The Guide

The Essential Shopping Guide to Luang Prabang

By Cynthia Rosenfeld  •    •  February 19, 2019

The Essential Shopping Guide to Luang Prabang

By Cynthia Rosenfeld  •  February 19, 2019


The city famed for its cultural riches is a haven for some serious retail therapy too.

The Lao city of Luang Prabang earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its singular cultural offerings—mirror-clad Buddhist temples; traditional wooden houses on stilts; landmark Franco-Lao buildings dating to the 1890s. But the historic seat of the Kingdom of a Million Elephants also supports a plethora of silk weavers, wood carvers, bronze casters, and gold leaf artisans who create treasures that are easier to bring home. Here’s our itinerary for a day browsing the city’s retail riches.

Get oriented at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, a museum whose displays of textiles, jewelry, housewares, tools, basketry and ritual objects reflects Laos’s ethnic diversity. Likewise, the wonderfully curated shop is filled with intricately woven Khmu Lue vine purses, Hmong natural-dye indigo jackets, and hill-tribe silver jewelry. The same organization sells more locally produced treasures at the TAEC Boutique on Sakkaline Road, the city’s main street. Half of each sale goes directly to the shop’s artisan partners, and every item comes tagged with the name of the ethnic group producing it, like the Tai Lue, famous for handspun, hand-woven cottons and silks.

Indeed, the finest shopping around Luang Prabang often doubles as philanthropy. Also on Sakkaline Road,  Celadon carries striking, rough-hewn wooden Buddhas on pure gold leaf painted bases; sterling silver elephant charm necklaces; pure Lao rose petal tea; and elegant vases. Opened in 2017 as part of the Buddhist Heritage Project, the store sends all profits to local schools, helping to train new generations of artisans. (One masterfully carved Buddha comes with a truly transformative perk: Thanks to a partnership with Rosewood Luang Prabang, the buyer can join 800 novice monks in a procession from the banks of the Mekong River to the Sangha’s Buddhist Academy for private ceremony and shared meal.)

Nearby, family-run Hilltribe Heritage overflows with products purchased directly from village cooperatives, like embroidered coats, Hmong elongated cuff bracelets, elaborate chokers, and carved hair combs.  Anakha—located inside the Blue House, an Indochine-era structure on Sakkaline Road—promotes local finds like sustainable buffalo horn jewel boxes and chokers finished with silver filigree. For fine silver and gold jewelry, ask the Rosewood concierge to arrange a showing of one-off rings, earrings, and necklaces from Hoi Sang, whose founder Suzette Gabriel-Schoebitz followed her ancestral roots to Laos after learning jewelry-making in Switzerland. She takes cues from ancient motifs from the Mekong Valley—lotus blossoms, butterflies, parasols—and invests profits back into the development of Lao craftspeople.

Even caffeine comes with a feel-good factor in Luang Prabang. Drop in for a locavore latte along the Mekong at Saffron Café—where beans are sourced directly from northern Lao families—and leave with a package of hand-whittled, reusable bamboo straws. Continue downriver along Khem Khong Street to Pha Tad Ke Botanic Garden, whose ticket office doubles as a gallery for Laotian textile artist Tcheu Siong. Her tapestries, which have taken her to international art shows like the Singapore Biennale, are inspired by dreams interpreted by her husband, a Hmong shaman.

Just down the road from Rosewood Luang Prabang, the under-the-radar Special Education Handicraft School Shop sells the work of its students, deaf and mute young people from around Laos, who come here to learn the loom along with basic life skills. Kaleidoscopic products are, bar none, this town’s most stylish renditions of traditional farmer’s jackets, monk bags, and offering scarves.

Details

Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre: Ban Khamyong; +856 71-253-364

TAEC Boutique: Ban Vat Sene; +856 71-253-364

Celadon: Sakkaline Road; +856 20-52-512-220

Hilltribe Heritage: Sakkaline Road; +856 20-91-437-232

Anakha Lifestyle: 9 Sakkaline Road; +856 20-58-754-990

Hoi Sang: Showings by appointment; +856 20-56-834-201

Saffron Café: Khem Kong, across from Ferry Services building; +856 71-212-915

Pha Tad Ke Botanic Garden Ticket Office: Corner of Khem Kong and Nam Pho, +856 71-261-000

Special Education Handicraft School Shop: After Luang Prabang Bowling on the unnamed road; +856 20-95-134-648

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Written By: Cynthia Rosenfeld

2.19.19

Locations: Luang Prabang

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