Being a landlocked and still developing country, Laos is an ideal choice for visitors loving handicrafts, local textiles and an abundance of imported products. While imported items are only available in big cities such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang, visitors can catch textiles and handicrafts in villages, small towns and main cities.
What to buy
Silk and cotton weaving is an ancient traditional art from the former kingdoms of the Laos, which not only shows the wealth of families, communities and the royal empires, but also played an important role in its commercial relations with neighbors such as China, Angkor, Siam and Vietnam. Until now, textile weaving is still makes the main income for many Lao peoples. The Lao traditional weaving technique is the combination between cotton and silk: a typical cotton base is woven into by silk details. It is used as precious gifts for special events such as marriage, birthday and valued souvenirs for tourists. These days, the vast majority of textiles for sales is served for tourist market with same patterns and motifs as the traditional sarongs, but cut into items such as pillowcases.
During Lao history, silver jewelry used to be items supplied the monarchy with ceremonial objects, and even hill tribes utilize silver – usually bold and heavy to show of their wealth. Nowadays, silver items are the most popular accessories in Lao people such as silver earrings, bracelets and belts, etc. Tourists can see available silver products in all markets and shopping malls. Especially, in Luang Prabang, the old silversmith families represents some of the best-value silver souvenirs in Laos.
Today, authentic Lao antiques is quite sacred, almost of them for sale in Lao are reproductions made in Thailand and Cambodia such as metal Buddhist or Hindu figurines. Instead, authentic versions for sale are mainly sold in the malls of Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Wooden Buddha is also a type of antique in Laos but the Lao government also bans export of Buddhist images, even small ones because of the theft of large Lao bronze Buddha from rural monasteries. And in Lao culture, Buddha’s face with serene expression is considered to be auspicious.
Antique with different sizes and shapes with have different price. For example, while big figures such as stylized birds, elephants and lions, etc cost hundreds of dollars, smaller designs such as miniature stupas can be bought for jus some dollars.
Besides, some opium pipes are genuine antiques. A typical authentic pipe may have a bamboo body, a ceramic bowl and silver or brass ornamentation and sold for about $50. Currently, lots of opium pipes, originating from Vietnam are imported to Laos with more colorful and ornate appearance, but only worth about $10.
Handicrafts are amazing gifts to the local and foreign markets. One of the most famous Lao handicrafts is made of bamboo such as bowls, vases, tray, chair and baskets, especially extraordinarily light, environmental-friendly and exotic. Besides, there are other impressive handicrafts such as wood and stone sculptures and natural papers. Almost handicraft products are made by the hill-tribe people to raise their family. It is easy for tourists to find them in steer to artisan shops or specialty boutiques.
Tips for shopping in Laos
- It is impossible to taken antiques and cultural relics like Buddha images out of Laos because of government regulation, you should declared Customs such items, which you bought in other countries, on you arrival of Laos.
- It is a wonderful choice to go to markets or duty free shops, especially at the borders, where prices are much cheaper than others.
- The best places for shopping is Talat Sao Morning Market, Vientiane night market, Lao House shopping center in Savannakhet, Pakse souvenirs in Pakse, Hmong Market or Ban Lao Natural Products in Luang Prabang and so on.
- Most shops are closed on Sundays, so it is better to avoid this day for shopping
- When buying souvenirs in markets or some local shops, it is good to bargains with sellers because the price is unstable, each seller will settle an other price.
- Watch out for fake items and replicas such as gemstones, high-value carpets and antiques because these value items can be imitated.