round, so they can't be running around at full speed like in the West. If they do, they would fall in a heap from the heat.

Another visit in Vientiane was Buddha Park.  It is also known as Xieng Khuan. This unusual park is filled with over 200 Buddhist and Hindu statues. The quiet and tranquil setting along the Mekong River is a contrast to the slightly eccentric sculptures which were built in 1958 by a Laos shaman. The concrete sculptures are bizarre but intriguing, sitting majestically in the peaceful park. 

The last photo in this post is the Friendship Bridge crossing Mekong River between Thailand and Laos at Nong Khai on the Thai side and Vientiane on the Laotian side. The bridge was a gift from Australia government to Thailand and Laos. I had heard about this bridge from a friend who visited not too long ago. Even though I didn't get to cross it, I did go under it and stopped to take photo from underneath.  

What was the highlight for me in Vientiane? The highlight for me would be the markets; both Talat Sao and the night market. 

There are so many memories from the trip to share with you. Next post will be about Luang Prabang. I hope you enjoy it.

Until next time