Follow us for a stroll through Ban Donkeo, the Bamboo Village! At the end of a very bumpy and dusty road, under a burning sun, we finally arrive at our destination. We have to concede that the road to what is known as the Bamboo Village is not the smoothest or the most scenic one. So, even though it is a charming village, Ban Donkeo is not necessarily on the tourist maps…
But if you want to learn more about bamboo and see how this grass – yes, yes, it’s not a plant but a grass – is transformed into baskets and all sorts of other products, then you should definitely add it to your list of places to visit in Luang Prabang…
Bamboo in Laos
Bamboo is a very useful material in Laos and is used in all aspects of daily life. In Laos, they eat it (like in bamboo soup), make musical instruments (the famous khene), make weapons for hunting and traps for catching animals, and even use it for paper. They use it in construction to build houses; walls, roofs and even bridges. We all love the bamboo bridge crossing the Namkhan in Luang Prabang, right?
They might not grow bamboo in Ban Donkeo, but most families earn a living transforming it. It is surprisingly hot for the month of January. Nevertheless, in all the yards, in the shade, under trees or verandas, we encounter so many women weaving bamboo baskets.
Which in itself is also surprising for me, a foreigner who was told that in Laos, the weaving of cloth is done by women, but bamboo weaving is usually done by men. It is an important skill and some people say that a man cannot get married unless he can weave bamboo. And yet, we meet so many women and only… one man.
Euay Nom, who we meet while strolling through the village, learnt bamboo weaving from her mother when she was 10 years old. As silk or cotton weaving or most crafts in Laos, bamboo weaving is taught from generation to generation. When we tell Euay Nom who we already visited in the village, she laughs and tells us that we actually met… her mother and her sister.
In Euay Nom’s yard, bamboo trunks are waiting in the shade to be transformed. In the countryside, people would go to the forest to cut bamboo. In Ban Donkeo, most families either buy their bamboo or venture to the nearest forest to cut what they need.
There are between 1000- 1600 species of bamboo worldwide.
Bamboo is hollow and as it grows it forms joints to make it stronger. The artisans choose trunks with the right length between joints for what we are making. The bamboo is then split, peeled and scraped so it is smooth and flat. Then it is soaked in water, sometimes for a few days to make it soft and flexible and also to get rid of insects in the bamboo.
Another way to get rid of insects living in the bamboo is to hang it over the house fire in the smoke. This not only kills the insects but also hardens the bamboo. This technique is also used to darken some bamboo products.
Throughout our short stroll in Ban Donkeo, we witnessed pretty much each and every one of these steps at the different houses we stopped by. Busy weaving an order which needs to leave for Vientiane in a few days, Euay Nom explains – all the while weaving continuously – that bamboo is split in various ways to be woven into baskets, hats, traps, ceremonial items, woven walls and mats.
If the basket is not too complicated, Euay Nom can weave up to 10 in one day. She goes on to explain that orders went down during the pandemic and they just started to pick up again. Hence why she’s busy weaving this order of baskets for temple offerings…
The classic baskets are still very much popular. But we’re impressed to see some families trying their hand at some new – more modern – designs. No doubt bamboo weaving still has a place of choice in the crafts landscape in Laos…
Bamboo facts! Did you know?
- Depending on who you speak to there are between 1000- 1600 species of bamboo worldwide. Around the world, 100 are grown commercially.
- Like silk, bamboo has a stronger tensile strength than steel. That means that it’s stronger under tension, being pulled or elongated.
- Bamboo is so durable that it was the only plant to survive the radiation of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima, in 1945.
- Some species of bamboo grow really fast. The Guinness Book of World Records states that the fastest growing plant on earth belongs to a certain bamboo species that grows up to 91 cm per day.
- Thomas Edison made the first light bulb in 1880, a year later in a new improved version he used a strand of carbonized bamboo for the filament. It glowed for 1200 hours, much longer than anything else he had experimented with.
Visiting Luang Prabang? Give our Bamboo Weaving Workshop a try. You can learn how to make placemats, coasters or baskets. Any special requests? Let us know. We also run some special workshops on demand to weave trays or 3D animals.