We needed to reconsider our plans for Thursday because Stella was clearly not well enough to be doing anything much. Although she wasn’t vomiting any more, she was definitely still sick. Dan decided to spend the day in our cottage so that she could alternate between watching something on youtube and sleeping – and apparently she mostly chose sleep. I will update (Friday morning) that she slept really solidly last night other than waking briefly at 1.30am feeling extremely hungry, so I think she’s close to being better. It’s always hard being sick (and watching your child who is sick) and even more so when in an unfamiliar country.
So the day’s adventures were all for Clare and me. Mike kindly dropped us off at Talat Sao Morning Market. This is an old market that borders a new shopping mall on three sides (the shopping mall with carparking on top but no way to access it). We were on a mission to buy some Beerlao t-shirts for my husband and his three fishing buddies (so classy, we know – between the four of them they are gathering beer themed t-shirts from around the world; it’s become the compulsory souvenir. They originally told us they were wearing them “ironically” – I think that they just like the beer, actually). Unsurprisingly, we didn’t have much difficulty finding them and think that I made the vendor’s day with the price I was happy to pay. From there we wandered the lower floor of the morning market – especially the silks section.
The morning market is really much for the locals than it is for tourists. Yes, there are things sold that are directed at the tourist market, but most of the wares for sale are for the Lao people. Small stores, packed from floor to ceiling, sit side by side essentially selling the same things as their neighbours. None of the stalls appeared to be busy. Although this is currently high tourist season, there’s not all that many tourists around either. Actually, some local people we spoke to earlier in the day assumed that we were living/working in Laos – I suspect that because I am travelling with the family (and we haven’t seen many other family groups at all) that it is a fairly reasonable assumption. Most tourists don’t have their kids with them.
I really love the riot of colour in the textiles area of the market. Everything that you need to make fabrics is available. Actually, this section was a little busier than the section selling ready made clothing. I rather like the national dress of the long straight skirt (with embroidery at the bottom) known as a sinh, paired with a fitted blouse. Well, I wouldn’t like that on me, but it looks wonderful on the local population. I’d rather like to get Clare into an outfit as well.
Of course I found sewing machines! They were close to the sections selling fridges, washing machines, and other household appliances. The market groups stalls selling similar products together. There are plenty of mobile phones available too.
The above photos were taken in an area where offerings and other religious items were for sale. This included offerings for the monks in ready assembled packages for people to buy and take to the wat. As the monks aren’t permitted to buy anything themselves, they rely on people making appropriate offerings, so the pre-packaged bundles include non-perishable food items, clothing, toiletries, umbrellas, and any other requirements for daily life that the vendor deems appropriate. They also sell candles in a staggering array of sizes. But I think that my favourite stalls were the tiny hairdressers and pedicure places that were squeezed in between clothing and religious item stalls, such as in the photo below.
There were other sections selling dried items that to my untrained eye were either foodstuffs or medicinal.
Plenty of DVDs available, aimed at the local population.
There were a few stalls selling hairpieces and hair accessories. None in the colour of Clare’s hair, much to her disappointment, but plenty in shades of brown, reddish brown and variations of black. The ones on the counter are buns that can be pinned on.
We did spot quite a few book sellers as well. None of these were selling books or magazines in English, other than those that were educational texts to teach it. Not many of the Lao population appear to speak English at all. It’s considerably less common than we found it in Thailand.
Collar drafting instructions!
Although the market doesn’t provide any car parking there is plenty of parking for your motorbike. Many people drive large twin-cab utes here, yet there is little if any public parking available. New buildings aren’t required to provide any parking at all. So large cars and trucks squeeze in to any available space they can find. Every car trip is an adventure here.
From the market we walked into the centre of town for a bite to eat.
Don’t you love it when you have the option of paying your bill in three forms of currency? I’ll need to do a currency audit of my purse a few days before we leave Laos, as you cannot exchange the kip back to any other form of currency once you leave. It is only useful within Laos.
Our afternoon’s excursion was to Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre. We’d decided to take a short class in natural dyes to make a tie-dyed scarf each. We were shown laminated photos of different patterns options, that we were then able to pair with a variety of colour options. Our guide, Khammy, and her helper showed Clare and I how we needed to fold our silk scarves and clamp and tie them in order to produce the pattern we were after. We also made a third scarf for Stella.
Once we had our scarves all appropriate folded and tightly tied, it was time to visit the dye vats. I had chosen to make a green scarf for myself. Clare was making one in purple, and we’d decided on blue for Stella’s. We were shown the different materials used to produce each colour then proceeded to the indigo dye vats.
The staff made us work hard! The scarves were immersed in the vats then the dye rubbed in to every available area of the fabric. Each colour took at least ten minutes of swishing and rubbing, depending on the desired intensity of colour.
After indigo, Clare rinsed out her scarf then put it into a red dye that came from the sap or gum of a tree. She softened up the dye and crumbled it into the pot, and repeated the process of rubbing in the colour. It then got a stir and boil for another ten minutes. I did a similar process with yellow dye produced from the dogwood tree. A bit like cooking dinner, but with a different aroma.
There was a Cambodian woman there who had been undertaking a course at the centre for a number of weeks. She was experimenting with colour intensities on different fabric types. Apparently she was hoping to learn as much as she could then take that information back to Cambodia to train others.
And the finished products! Clare’s purple scarf, Stella’s indigo scarf and my green one. It took numerous rinses to get the indigo out of the fabric – maybe five changes of water? That stuff is persistent!
While our scarves were drying we were shown the weaving looms and the work that the women at the centre are undertaking. This woman was weaving a long length of plain silk, in the most beautiful colour. The selvedges were perfect – she was highly skilled in her work. Others were making scarf widths or specific patterns for sinhs. And incredible amount of attention to detail. Threads used varied from cotton to silk, and also variety in thickness.
There were goods available for sale in the shop attached to the centre. I bought the scarf on the right in the photo below. Just my colours!
The objectives of the Houey Hong Centre are:
- To provide training for various skill levels in weaving, dyeing ad tailoring for women from rural areas who are disadvantaged, poor and/or who have a disability
- To revive and support Lao’s traditional crafts, such as natural dyeing and traditional weaving
- To introduce other suitable skills, such as tailoring, to women who have little education.
There is so much more I could write, but I am definitely pressed for time this morning! If you’re interested in more information about the centre there is plenty on it’s website. Clare and I had a wonderful time there with highly individualised attention. It was an excellent experience.
Then it was time to meet up with our host Xioukiet, who is the national project coordinator on the United Nations trafficking project in Laos, and get a lift home. (This article also discusses the vulnerability of Laos to human trafficking.)
On the way home we stopped at the local market for some provisions, in the same way we’d stop off at the local supermarket in Australia. Find a park out the front and nip in for some banana crisps and fresh greens. The main difference is that it is open air and has narrow pathways to walk along between the stalls.
It’s Friday morning as I type this, and shortly we’ll be heading to Luang Prabang. We’re really going to miss Vientiane, and especially our wonderfully intelligent and stimulating hosts.