The Lao Textile Museum showcases a unique collection of antique textiles set in a lush, green traditional Lao compound 6 kilometres from the centre of Vientiane. This privately-owned museum is the first of its kind, established by the Sisane family (owners of the Kanchana Boutique) in order to preserve and promote Lao textiles, weaving artifacts and traditions, not only from their own family collection but also from varying ethnic groups throughout Laos.
Situated in the village of Ban Nongthatai, around 15 minutes from central Vientiane, the Lao Textile Museum is not particularly easy to find. Although I called in to the Museum on a Saturday without a booking, it is probably best to contact the Kanchana boutique itself where you can make a reservation and organise transport to Ban Nongthatai. You wouldn’t want to make your way here and find the place closed! Find the Kanchana boutique at 140 Samsenthai Road, Vientiane alongside That Dam stupa.
The Lao Textile Museum is set in a traditional wooden two-storied building with the ground floor housing traditional Lao weaving looms and paraphernalia. The upstairs floor houses the textile collection with gorgeous pieces from several different Lao ethnic groups. The buildings themselves sit within a green, leafy garden giving the feeling that you have indeed stepped back in time.
The Lao Textile Museum showcases textiles and artefacts from all over Laos
My guide for the morning was one of the owners, Ms Bouavanh Phouminh, who graciously explained each item and answered my questions. The guides speak some English and the Lao Textile Museum is currently producing placards with captions for items on display. I love the fact that you get a private tour with explanations from the owner – a real personal touch!
Ms Phouminh demonstrating the use of a traditional Lao weaving loom
The heddle strings (pattern formation) in Lao weaving are extremely complex
A masterpiece in progress
Tying the threads to form the warp for the loom
Winding cotton in readiness for weaving – traditionally cotton was wound onto bamboo cylinders
Hand winding silk onto bobbins
Indigo-dyed raw silk
One favourite display here is the Lao “nature bag” or net bag made from the bark of the Yaboi tree. Yaboi netting is made by Lao ethnic groups such as the Khmu residing in the mountains of Northern Laos. Harvested Yaboi bark is dried and beaten until thin, and then split into fine strips. The strips of bark can then be twisted by hand to form a “yarn”. Using a piece of bamboo similar to a crochet hook, the yarn can then be fashioned into net bags. The pounded Yaboi bark may also be woven into narrow bolts of cloth and used to make small items such as straps for bags.
Yaboi branch, bark and twine
Yaboi bark net bag made using a method similar to crocheting
A second covered area displays traditional plants, ladles and equipment required to make natural dyes for Lao textile production. The Lao Textile Museum uses this space as an education centre for holding group classes and workshops.
Wooden trays on the back wall are for drying sticky rice
When indigo dye turns green, it is ready to use
Butterfly Pea Tea
A lovely finishing touch to touring the Lao Textile Museum is a serving of vibrant-blue butterfly pea tea in the cozy museum showroom.
Butterfly pea, a herbal tea made from a Southeast Asian flower (Clitoria ternatea) has become quite popular in the foodie world due to its striking indigo blue colour. The Butterfly pea flower adds a blue hue to foods, such as rice and cakes, in traditional recipes from Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia. Butterfly pea tea is mild tasting and earthy but just add a squeeze of lemon and watch it transform into the most dreamy, violet colour.
A pool of rich indigo coloured tea – almost too pretty to drink!
Science in a cup! Add a squeeze of lemon and watch the tea transform into a dreamy violet.
Traditional Lao House
Visitors can also see an example of a traditional Lao house at the front of the property (said to be 120 years old). Currently undergoing renovations, Ms Bhouminh was more than happy to open up the house for me and show me around.
The Lao Textile Museum is an intimate museum showcasing the beauty of Lao textiles and weaving in an authentic Lao setting. All in all, it is a little-known gem for all textile buffs and weaving enthusiasts.
If you would like to learn more about Lao weaving and textiles and to take part in hands-on workshops, see my posts on the Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre in Vientiane and the Ock Pop Tok Living Craft Center in Luang Prabang.
The museum is open daily from 09:00 am – 16:00 pm
Adults 30,000 kip
Youth (12-18) 25,000 kip
Children under 12 free
151 Nongthatai Village
Chanthaboury District, Vientiane.
Tel: 021 562 454
Kanchana Boutique (for bookings)
140 Samsenthai Road, Sisaket, Vientiane Capital (beside That Dam stupa)
Tel: 021 213 467