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Jan 19

Textile Travel Escape to Laos

What’s your response to receiving an email like this: “Last-minute offer—escape to textile heaven in Laos”? I immediately think: textile travel, peaceful and beautifully-lush country, more textile buying opportunities, visits with friends. I dash a quick reply to Narelle Grudgfield of 2World Textile Tours and asked for the itinerary.

Normally I wouldn’t highlight a tour I haven’t taken, but the Laos textile wanderlust has been heavy this past year.  So by obtaining the itinerary for “The Threads and Stitches of Laos”, a ten-day, small group tour departing on April 1, I could at least read the tour details and see how different it was from my last visit there in 2011.

Lao Textile Highlights
In reading through the itinerary, I spot a number of places and artisans I have visited.

Carol Cassidy’s textile workshop in Vientiane is located three blocks from the Mekong River in a refurbished French colonial mansion. Her workshop is home to one of the first commercial weaving workshops in Laos.

Further itinerary descriptions include: “For early risers your day begins at dawn as you witness the daily procession of orange robed monks through the town.”
I could have followed the monks every day and been perfectly content.

“After breakfast our tour of Luang Prabang starts at the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre where we gain insight into the ethnic groups and traditional crafts of Laos.”

As with most trips, start at the museum or centers which give you a background on the textiles. It helps orient you for the days to come.

“Today we head down to the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre located on the banks of the beautiful Mekong River. We spend the morning trying our hand at silk weaving on a traditional floor loom. There is an option to take a class in Hmong batik or Hmong bamboo weaving this afternoon.”
I recommend both—weaving in the morning and Hmong batik in the afternoon. Read my blogs on weaving and batik you’ll understand why.

Tour Considerations
Ten days, ten people. For me, this is the perfect number of days and group size. By the time you add on travel days and maybe arrive a day early or stay a few days after, the time away is about two weeks. Ten people means you can travel easy in vans; you can usually avoid grabbing for the same textile of desire; and you can hear what the textile artisan (and translator) is saying. Hint: download ClothRoads tips for traveling sensitively and sensibly in textile cultures.

This tour, while internationally focused, has its base operations in Australia–another plus for me. It opens up the possibility of traveling with other textile lovers from other countries, especially Australia. Last year, my textile travel was to the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia, and a third of our fellow travelers were from Australia. I learned so much from them, plus they’re just plain fun. Plus having been in the textile field for many years, we had many long-distance acquaintances in common. Now I have Australian friends to visit and they have a Colorado home when they come to the U.S.

The other reason is exchange rates. If a tour company is based in another country, sometimes the U.S. dollar goes further. While I pointed out the advantage of a small tour, the disadvantage is that you’re generally paying a higher price than a larger group. You have to determine what’s important to you.

Check Out Other Tours
It always serves to research other textile travel tours going to the same country. We make it easy for you in our Textile Travel resource section. For Laos, I looked at Intentionally Different’s tour, The Textiles of Laos with Valerie Kirk. I met Valerie at the Textile Society of America’s conference and she has an impressive background and knowledge of textiles from this part of the world. This tour’s price is quoted in AUD so I know the price would be advantageous if paying in U.S. dollars. But the tour is underway now so I flagged it for consideration next year.

If traveling to Laos isn’t in the cards for you this year, you can still plan for future years. I’ve given you a few pointers to help you in your planning. Meanwhile, do some dreaming, and shop Laos in the ClothRoads store.

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