Visit to: Lao Textile Museum, Laos
Words & photos by Sali Sasaki
Ban Nongtha Tai, Chantabouly District, Vientiane Province, Lao PDR - The Lao Textile Museum provides a surprisingly unique display of traditional architecture, objects and antique textiles. The site is also used as a production facility for high-quality silk. However, it is not an easy place to find and many people are actually unaware of its existence. According to a newspaper article, the museum counts on average 4000 visitors per year.
Established in 2003, the Lao Textile Museum claims to be the first privately-owned museum in Laos and its purpose is to promote the traditional assets of textile culture in the country, including its revered silk production. It is the initiative of the Sisane family, owners of the textile boutique Kanchana, situated in the heart of the capital city Vientiane. The boutique itself is the starting point to the museum as one is usually asked to make a booking there and arrange a tuk-tuk pick-up to Ban Nontha Tai, a village on the outskirts of Vientiane, only 20 minutes away from the city centre.
The museum sits within a luscious garden and is structured around several traditional Lao-style houses that boast authenticity, elegance and craftsmanship. Each house has a different function, the largest one used for weaving demonstrations and displaying antique looms and textiles from different ethnic groups living in Laos. The museum does not provide captions and instead each visit is guided by a family member. Despite the friendliness of local staff, this aspect is perhaps the only downside of the place, as it affects the pace of the visit. The private collection is a pleasant discovery process through the family’s archive that is infused with a real passion and dedication to local cultures. Certain pieces are over a century old and appear to be heavily damaged – yet they add a special charisma to the place. The Lao Textile Museum is very much a home with a particular atmosphere and countless of items that leave the mind hungry to see more.
The second house is dedicated to natural dyes and the traditional objects that relate to textile production and traditional households in Laos: jars, baskets, ladles, and other utensils. The tools, supplies and materials are used for workshops and classes. Schools and international exchanges with universities from overseas are apparently common activities at the site. A cooking school is another recent addition to promoting the diversity of local cultures in Laos.
The small-scale and intimate atmosphere of the Lao Textile Museum is the key attraction to this unexpected site. It is a perfect location to be reminded of and be inspired by the beauty of Lao textiles and cultures, away from the city.