Ock Pop Tok Textiles Tour & Family Dyeing Class
Luang Prabang is one of those magical places that is perfect for any age and offers non-stop activities for families. When I learned about the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Center - or 'East Meets West' - created by women for women, I was immediately intrigued. Their mission is to elevate Lao textiles by increasing the economic opportunities of the artisans that create them through worldwide exposure. Words like fair trade, organic, handmade, tradition, female empowerment, and community collaboration ticked the boxes for me so I set up a dyeing class for the family via a sponsored partnership between Ock Pop Tok and Kid Allergy Travel.
The Road to Ock Pop Tok
Your journey begins via a brightly colored tuk tuk through the streets of Luang Prabang.
Getting Ready for the Ock Pop Tok Tour
The location is stunning filled with textiles hanging from the ceiling, covering the comfy seating areas and everything overlooks the picturesque Mekong river.
As is customary in a place like Laos, the pace to begin the tour is leisurely. Everyone is offered tea (although filtered water is also available too) and it gives you and the rest of the family some time to unwind a bit and take in the scenery before your day of hard work begins.
I had requested the natural dyeing tour because I was a bit underwhelmed by the idea of tie dyeing a shirt because it is something our family had done quite a lot of times before. But, because we showed up as a family, the expectation is simply that the kids will want to work on t-shirts so our guide automatically brought them out. If this does not appeal to everyone in your group don’t fret about it. The fine folks at Ock Pop Tok are completely flexible. Kid Allergy liked the idea of having something he could use for many years to come instead of a t-shirt he knew he would quickly outgrow. All it required was informing our guide and Kid Allergy got two napkins and a scarf to work on instead.
The Ock Pop Tok Dyeing Class Family Tour
The tour comes in three parts:
The Story of the Silk Worm
The first part of the tour is where the story of silk unfolds. You learn the difference between types of silk worms and where they come from, how silk is created and how the silk produced differs in texture.
If you have curious kiddos who ask a lot of questions or if you are conscious of the plight of animals, please note that although not every worm is sacrificed in the process of retrieving silk throughout the world, these particular worms in this area are either boiled or set in the sun. This means that this process does actually extinguish the existence of the worm itself.
We liked that the kids were encouraged to touch and explore and interject any ideas or comments they happen to have throughout the education portion.
Tip: Remind your kids to be mindful of their surroundings. Kid Allergy saw something that looked a bunch like a bench, took a seat to rest his legs and it came crashing down. It was a great learning experience for him to look before he decided to leap, but it did leave mom and dad slightly mortified that he had caused such a ruckus.
Once how you know your silk worm facts, you move to another area where the dyeing process is explained. Ingredients like flowers, leaves, fruits, roots, insect wax and seeds are utilized for color and have many different cultural beliefs that govern how they are extracted to protect the spirits. For example, Tai Lue, Tai Lao and Hmong people believe in covering the dyeing pot so as not to release the spirit. When working with insect wax or khang, the dyer must be alone because it is believed that the spirit is shy.
Weaving Walk Through
Ultimately, the yarn is dyed to be used in the creation of weaved textiles. So, to round out our Silk learning, we take a quick walk around the weaving area and are told about how color and pattern are used to tell the story of a location, purpose, status or ethnicity across Laos.
Gathering & Preparing Natural Dyestuffs
Everyone gets to choose their colors and then the hard work of extracting begins.
This is no joke folks. The natural dyeing process is incredibly labor intensive and requires great patience. Something, I don't think I really expected nor thought my kids would be super interested in.
But...boy was I wrong!
The kids got to go pick leaves from a field for the color green. They are taught how to identify different plants to give them the desired shade and are handed a bamboo basket and sent to work.
Want a color derived from wood or root? Grab a tool and start chopping. It requires some real elbow grease and works up quite a sweat!
Need a shade of red? Pull it straight from the seeds little by little.
Everyone in the family from the young to old got to work.
The best part was the view. Your workstation is situated right over the river with the lush Laos mountains hanging in the backdrop.
When we needed a breather, we peaked at fishermen harvesting their bounty from the waters.
Dyeing the Textiles
Lastly, your family gets to create patterns using bamboo sticks and ties that yields a beautifully unique final product.
Unique. Different. Impactful.
- Linger. Make sure to leave time post tour to dine at the Silk Road Cafe and wander the textile shop on site featuring the handmade items from the ladies working in the weaving area. Your creations will need time to dry and if you jam pack your schedule (like we did) you won't give your dyed pieces the opportunity to air dry on the line outside the workstation. This is an incredible place to just sit and relax so pad some time after your class to enjoy the ambience.
- A Must Do. If you have kids, the Ock Pop Tok Living Arts Center is an absolute must do tour for families while visiting Luang Prabang, Laos. Your family gets the opportunity to work together and then create leaving the whole group with a sense of pride and accomplishment plus not to mention an amazingly unique souvenir.
- Hard Work but Easy Enough for a Kid. You will work hard here during the process of learning to dye textiles by hand. I had no idea how difficult this labor of love would turn out to be. But, in the end, this is an experience your family will treasure. What's even more exciting is that the job was just hard enough while being interesting to completely involve and entertain both of our children at 5 and 10 years old.
- Try Other Classes. If you have more time and don't have the kids with you in Laos, consider taking a Hmong Batik or a multi-day weaving class that are tailored more for adults.
- Shop from afar. Not only can you support these local artisans from home through the Ock Pop Tok online shop, their international delivery prices seemed to be more than reasonable to the USA. For example, the last time I checked, it cost only $23 to deliver a wall tapestry to my home in Texas. You can even find out information about the artisan weaver who created your product before purchase! Flights out of Laos for commercial purposes continue to be around once a week so you can even get your handmade pieces relatively quickly even throughout the global pandemic. Keep in mind that places like the Living Crafts Center at Ock Pop Tok have been heavily impacted by the worldwide response to flatten the curve of Covid-19. Even if you can't visit this incredible place right now, Kid Allergy Travel encourages you to support their handiwork and artisan programs until you can make it all the way to Laos one day again soon to do so in person.
Kid Allergy Travel received a discounted rate to attend this Family Dyeing tour with Ock Pop Tok. Although this was part of a media visit, rest assured, the opinions provided in the post by Kid Allergy Travel remain our own. Photos by Kid Allergy Travel.
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Need a hotel while in Luang Prabang, Laos? Check out our experience and review of Satri House with kids.
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Need Travel Protection? Don’t forget travel insurance if you are traveling to Laos with kids! We booked ours with Travelex and made sure we had medical evacuation included because this is a somewhat remote location in the world.
Heading to other Southeast Asian countries nearby? Visit our other pages for family friendly & gluten free dining recommendations for locations in the area here:
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