Where to Shop and What to Buy in Laos
Laos is an excellent destination for anyone interested in picking up elaborate handicrafts. Hill-tribe silks, arts, crafts, home-furnishings, jewellery and couture quality textiles dominate the market. Although many of these products are available in Thailand, some of the things listed above are unique to Laos and its hill-tribes. In buying traditional crafts such as silks and carvings, tourists are invariably helping to support a still-growing and fragile economy.
Lao women wear the traditional phaa sin - a wraparound skirt. The phaa sin is worn with a silver belt and you will soon notice it is worn by school and university students and government office workers. A vast choice of phaa sin, shawls, bags and jewellery can be found in the morning market and around Vientiane. As well as traditional Lao weavings, you will find hill-tribe embroidery, wall hangings and quilts. The inherent art form of weaving has been practiced in Laos since the 14th century; subsequently it has attracted the attention of affluent and educated western-based weavers who have descended on Laos to re-establish the trade that dwindled so rapidly under the Communist regime - the vast majority of which operate on a fair trade basis, working to increase sustainable development within the country.
What to buy in Laos
There are many antique stores littered around the bigger cities of Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet, where clothes, Asian pottery, musical instruments, jewellery, carvings and coins can be found. Please note that fines are enforced to those caught trying to leave the country with Lao antiques or Buddhist artefacts.
From the simple and mundane to the aesthetic and highly spiritual, Lao craftsmen can carve a wide variety of attractive pieces from wood, bone and stone. Like most Laotian arts and crafts, religious imagery and figures such as the Buddha provide the subject and source of inspiration.
Authentic opium pipes can still be bought in Laos (for ornamental purposes) but ivory carvings will be confiscated by most countries if found in your luggage, so probably best steer clear.
The crafting of gold and silver jewellery is another skill at which the Lao people excel. Many of the best examples of silver jewellery to be found in the country are the work of several of the hill tribes, who use silver and gold for portable wealth and inheritance purposes. The majority of jewellery shops trade primarily in silver and gold, which can be bought at a cheaper price than in neighbouring Thailand. Laos gold is 99.99% pure and is sold at a set price per gram. You can get various gemstones, gold and silver ornaments and jewels, making it a good place to design and customize jewellery.
Many westerns find the look of Laos gold to be artificial due to its brassiness, but it is in fact genuine. The central markets in Vientiane and Luang Prabang have a great variety of souvenirs and unlike the private shops which have fixed prices, bargaining is acceptable. However, it should be noted that some silver and copper items exported from Laos are subject to tax according to weight.
Lao known as the best place in Southeast Asia to grow coffee. Laos coffee is often called Pakxong as it usually grown around the town of Paxong on the Boloven Plateau.
The quality in flavor and consistency can be found in both Laos arabica and robusta. The duty free shop in Savannakhet offers a wide choice of Laotian beans while a number of stalls on main streets serve arabica with condensed milk in glasses.
The art of weaving is still very much a home industry in Laos, where some of the finest silk and cotton weavers in the world can be found in the smallest of communities.
Traditional designs and patterns vary from province to province, and the intricate work can be purchased much cheaper at the source than from many handicraft stores, markets and hotel shops. Antique woven pieces are still available but are becoming increasingly rare, often fetching very high prices. Read More...