In November 2018 Bamboa Founder Julia Washbourne travelled to Laos to explore some of the country's grassroots bamboo industries and traditional uses of bamboo in rural communities. Here Julia Shares with us her insights from her adventure!
All about Laos!
Laos is a Southeast Asian country, landlocked between Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and China. Laos has a small population of 7 million compared to its large and very populous neighbours.
In 1893 Laos became a French protectorate, becoming independent in the 1950s. The colonial influence and architecture can still be seen and admired in Laos' towns.
Laos is known as 'The land of 1 million elephants. However, due to human impacts the number of wild elephants in Laos is now estimated to be only 600. It was good to see that conservation measures are being taken to protect those few remaining to try and help get the numbers back up.
I visited a wonderful elephant sanctuary called Mandalao, which doesn’t offer the typical touristy elephant rides yet instead lets you prepare their food, which you then feed to the elephants! You can also spend time with them, bathe them and walk them to their sleeping quarters.
Bamboo in Laos
Laos is a very rural country with a forest area of over 16 million hectares. With mountainous regions and a sub-tropical climate, bamboo is indigenous and thrives naturally in Laos accounting for 10% of the forest area. This equates to 2 million hectares and includes over 20 different bamboo species. This is a vast amount of bamboo considering the country’s size. The prevalence of bamboo means it has been used for centuries by the rural communities.
In the traditional societies, bamboo utilisation extends from a material for construction (for example in bridges and houses) and as for making homewares to cook, store and present food. Bamboo is even an actual food source too! Bamboo products have also contributed to increasing the income of many poor farmers. For many centuries bamboo has played an essential role in the lives of the Lao people.
Lovely Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is a dreamy and scenic little UNESCO World Heritage listed town located on a peninsula at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. Luang Prabang is well known for its numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries.
At the end of the main street of Luang Prabang is a night market where stalls sell locally produced souvenirs and handicrafts, many of the made from bamboo such as bamboo lanterns, bamboo umbrellas, bamboo bowls and bamboo baskets.
Working with The Bamboo Experience
As part of my bamboo research trip to Laos, I took part in a day’s workshop at 'The Bamboo Experience' outside of Luang Prabang. The Bamboo experience is a family run business promoting and showing the traditional use of bamboo. We were introduced to the many handcrafted baskets, containers, trays, vessels, fences, chicken cages, a variety of fish traps and bamboo cross bow and arrows which were used for hunting. We were then invited to test our archery skills in a target shooting contest.
We were also introduced to how the farmer’s wives would pound the rice using a big pestle and mortar to separate the husks.
We had a lesson on how to weave bamboo, which then could be made into trays, baskets, mats and other different products.
To finish, we were taught how to cook some very tasty dishes using bamboo shoots.
Laos Learning and Legacy
Apart from discovering the bamboo side of Laos, I enjoyed the beautiful countryside and its extremely friendly, welcoming and polite people. It is a perfect place to unwind, relax, disconnect from all devices and connect with the wonderful people.
I was also able to bring home some wonderful bamboo design ideas and products from Laos like these bamboo umbrellas that you can find in our bricks and mortar store in PMQ, Hong Kong. I also highly recommend visiting The Bamboo Experience if you are ever in Luang Prabang! https://bambooexperience.org/
I look forward to sharing news of my next Bamboo adventures in Africa with you soon!