The Laos People’s Democratic Republic (P.D.R) is a joy to explore. It’s affectionately known as ‘Laos Please Don’t Rush‘ and when you get there, you see why – almost instantly. The locals are easygoing and friendly, the environment is mellow, and the Laotian culture has retained enough authenticity that you’ll want to linger longer and appreciate its distinct details.
One detail that I enjoy immensely are the classic Laotian skirts or sinh. Sinh spottings are a bit more frequent in the rural areas, but female urbanites in Vientiane also sport them. For more formal occasions, Laotian ladies pair them with a traditional blouse, though for everyday wear, a Western-style shirt is frequently worn. Designs distinguish various ethnic groups.
Traditionally, sinh garments were fashioned out of silk or a blend of silk and cotton. In past times, sinhs were only tailored on a loom, but today, mass-produced, synthetic knock-offs have seeped into Laotian marketplace stalls from China and Thailand. Still it’s common for Laotian girls and women, particularly in rural areas, to weave the skirt themselves. (As we traversed eastern Laos one late afternoon, just after crossing the border from Vietnam, we saw countless looms positioned in front of homes.) Young girls often learn by sewing the ornamental hem of the sinh first, then graduate to crafting the body of the skirt.
With all these spectacular sinhs around I couldn’t resist dedicating a scarce corner of my luggage to bringing one or two home. The skirts are now even more international as I had them tailored and shortened in a small town in India. When I wear them, I think of wonderful days – not rushing – in lovely Laos.
In the market for a sinh? If travel to Laos is not in your plans, the silk skirts are easily found online – but offered at considerably higher prices. If you’re headed to Laos, do opt to purchase in a fair-trade shop or collective, or directly from a merchant.
My first purchase came at the non-touristic Phonsavan market in northeastern Laos. The young woman working at the market stall, a tiny baby slung across her back, did not speak any English. My Laotian was also lacking (limited only to the basic sabaidee – hello and khawp jai lai lai – thank you). Nevertheless using gestures befitting cavewomen, we successfully navigated the transaction and I became the proud owner of a radiant red sinh.
I purchased the deep blue silk skirt (above) at a cultural center in Tai Dam, Laos. The skirt was made by this young woman’s mother and proceeds went to a collective.
Certainly, memories are most often the best souvenirs, but have you brought back any special trinkets from your travels that have a unique story?
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Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.