While we were in Luang Prabang, we stumbled across a great little place called Ock Pop Tok, which means East Meets West in Laos. They are a fair trade organisation that sources and sells a diverse range of textiles from all the different ethnic groups in Laos including Lao-Tai, Khmu, Hmong and Katu.
Ock Pop Tok has a couple of shops in the town of Luang Prabang, and a Living Arts Center just a couple of minutes out of town by tuk-tuk, which also has a villa with four rooms that you can stay in. We spent our last night in Luang Prabang there and wish we had found the place earlier, it was like a little oasis on the Mekong River.
Our stay there was fantastic, and probably the most peaceful and quiet place we have stayed on our trip so far. Ock Pop Tok offers a free tuk-tuk shuttle between the Living Arts Center and their shop in town, and it is well worth checking out even if you don’t stay there. The staff will take you on a tour of the center and explain to you how different silk is made using different silk worms, how the silk is dyed using natural dyes and show you the weavers hard at work on their bamboo looms.
To top it all off you can do hands-on classes in weaving, natural dyes or Hmong Batik. I did the natural dyes workshop and got taken through the fermentation process of Indigo leaves to make blue dye and the boiling of Jackfruit bark to make a golden yellow dye. I then got to dye my own scarf and silk thread, and it was really amazing to see the vibrant colours that came from these totally chemical-free plant based dyes.
However, the highlight of our stay at Ock Pop Tok was meeting Muon, one of the weavers living and working at the Living Arts Center. Muon is from the very Southern end of Laos and belongs to the Katu ethnic group, she’s only 19 but has travelled some 500-odd kilometres away from her village so that she can work at Ock Pop Tok and learn English (coincidentally we were also staying in the Katu room at the Ock Pop Tok villa). Katu weaving is distinctive for its use of beads intricately woven in among the fabric, they also use a seated back loom instead of a standing loom. The beads have to be pre-threaded and then counted out before they are woven through the loom, then Muon manually spreads the beads into the desired pattern. She makes it look easy, and has very fast hands but it is incredibly intricate and I’m sure if I tried it would be a total mess.
After the Living Arts Center had closed for the evening Muon took us down to the banks of the Mekong to watch the sunset and told us about her family and life in her village. It has certainly been one of the more memorable evenings on our trip and we can’t thank her enough for taking the time to show us the Mekong and tell us about her life.