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Sam Tai Textiles
If there is a heart and soul to Lao weaving it’s Sam Tai, yet unbelievably there is very little information available on Sam Tai, on the Internet or in books. Even in guidebooks like Lonely Planet’s, Sam Tai is all but ignored.
Maybe it’s because there’s no four or five star hotels (or two or three star!). Or maybe because there are no restaurants serving up western cuisine. Or maybe it’s because it’s a little off the beaten path and not always easily accessible in the rainy season.
But for the textile aficionado, adventurer or photographer, Sam Tai should be at the top of your list of where to visit in Laos. So how do you get to Sam Tai? The best thing to do is somehow get to Sam Neua first. This can best be done by flying Lao Air, a charter airline that has flights to Sam Neua on Monday or Wednesday. It’s a gamble flying into Sam Neua because being nestled in a mountain valley it’s often fogged in, so if you don’t want any uncertainty in your itinerary you might want to fly into Phonsavan and then hire a van to drive all day to Sam Neua. But if you can fly to Sam Neua you won’t be disappointed because not only will you be saving a lot of time with the one hour flight, the scenery is spectacular since you’re flying in a 10 seat Cessna Grand Caravan which flies much lower than the MA 60, the plane Lao Airlines uses.
Once in Sam Neua you’ll need to hire a van to take you Sam Tai. When arriving in Sam Neua there are a number of guest houses and we recommend the Khaem Xam Guest House close to the market and the Chittavanh restaurant near the Khaem Xam is the best place to eat. And it's here that you should talk with the owner, Phonchit, who will drive tourists anywhere in Huaphan province and has a van that will transport up to six people comfortably. He doesn't speak English so you'll need an interpreter/guide, but without a doubt he's the best. And if you really want to save money you can take the bus or Songtaeow (truck/taxi).
Once you reach Sam Tai we recommend staying at the Sam Tai Guest House, and within walking distance are “restaurants” opposite the market and several very informal textile galleries. There is a lot of weaving happening in Sam Tai and you’ll find that the weavers, if they know a tourist is staying at the guest house, will come to you, and possibly take you to one of their homes where a small group of women, will display textiles for sale. It’s fun, but without an interpreter/guide, negotiating around Sam Tai and with the weavers will be difficult. Be aware though, that there are different “cooperatives” and you should take your time to walk the streets and show an interest in any textiles or weaving you see and you’ll be surprised at the variety of textiles being woven and for sale. And when you’re in Sam Neua you should check to see if they only take kip (the Lao currency) or whether they’ll take dollars. Ever since the kip has been getting stronger, often in more remote/rural areas, they’ll only accept kip…
The textiles we are proud to be selling here at Laos Essential Artistry that are woven in Sam Tai are the Tai Daeng Star Shawls and Tai Daeng Bridal Blankets Reproductions. Most likely some of our tapestry textiles were woven in the Sam Tai area too.