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Luang Prabang, Laos

Visiting Laos was almost completely by accident. I had hoped to visit when I first arrived to do my scuba instructor course in Thailand, but as time went by it just seemed impossible… Then, one night, sitting on the beach and drinking beers with friends I said “I wish I could go to Laos…”. My good friend, Monique, replied with “Well, why can’t you??”…. That is when the seed was planted… yes why can’t I go???

In truth it had been many years since I had traveled anywhere new by myself, even though that is my favorite way to travel, but another friend hoped to join so that ignited the fire of excitement even more and I soon traded some old books for a used Lonely Planet and got on with planning. Ultimately he couldn’t join but by then the train was rolling and there was no way to stop it!

My original plan was thus:
– Travel by overnight bus to Bangkok, stay at NapPark hostel where I could store luggage.
– Travel by overnight train to the border then on to Vientiane, the capital, for a night.
– Another 13hr odd journey to Luang Prabang and spend a few days before the return journey.

But you never know how plans might change so it is never worth carving things in stone. As it turned out I met a great bunch of folks at the hostel and we planned to do a day trip to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam, and at the same time the travel agent who happened to have his little office in the restaurant suggested I fly to Luang Prabang instead….

With the prospect of not only getting a chance to see Ayuthaya but also spend more time in Luang Prabang I was sold!! The cost was around $189 (US) for the ticket vs about $100 and a total of 4 days of travel…. yup no brainer!

Luang Prabang was phenomenal, stunning, chilled, friendly…. one of my top 3 for sure.

The People You Meet….
Among the amazing experiences was meeting up with one of the Terrific Ten, Denise from Holland, who met up with me after visiting Chang Mai. Was like having an old friend to hang out with and to go on a kayak/trek with. The kayak trip was with White Elephant Adventures and was brilliant, post food poisoning and all. Another incredible opportunity was learning to weave with a German girl who was staying at the same guesthouse.

However, I think my all time favorite experience was meeting my “Smoothie Family”. Every night as you walk down the main street towards the night market you pass around 10 families all selling smoothies of various flavors. Well on my first night I wondered down trying to decide if I wanted one, when this young chap calls out “You want a smoothie?” with a cheeky little up swing in the tone as he said it. It caught my attention and I was hooked for the rest of the week. At some point I ended with a smoothie buddy, an older lone traveler, we had a smoothie date at 8pm 3 nights in a row… one of those rare memories you can only have through travel.

Smoothie Family and Smoothie Date

Smoothie Family and Smoothie Date

I hope to return some day!!!

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Posted by on March 2, 2016 in RTW, Thailand, Travel

 

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Backstreet Academy – Luang Prabang

No this is not the latest group offshoot from Backstreet Boys… rather it is an awesome organisation based online that connects tourists with locals and gives them the opportunity to experience something incredible, from knife making, to cooking classes, to mahout training, to weaving and so much more.

Backstreet Academy has courses throughout South East Asia and are often a cheaper alternative compared to going through something that is more touristy and set up.

How to Choose Where to Go

I had thought about doing a weaving course from when I first looked into coming to Luang Prabang. Doing some research online, in my guidebook and finally once I got here there only seemed to be one real option and that was to go through Ok Pop Tok. Located outside the city, the group has a fantastic textile store in town (on the spendy side) and a free tuk-tuk to visit the living arts village. They offer courses from 1/2 to full day and range from batik to weaving, prices range from $60 and up.

Another girl at the guesthouse was also interested but Ok Pop Tok sounded a bit spendy and more set up compared to actually visiting a locals house and learning from the source. So after a bit more wandering around someone happened to mention Backstreet Academy. They offered a half day (4hr) course at a weavers house for the base rate of $29 US, to make a longer scarf you added $5. Considering Ok Pop Tok offered a half day weaving course where you made placemat for over $60 this sounded awesome!!!

After some hassle with wifi crashing and not being able to figure out how to get discounts and such we finally got it sorted. In total it cost me $25 with a $10 discount I received.

So with everything sorted and ready to go we just had to wait till the assigned day and the pick up!

A Weaving We Shall Go

Katrin (from Germany) and I found our translator, Mr Pon (spelling??) waiting for us by 8.45am. We made introductions and jumped in the waiting tuk-tuk. Our host and weaving experts were located about 15min out of the city and it was great fun chatting with our translator while we drove out.

Once we arrived and met our experts, one each, we set about choosing materials and designs. So many choices so little time…

Weaving 101

I opted for a simple design of natural cotton with blue being the main color and green the secondary color.

the plan!!!

the plan!!!

Katrin, my fellow weaver who had her own mini loom at home, opted for a fine cotton one with patterns way more complicated!

First the experts had to spin our thread onto bobbins, and finally I understood how Sleeping Beauty pricked herself on the spindle needle, that bugger is sharp!!!

learning to load the bobbin

learning to load the bobbin

spinning the bobbin

spinning the bobbin

The experts got to work making it look easy as the bobbin flew from hand to hand and their feet seamlessly switched from side to side.

The expert

The expert

and then let us have a go… the mantra of the day for me was “CHANGE FOOT” as I kept forgetting to switch feet between the switching of the bobbin from side to side. Every now and then out of nowhere you would hear one of them say “change foot”, even if you thought they weren’t watching you!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Getting into a rhythm is the only way, but then you had to remember to switch colors, thank heavens I had a simple pattern, not what I had planned but still good. My expert possibly didn’t understand what I wanted and so went for full stripes of green rather than half stripes scattered around the scarf. She planned 6 blue followed by 2 green… this pattern lasted about 2 sets before I would lose count and then ended up doing my own thing… when she first saw it she wanted to correct me then realised it was my plan to change the style and said it looked quite good.

In the end it turns out there might be hope for me yet… in Laos the quality of a wife often compares with the quality of her weaving and for a first timer I got quite a few nods of approval… even from the tuk tuk driver!

The finished scarves were delivered the next day. It was a phenomenal experience and I am really happy I opted for giving it a go, my back and arms were a little less happy but hey I have a scarf that is over 2m / 6.5ft long… I think it may end up as a table runner 🙂

I highly recommend looking into Backstreet Academy where-ever you are in Asia.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Travel

 

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