Ock Pop Tok, Luang Prabang
If you are in Luang Prabang and fancy picking up a silk scarf or two, your first instinct may be to head to the night market. Our advice would be not to - most of the items on the tourist markets are factory-made in China. Instead, head to Ock Pop Tok. Translated as East meets West, this is a social enterprise aimed at keeping traditional Laotian artisanal techniques alive. Situated 10 minutes outside Luang Prabang, on the banks of the Mekong, Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre consists of workstations, a small museum, cafe and shop.
On arrival, we were met by a guide who explained the silk dying process to us. Natural dyes are used to colour silk using herbs, spices and plants. Here, we also had the opportunity to see silk worms and feel the raw silk produced - a fluffy white cocoon that it is hard to visualise turning into the smooth satin silk we all recognise and love.
Our favourite part of the crafts centre is the large room of looms where local women come to work. It was really interesting to see the template used to create these intricate weavings - each small item can take a month to make - there are no short-cuts here. You would not believe how detailed and delicate the woven creations are.
After visiting the batik artisan and strolling around the luscious green gardens, we were invited into the shop, where you could buy clothes, scarves, table cloths and purses. To make each item more personal, a tag is attached explaining who made the item and where they lived. Prices are much lower than you'll find at home but high enough for the weaver to make a decent living. You get great value for money (it is important to remember that these are high-end hand-made pieces, not mass-made factory items) and hey have a reason to keep plying their trade.
The centre also offers tuition, so if you feel like learning to dye silk or weave a small item yourself, we would recommend contacting them through their website. Their cafe offers a variety of snacks or you can private hire in the evening for a romantic dinner or cocktails for a group of friends. Prices are very reasonable and this is a romantic spot, although don't forget the bug repellant.