We always love taking photos when we go to Laos and although we've taken hundreds of photos of That Luang, if we're in the neighborhood we'll take some more. This day we were nearby to visit our friend Steve, owner of Lao Mountain Coffee, whose roasting operation is within a quarter mile of That Luang, plus we were scouting for any khuts guarding the entrances to the wats surrounding That Luang. Above you will see a khut (garuda in Thailand and not as common in Laos) bolstering the corner facade of Wat That Luang with a nak guarding the stairs to the sim. Below are two photos we took of That Luang the same afternoon. One shows That Luang framed by the front gate with two naks perched above protecting That Luang, and the one below that was taken within the cloisters and we love the blue sky and clouds framing the that.
At Laos Essential Artistry we are proud to be offering for
sale a limited number of copies of the recently published SangSinxay book,
published in Vientiane, Laos by Dokked Publishing. This book is only in Lao language. We are hoping that our own
English translation of Sinxay will be published in 2012 and we will be writing
more about this on our blog.
This book, SangSinxay was published in 2009 and includes the
original SangSinxay as transliterated by Maha Sila Viravong from palm leaf
manuscripts, there is also a side-by-side prose translation and definitions of more obscure
Lao words, all in Lao language.
Maha Sila Viravong praised the Sangsinxay Poem written by Pangkham
as the highest achievement in Lao poetry, written approximately in the
mid-17th century. In 1968, Maha Sila Viravong set up the “Lao
Literature” Association, opened the “Pangkham” theater showing
traditional Mor Lam performances on Sinxay for the very first time. In
1969, he published the first ever complete Sangsinxay poem in hard cover
and golden letters and which today is currently extremely rare. In continuation
of his invaluable efforts, later in his life, he translated this priceless poem
into an everyday language with the hope that this work would help new
generations understand and enjoy the poem.
This edition of SangSinxay was published to commemorate the
450th anniversary of Vientiane’s foundation (being celebrated this
November) and it is the younger Lao generation, relatives, friends, teachers,
the “Sinxay theater” advisory committee and writers attached to this literature
masterpiece and the nation’s cultural spirit, who worked together in publishing
this 100-diamonds poem transliterated by the late Maha Sila Viravong.
This video was
taken about three years ago when Taykeo had some of the best Lao weavers
working for her. We're a little biased because the first weaver you see in
this video is Bai's sister Bouasai. She wove for Taykeo part-time
while she was attending the university. She graduated over a year ago
and now works at another job, but still helps us out in managing our
business interests in Vientiane. In this video you can see some very
complex weaving and with one weaver you can see her picking out a
pattern by looking at an antique Lao textile. All the Lao silk you see has been
naturally-dyed and the colors Taykeo chooses for her textiles are
simply gorgeous. You can see some of her beautiful textiles at our Yahoo store here. The textiles aren't cheap, but our prices are half of what you would pay in any of the museum shops where you might see her textiles for sale.
At Laos Essential Artistry we can’t begin to carry a selection of sinhs comparable to shops in Vientiane. We have selected certain styles we like and have listed them on our site, but while we have hundred of sinhs, the shops in Vientiane have thousands upon thousands of sinhs. Plus, some sinhs, especially those used for weddings can be relatively expensive. We’re not at that level yet…
So what we’ve done is write in our sinh section on our Yahoo store website that we will custom order sinhs for customers and we’ve completed a number of custom orders over the last year.
What we want to do in this post is share the process we went through for a recent custom order.
About a month ago we had a request from a customer asking if we had any white wedding sinhs in stock or could get one. Well, we definitely don’t have any in stock so Bai called her sister Bouasai who works in Vientiane and asked her if she could visit a couple of the shops we work with to see if they had any white wedding style sinhs. We’ve given her a digital camera so she can take photos and she located some white sinhs, took photos and emailed us the next day several photos of white sinhs, including the one below.
Our customer liked the sinhs in this photo and actually preferred the whitish one on the left. But when we looked at the sinh carefully we could see there was a slight beige color to the white. The Lao actually prefer bright color sinhs, such as red or blue to wear for a wedding, and if they want something white, they prefer a more beige color.
In looking at both sinhs and talking with Bouasai, we determined the one on the right was closest to pure white. We told our customer and although the sinh was more expensive ($450) than she told us she initially wanted to spend, she told us that she wanted to order that one. One of the reasons these wedding style sinhs are so expensive is because of the embroidered patterns on the sinh. In this particular sinh the embroidery uses metallic threads and was quite complex and must have taken over a month to make.
When she told us about her decision then we asked her to send a check for $150 as a deposit. We can also take credit card numbers if a customer wants. Once we received the check we had Bouasai buy the sinh (she inspects them to make sure there are no issues such as discoloration, poor weaving/embroidery, etc.) and then she sent this one by express mail. It weighed just a little over 1 kilo and we paid $65 for shipping, which we had prearranged with her. If something is shipped by express it will arrive in a week. If we ship it by regular air-mail it may take up to a month and would have cost about $40.
Once we received the sinh, we inspected the sinh, took some photos and sent them to our customer. She loved the photos and sent another check to cover the balance due, $350. When we received the check we sent the sinh by priority mail and this last week she emailed us saying, “The sinh arrived last Monday! With all the holiday goings-on, I forgot to email you. Thank you so much; it is very beautiful and the embroidery is so impressive. My fiancé will be so surprised to see me walk down the aisle in such a gorgeous dress! Thanks again for all that you did to put it into my hands!”
The photos of the wedding sinh we sent her are below and we hope this post helps provide more transparency into what goes into a custom order.
We are currently working on an order for 18 sinhs for a customer in Minnesota who needs the sinhs for Lao girls who will be dancing in several performances this spring, beginning with Lao New Year in April. This custom order is a little bit more complex because the sinhs have to be custom woven to meet the specifications of our customer, rather than just purchased from a shop, and since she wants them by mid-March so they can be sewn and ready by Lao New Years, our weavers have only two months to complete the order. Bai’s brother will take photos and video of the sinhs, scarves and tdin sinhs being woven so we can post these later to help our customers understand the process involved in weaving sinhs.
UPDATE! Check out our new post on Dec 7 on our new Vientiane Fashion and Wedding Sinhs!
I occasionally come across reading lists about Laos, but
it’s pretty apparent they’re put together generically, culled from looking at
books available on Amazon, etc. What I'm doing now is putting together a list of recommended books I’ve
read that I think really have value in providing important insights about Laos. The list when it is finished will be added to our tour information located here.
The first book I would recommend is Naga Cities of the Mekong: A Guide to the temples, legends and history
of Laos, written by Martin Stuart Fox with photographs by Steve Northup.
The book is published by Media Masters in Singapore, so isn’t on the Amazon
“shelves,” though it is readily available from other resellers. It's probably about half the price if you bought it in Laos or Thailand, but even at $35 I think it's worth it. Martin Stuart-Fox has written many books about Laos, probably the most popular is The History of Laos, so he knows what he is talking about. And his passion for Laos is clearly evident in the Naga Cities of the Mekong. The book is quite interesting and is a good read and amazingly the photographs are quite good and
closely pertain to the text on the page they’re displayed. I learned an incredible amount from reading this book.
On our tours we've been
focusing on the two Naga cities of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. The third,
Champasaak is located down south near the Cambodia border and if time and money
were no object, I would love to have tour participants visit Champasaak too,
especially to visit Laos’s second World Heritage site, Wat Phu and the Khone
Pha Pheng waterfalls on the Mekong River which stymied the French from their quest in the late
1800’s of gaining a backdoor into China. And of course I wouldn’t mind taking
everyone up to the Boloven Plateau where the finest Lao coffee is grown!
As is written in the introduction, “This book tells the
story of these three cities [Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Champasaak], their
periods of greatness and decline, and the legends of their naga protectors. It
tells of kings and peoples, and of the temples and palaces they built, may of
which still remain and are described, each in its historical context.”
Of course here at Laos Essential Artistry we have a passion
for the textile arts and nagas are not only one of the most popular motifs woven into Laos textiles, but they are embedded in the psyche of most Lao, including of course Lao weavers. The naga is such an important motif in Lao textiles that Viengkham
Nanthavongdouangsy, one of the two sisters who are owners of Phaeng Mai
Gallery, wrote a little book called Weaving Cloth, Weaving Nagas: Lao Woven Textile Motifs
where she wrote that "The Naga is the most outstanding and dominant
motif in Lao woven textiles, artistically created with imagination and
respect. It has been so inseparably bound to the livelihood of the Lao
people that whenever weavers speak of their work the term "Naga" is
spontaneously mentioned first, as in the phrase 'Weaving Cloth -
In the photo below I've outlined a double-headed naga woven into a silk textile by master weavers at Muang Vaen. Each textile tells a rich story in the motifs woven into the textile and here you can see how the nagas are joined at the tail in a diamond shape. Both nagas and the diamond shape are often considered protective and powerful motifs in the Lao cosmology and woven together like this one can imagine their significance. And since both nagas are carrying spirit/ancestor figures, their protective nature is clearly amplified.
But back to Naga Cities of the Mekong. The key word here in looking at the book is context. The book is rich in context
and the outstanding photographs add more depth and meaning for the reader.
As we've mentioned in other posts we are very excited to announce that we will now be carrying Carol Cassidy’s Weaves of Cambodia Rainbow Silk Scarves. If there is anyone is who synonymous with the best in Lao textiles it’s Carol Cassidy. Just type in “Lao textiles” in Google and see who is the first person/business listed. Laotextiles.com is Carol Cassidy, and her gallery in Vientiane is always a must see for anyone interested in Lao textiles.
known Carol now for about ten years and although these gorgeous silk
scarves are woven in Cambodia, not Laos, all the principles we value
with Laos Essential Artistry are more than upheld in the weaving and finishing of these beautiful silk scarves.
When we were in Laos in June we shot some video of Carol explaining how patterns are created on the loom, which a skilled weaver then weaves into her fabric. It seems so complex that it appears magical to watch a weaver at the loom as she weaves these incredible patterns into a textile. It's not an easy process to understand, but we think if anyone can demystify the complexity of the techniques used, it's Carol. And in fact watching this seven minute video we think will give viewers an even greater appreciation for the artistry of Lao weavers.
We encourage anyone traveling to Laos and Vientiane to visit Lao Textiles: Carol Cassidy. It's in an amazing old French Colonial Building and be sure to ask to walk out back and see all the weavers at their looms. It's an intoxicating experience!
We always stay at the Vayakorn Guest House when we're in Vientiane and it's across the street from Carol's Gallery and the photo below is taken from our room on the third floor. Her gallery includes the old French Colonial and the buildings to the right and behind it.The second photo shows a street view of Carol's Gallery.
In the article we're reprinting from the Vientiane Times about a recent Buddhist festival, the observation is made that "Temples around the country were crowded with women of all ages wearing the traditional sinh (long skirt) combined with colorful silk blouses." It is interesting to note that it's not just old women wearing sinhs, but women and girls of all ages. Women wearing a sinh represent the best in Lao culture and we're proud at Laos Essential Artistry to be the only online business in the United States promoting and selling Lao Sinhs. Lao sinhs are Lao textiles and most Lao sinhs are handwoven out of silk. Our silk Lao textiles represent some of the best textiles being woven in Laos. Laos Essential Artistry is just a click away.
sounds of Saiyanto, a Buddhist chant, wafted from the temples of
Vientiane last Friday as monks and novices gathered to celebrate the
Monks receive gift baskets at That Luang temple.
Believers took time from their jobs and studies to join in the festivities at their local temples.
Buddha departed from our world more than 2,500 years ago, his teachings
remain to remind followers to make merit for themselves and their
ancestors on important days in the Buddhist calendar .
year on this occasion the faithful get up early to take gift baskets to
the temple by 7am. Offerings may include fruits, sweets, dried fish and
meat, salt, sugar, rice or flowers, varying from family to family.
Temples around the country were crowded with women of all ages wearing the traditional sinh (long skirt) combined with colourful silk blouses. Young men were in formal clothing.
faces beaming with happiness, long ranks of believers stood on the
temple grounds, embracing their silver bowls, waiting to place their
offerings on long tables to be received by monks.
At 8am senior monks recited the five commitments to encourage lay people to make merit and give blessings.
that they were welcomed to give their alms directly to the monks. At
every corner of the temples, believers poured water from small bottles
to ask Ngamae Thorani (a spirit guardian) to tell the spirits of their
relatives it was time to receive their offerings.
fortunate enough to have the time, festival participants sat on the
sala (where monks and novices eat) to listen to the legend of the
Many see sharing a breakfast together after the monks and novices eat as a way of building solidarity amongst the community.
resident of That Luang Neua, Ms Daomani, said the festival was an
important opportunity to make amends with ancestors, relatives and the
spirits of those whom she might have ag grieved in the past.
hopes her actions during the festival will help the spirits grant
forgiveness for her errors in this and past lives, and that she will be
blessed with good health, success and protection.
she said she was aware these actions were symbolic, and that if you
wanted to have better health and success in work, love or your studies,
it depended on your own efforts.
By Ounkham Pimmata (Latest Update September 7 , 2009)
As we write in our Laos Essential Artistry website, under the section Nongbouatong, most of the families are Tai Daeng and almost all of the weaving being done is by Tai Daeng Weavers. This weaver was quite good, and watching her you can begin to understand the how talented the weavers must be to create a quality textile, like our Tai Daeng Silk Ceremonial Cloths.
The last time I was in Laos during the That Luang Festival was 2000 and I made sure my wife and I could document the whole festival as fully as possible. I have lots of photos to share and aren't these kids cute?
The Lao word in the center of the heart above translates literally as nam jhai, "water" "heart". An act of nam jhai, of water flowing from the heart, is an act of kindness, an opening of the heart. A quality highly respected by the Lao and Thai people.