If food is the best window into another culture, I’d maintain that the arts are the second best. Many of my most valuable travel experiences have come from engaging with local art, and I’m not talking about your average museum. I’ve learned how to paint mountains in the Blue Ridge, formed calligraphy characters in Japan, and, the most out of my comfort zone, spent a day weaving in Laos.
I don’t often rely on guidebooks when I travel, but early in my RTW planning phases, I devoured the “On a Shoestring” series from Lonely Planet. The Southeast Asia volume named an organization called Ock Pop Tock a worthwhile splurge for its day-long silk dying and weaving workshops. Suddenly, I had more of a reason to go to Laos than the simple issue of “it’s there.” Weaving in Laos seemed the perfect way to see an unfamiliar place through a unique lens.
To save money, I booked half-day weaving class instead of the full day workshop, which also would have included a silk dying lesson. (Another pro to this choice: the dyed silk would have been harder for me to keep untangled in my bag through six more months of travel.) On arrival, I and each of my fellow classmates – about four of us in total – were paired one-on-one with a master weaver. We chose two colors of silk to weave into one of two traditional Lao patterns, learned how to spin the silk onto spools, and set to work at the looms with our spools of thread held in a canoe-shaped shuttle. We spent the next few hours passing the shuttle back and forth through the warp threads already in place, pressing one bamboo foot pedal or another to separate the warp and create room for the shuttle to move through. After mastering one technique, our instructors would teach us some new aspect of working on the loom. Some instructors spoke English, while others knew only a little, but art is a phenomenal connector, a bridge between cultures.
Click through the photos below to see more of my day weaving in Laos.
What else is there to do in Laos? See my full guide to life as a creative professional in Luang Prabang.