Discovering the Ancient Art of Lao Pottery Making
For over 400 years the families of Ban Chan village, which lies across the Mekong River from Luang Prabang, have been making pottery earthenware. The village once was favored by Laotian kings for its pottery, ensuring that the industry grew into a sustainable way of life for most of the villagers.
The community first started producing clay pots that were used to hold water and to ferment fish caught in the Mekong, but over time, the business evolved until the majority of the villagers were producing terra-cotta roofing tiles, beautifully decorated planters, and other ceramic utensils.
Thieng and his wife Keo started Pottery House Lao Food Tours to help preserve this amazing craft, as many of the pottery-making skills in Ban Chan have slowly disappeared. Only six families in the village still produce pottery using the same rudimentary techniques handed down through the centuries. Clay is mined locally, and the pots and other items are mostly shaped on a foot-powered potter’s wheel.
With the cooperation of Luang Prabang Tourism Department, Pottery House Lao Food has helped to raise local living standards and provide a sustainable income for young people. At the same time, the pottery tour enables villagers to bring to life their fascinating history, culture and, local food.
The tour begins with an explanation by Thieng about the different steps and processes of making artisanal pottery, from digging out and preparing the clay, to shaping it on a wheel and firing the final product. You will then get a behind-the-scenes look at the techniques used and with a skilled potter to guide you. Travelers can have a go at making your own clay pot too.
As you walk around the village you will see all sorts of ceramic items, from small pots to candle holders, figurines, and the large jars used for making Lao-Lao rice whiskey. Ban Chan still uses the traditional wood-fuelled kilns and if you’re in the village on a day when the pots are being fired, you will see them being prepared. The kilns must reach a very high temperature and then have to be fed with wood to keep them at a consistent temperature – a job that is shared by all members of the family, working in shifts around the clock.
The Ban Chan village experience concludes with an authentic Lao lunch cooked by Thieng and Keo’s family and served on a terrace overlooking rice fields. All the ingredients come locally-sourced and if it’s the right season, the vegetables are harvested straight from the family garden. During the meal you will get to sample many of Luang Prabang’s traditional dishes, like kaipen, a popular Laotian snack made from dried water algae; grilled fish; eggplant dipping sauce; and spicy papaya salad.
For bookings and more information on Lao experiences, get in touch with us at: [email protected].