Laos, the little known neighbour to Thailand has wonderful people to befriend, breath-taking jungles to trek in, delicious food to enjoy and if you are looking for it (and I was) – crafty things to do. So, on a recent trip, I found myself making tote bags and pouches out of cement sacks and learning the art of Laotian stencilling.
Cement Sack bags – totes cool!
I got in touch with Backstreet Academy, a brilliant organisation that pairs travellers with craftsmen and women in order to learn a local craft. It’s an amazing way to get an insight into the everyday lives of the people. And a fun way to learn something new.
I met Chai, who lives in a small village close to Luang Prabang and has been collecting empty, discarded cement sacks for years now to turn them into tote bags and pouches. We spent a few wonderful hours together and Chai showed me how to make my very own up-cycled, eco-friendly tote bag. And we did it the old fashioned way, on a vintage Sea Hawk sewing machine – pedal and all.
It was my first time using a sewing machine and the pedalling took a bit to get used to, but it was a lot of fun. I love the end result (and I am especially thrilled because I made it myself), and now back in the UAE, the cement tote always gets attention when I carry it around. Thank you Chai and Backstreet Academy for the wonderful crafty experience.
The Traditional Art of Stenciling
I read about Yensabai Books and Art in Luang Prabang and their regular Laotian stencil classes. Signed up and landed for a session of stenciling and tea.
My instructor Sith showed me the traditional way to stencil – the way that is still used in Buddhist temples in Luang Prabang. Over the next two hours, I used chisel like tools of different sizes and a wooden mallet to cut up beautiful motifs on handmade paper. It was a fascinating and painstaking process and left me with a better understanding and appreciation for the artists that do this on a daily basis (and a bit of a sore back, if I am to be honest).
I had an awesome time indulging my crafty side in Laos. And I guess it doesn’t have to always be a craft, learning pretty much anything (even a great-tasting recipe) from a local resident makes travel even more insightful and enriching.