Houey Hong is a vocational training and Lao textile weaving centre in Vientiane. They do excellent work in supporting disadvantaged women from rural areas to learn a trade and support themselves and their families through sustainable, valued work as weavers.
You can visit the Houey Hong centre and take weaving and dyeing classes. I took a drive out there with a friend to see what it was all about.
It's about a 30 minute drive north of the city (see the map at end of the post) and when you get out here, it seems so quiet and serene.
We step inside to their shop and an array of silk textiles, scarfs, bags, clothes and other products that have all been made here at the centre.
There is a riot of colour in the beautiful silks and cottons in the shop though by far, it is the deep blues of the natural indigo dyes that are the most arresting. The Lao textile industry still uses traditional ways of producing their dyes - these incredible blue hues are made by soaking the indigo plant with starfruit in water, stirring, steeping, and keeping it covered; a process that can take weeks.
At Houey Hong, you can dye your own woven silk scarf. It costs 100,000 kip and takes about half an hour. You can also have a tour of the centre while your scarf is drying on the line. Groups, including children, are also welcome.
As everything is done by hand, the finished silk scarf will always be a unique product. And that's a pretty special Lao momento.
First, you choose your pattern and colour from the displayed scarves. They're all so gorgeous that it's hard to pick just one.
The ladies then show you how to tie flat pieces of bamboo across the scarf, depending on your chosen pattern.
With our carefully trussed up scarf, we head outside to where the dyes are kept. It's a covered area with a dozen or so big clay urns of watery dye. There are indigo, pink, green and yellow dyes, each made from a natural plant. Indigo, our guide says, doesn't grow well in the soils around here, so they buy theirs in from Vang Vieng.
The scarf is dunked into one pot of dye which looks quite green but we're assured that it is in fact blue. It has to be kneaded and soaked in the dye while the tightly bound bamboo pieces hold the pattern in check.
The scarf is immersed for about 10 minutes and then aerated for 3 minutes. This process continues through 3 pots of dye, though our guide says that you can continue, depending on the desired intensity of colour and the type of cloth you use; cotton, for example, is thicker than silk and requires longer.
It's a surprisingly simple process yet the results are incredible.
We pull the scarf out of the last pot and release it from its bamboo bindings. The indigo colour is just stunning and the pattern is so striking. I'm impressed that it's kept its pale colour so well after all that soaking.
While we're waiting for the scarf to dry on the line, we take a quick tour through the weaving room. The weavers are making both custom orders and products for the shop. Lao weaving workshops, as you would have read in my other Lao weaving posts, are typically big, ventilated rooms with women sitting at traditional wooden looms. The soft clacking of the shuttle and beaters are as steady as the whirl of fans overhead.
The women work on one piece at a time which, depending on the intricacy of their patterns, can take hours, days or even several weeks to complete.
The results of such painstaking work are, as you would expect, quite stunning.
Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre is about 20 minutes north of the city from Patuxai monument. Please contact them ahead of time to book. It's an especially great activity for children 5 years+.