Laos, Cambodia & Thailand

Textiles, Temples and Festivals

June 19 – July 6, 2020

Cynthia with a renowned indigo ikat weaver.

The best SE Asian Textile Tour! You’ll be met on June 19 at the airport in Luang Prabang (Laos). July 6 is last included night of hotel and on July 7, we’ll all fly to Bangkok  (and connect to homeward flights).  More flight info later.

HIGHLIGHTS

Go Behind-the-Scenes to see fabulous hand-woven indigo ikat textiles and two amazing and traditional festivals in little-known north-eastern Thailand! You’ll see the fabulous wax candle festival called Khao Phansa, and the Phi Ta Khon festival. These happen in two different towns but this year, they will take place within a similar time period. We’ll witness both events, and learn about the traditions and origins. These festivals showcase some of the best artists in Thailand. We’ll also see the superb UNESCO site of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the golden Buddhist temples of Luang Prabang, Laos.

Weaving with a very complex system of pattern-keeping.

This is more than a textile tour, but there will be plenty of textiles. We’ll watch weavers at work, and learn how they create exquisite ikat-patterned fabric in both silk and cotton. We travel in a big loop, seeing the best of all three countries — the most interesting textiles, architecture, archeology and culture — including three UNESCO World Heritage sites.

TRIP DETAILS:

We’ll fly into Luang Prabang to see the ancient royal capital, now designated a UNESCO Heritage site. We will visit important Buddhist temples, and you’ll be able to explore this laid-back and friendly town on your own. Time to soak up the tranquil, tropical ambiance! We will spend the afternoon at the textile center of Ock Pop Tok where we’ll make natural dyes and dye silk scarves. We’ll watch talented silk weavers and eat lunch at the Ock Pop Tok restaurant by the Mekong River. Food is delicious in Laos. At dinners, see if you are brave enough to try the spicy, fermented water buffalo skin condiment! The crispy-fried river moss is delicious.

Phi Ta Khon dancer with wooden phallus.

The local market is interesting, and nearby there is an excellent new textile museum and shop. You can try shopping at the Night Market with all its handicrafts and art. Although it is getting rather commercialized, there are still some interesting things to be found. Along with the magnificently decorated golden temples, a significant part of the old town’s appeal is the many French provincial style houses, the riverside location, and the tropical ambiance. Luang Prabang is a delightful place to relax for our introduction into Lao culture.

Then we fly south to the pleasant riverside capital of Laos, the city of Vientiane. There we’ll visit the enormous textile/fabric market with exquisite examples of silk weaving. Then we’ll go with a Laotian friend to meet the weavers in a nearby weaving village. We’ll also tour the innovative silk weaving studio started by American Carol Cassidy. Vientiane has fabulous wats (Buddhist temple complexes) that we will visit too, such as Wat Si Saket with its 10,000 Buddhas.

BACK TO THAILAND

Example of cotton indigo dyeing in Thailand.Leaving Laos, we’ll drive across the Friendship Bridge, over the Mekong River and get our passports stamped at the Thailand border (no visas required). We’ll continue by private van to the village with the best Phi Ta Khon festivities.

Working within traditional styles, the mask painters and the wax carvers create stunning festival art. Phi Ta Khon costumes relate to celebrations asking for rain and fertility (thus plenty of phalluses as dance batons, above).

We’ll learn about how the participants receive blessings from Buddha and the local abbott. It’s a wild but completely safe event with lots of dancers cavorting to loud music! Dancers are interspersed with groups of elegant women in silk outfits, bearing flowers. Our hotel in the festival town is owned by a friend of Cynthia, and is especially beautiful, with its water buffalo theme – and large infinity pool.

Indigo-dyed cotton ikat weft on the loom.

After the festival, we’ll drive east to the region called Isaan, the local name for the northeast. One article describes Isaan: “Here is part of Thailand with all of the acclaimed Thai hospitality, culture, and food but none of the backpackers! Just south of the border with Laos, lies this entire region that has been little-visited  by outsiders. The area is rural Thailand at its best: farmland meets sleepy villages [and lots of textiles!]. It’s proof that Thailand isn’t completely trodden with tourists.”

INDIGO DYEING IN THAILAND

Udon Thani, with its indigo dyers, is our next destination. There we’ll visit some friends who dye cotton threads with natural indigo.  These Master dyers of cotton ikat, above, will show us their indigo pots and their tying and dyeing methods, as well as the actual weaving process. The weaver above makes her own indigo by fermenting the leaves and later adding overripe star fruits. She has many pots of dye going at once, in different stages of fermentation and readiness.

Blue handwoven cloth with varying weft patterns, in Thailand.The weavers love to show off their skills and these visits are fascinating. The weaver in red displays her stunning fabric that shows her ingenious method of varying the patterns on their yardage. She has bound and dyed the weft threads in changing patterns so that the fabric pattern changes every yard or two. Her continual warp is unbound, plain navy blue threads.

AMAZING ANGKOR!

From Udon Thani, we’ll fly into Cambodia, to Siem Reap, to see the fabulous carved stone temples of Angkor Wat! A UNESCO Heritage site, Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples form a world-class temple complex, with sophisticated wall carvings. We always hear about just Angkor Wat but there are hundreds of temples to visit. Tuk-tuks will take us through the park to see some of the most stunning sites. A professional guide will explain the history of each temple. Just the renovation processes, or the lack thereof, are fascinating. The temple at right has been designated NOT to be touched, and to let the forest continue its encroachment. Other temples are being re-built, using ancient stone blocks when available.

UNESCO site info notes that “Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including the surrounding forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging program to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.”

SIEM REAP TOWN

Siem Reap is a very pleasant place and we can walk almost everywhere. While visiting Angkor Wat temples and the surrounding sights, we’ll stay 4 nights in this lovely hotel (above) in Siem Reap. It boasts modern rooms, a refreshing pool and a super restaurant. One morning, we’ll learn the subtleties of delicious Cambodian cuisine (similar to Thai) in an optional hands-on cooking class in a popular local restaurant. First we’ll visit the market to learn about some of the more unusual ingredients. Then we each choose a few appealing menu items, and we chop, slice and sauté our way to a delicious lunch! The recipes will be available for us afterwards. And in the market, you can buy some typical spices to make Cambodian dishes at home, or for your foodie friends. We’ll also tour the sobering but important Landmine Museum.

Cambodia also has some of the most intricate silk ikat weaving anywhere in the world. We’ll go into the countryside near Siem Reap to visit the premier silkworm breeding and silk reeling facility. Here we’ll watch the weavers to see how different their ikat techniques are from the Thai and Lao silk ‘mat-mi’ or ikat artisans. We’ll also visit a weaving project near the hotel in town; you’ll see that conditions are very different at the two workshops. Our ‘Farewell to Cambodia’ Dinner will be followed by a performance of Phare, the renowned Cambodian youth circus – no animals – but great acrobatics!

WAX CANDLE FESTIVAL

Next stop is the riverside town of Ubon Ratchathani, known for the fabulous Wax Candle Festival. The Thais call it Khao Phansa, the start of the Buddhist Rains Retreat. We’ll arrive a day early to visit friends who will show us the incredible wax floats they are finishing up for the event. Both monks and lay people spend hours working on the wax float decorations. Each intricate wax motif is rolled out then trimmed, as if you were making cookies…see below. You can even make Buddhist merit by cutting around some of the wax shapes to decorate the floats! The embellished life-sized wax figures arranged on the floats represent stories and legends from the life of Buddha.

Stack of wax decorations ready to adorn float figures for Wax Candle Festival.

We’ll spend a few days in Ubon, seeing festival preparations and watching the parade. Alternating with the wax floats are groups of elegant and beautiful Thai dancers carrying flowers  Each wat around town enters a float (that they have worked on for many months). There is a contest for the best float creation, and there are beauty queens chosen also. As with all festivals, there are food booths with traditional dishes, desserts and soft drinks. Bring a small umbrella or good hat; the sun can be very hot during Khao Phansa. However this fabulous festival only takes place in June or July! We’ll also head out of the center of town to see some of Ubon’s amazing architectural design in the form of innovative wats and temples that the town is famous for.

On the day after the festival, we’ll fly back to Bangkok to connect with homeward flights. It’s possible to spend the night at a hotel near the BKK airport, if necessary. MORE about flights later; don’t buy plane tickets until further notice, when we confirm the flight schedule. We’ll give suggested flights; right now, it looks like the very good Cathay Pacific and Eva have the best deals round-trip to Bangkok (BKK).

TOUR COST: $4595   (18 nights in double/twin accommodations)
Single Supplement: $850
Minimum 6, maximum 12 travelers.

Delicious Pumpkin Curry with Tofu


Includes:

  • Tour begins in Luang Prabang on June 19 and ends in Bangkok on July 7 after breakfast and flight.
  • 18 nights in comfortable A/C hotels in double/twin rooms (two hotels with pool)
  • All meals except three lunches and two dinners on days when the group is scattered (we will suggest possible places to eat)
  • All soft drinks and bottled water with meals
  • THREE flights: Luang Prabang to Vientiane, Laos
  • Flight from Udon to Siem Reap
  • Flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok
  • All in-country travel by private van with professional driver
  • Three days of entrance tickets at Angkor Wat
  • All transportation in the Park with licensed guide
  • Entrances to temples, archaeological and museum sites on the itinerary,
  • Cambodian cooking class at an excellent restaurant in Siem Reap
  • Phare Circus show and dinner (https://pharecircus.org)
  • An 8″ x 11″ photo book documenting your trip!

 

A generous tip per person for the Luang Prabang and Angkor guides and the van driver(s) has already been added to the trip cost, so you don’t have to worry about tipping.

Fly into Luang Prabang (usually through Bangkok), arriving on June 19, and fly home from Siem Reap (via Bangkok) on July 7. More flight info later.

Not included:

International airfare, visas upon arrival [Laos USD $35 and Cambodia USD $40] at the airport or at the border when we enter, airport departure transportation, alcoholic beverages, several meals as indicated on itinerary, personal items such as luggage porter tips and between-meal snacks and drinks.

Thailand doesn’t require a visa, just a stamp in your passport and a filled-out simple form that they hand us at the border when we drive in.

Anyone who helps transport your bag should be tipped the local equivalent of about $1 per bag.

Far Northeast India

No dates for 2018. May be repeated in 2019

Six-hundred year old Tawang monastery built when this region was part of Tibet.

Six-hundred year old Tawang monastery built when this region was part of Tibet.

Buddhist Festival, Apatani and Monpa Village Visits, Silk Weaving, Kaziranga National Wildlife Park
Limited to 11 people.

Northeastern India remains the least-visited and least-populated region of the country — and the most traditional. In the seven northeastern states, over 200 ethnic groups speak as many dialects; this diversity is reflected in the clothing, architecture, and traditional arts and crafts.

Torgya dancer birdHighlights of this 20-night adventure include an exciting three-day Buddhist festival at the huge Tawang monastery; spectacular mountain and jungle scenery, silk weavers in Dirang and Biswanath Ghat, several superb Hindu temple experiences, and visits to friends’ families of Apatani people in Ziro Valley. After being on land for almost two weeks, we’ll board a fine new riverboat as transportation for the remaining days: to visit Kaziranga National Park, Majuli Island, and the mask makers there;  tea plantations, and silk weaving villages. We will be traveling in the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, location map below. This area is very different from the rest of India!  Photo gallery with more images here.

IMG_0733

Cynthia at SeLa Pass with prayer flags.

Details: We’ll start out in Delhi, check into the hotel any time after 12 noon, for the night. Then we’ll see a bit of Delhi before we fly to Dibrugarh on the banks of the Brahmaputra River (state of Assam), meet our wonderful guide and the three drivers, and visit the local market. Cross the Brahmaputra River on a ferry, then visit a Nyishi village. Our English-speaking expert guide and one driver are from the Nyishi ethnic group so these village visits are full of fun and photo ops!
Hong wedding PRINTContinuing on, with special ‘Inner Line Permits’ in hand, we cross into Arunchal Pradesh and drive north to to the beautiful Ziro Valley, home of fascinating indigenous cultures who worship the Sun and the Moon –a religion called Donyi-Polo. We know many families here and we’ll be welcomed to village homes, meeting mothers and grandmothers with the nose plugs typical of the Apatani people. Traditional dinner with the guide’s family.

Next we drive to Nameri National Park and spend the night in comfortable tents at an Eco-Camp, surrounded by tropical plants and birds. Then we’ll continue to Dirang where Monpa silk weavers make red jackets patterned with colorful cotton supplementary weft.

Our wonderful guide is a serious bird-watcher and he loves to photograph them whenever possible. There will be an (optional) early morning bird-watching foray to see Black-Necked Cranes in the valley here. Our route progresses from lowland agricultural valleys to pine forest highlands, then we arrive at starkly beautiful Sela Pass at 13,700 feet. After the pass, we descend on the winding mountain road to Tawang situated at almost 10,000 feet in the Himalayan foothills, site of the huge and impressive monastery — and venue for the festival.

IMG_1886_2To fully experience the festival and this lively and spiritual town, we will spend several nights in Tawang, taking time also to visit the big monastery with its enormous Buddha, a nearby nunnery which welcomes visitors, another incredible monastery with intricate mural-painted walls, and the Tawang town market. The guide speaks several indigenous languages, and can relay questions to the people we meet. Tawang is about twenty miles from the Tibetan and Bhutanese borders, in forested foothills of the Himalayas.
After the festival, we return to Dirang over winding roads following the tropical hills and valleys. Banana trees, rice fields, and tropical foliage are common along this stunning route. In Dirang, we can visit the National Yak Research Center’s fascinating farm/ranch and meet the first test-tube yak, among her friends!

IMG_1426From Dirang, we’ll head southwest through Bomdilla (market scene here) then into Assam, admiring dramatic scenery with bright chartreuse vistas of rice fields and darker green tea plantations. We’ll board our flat-bottomed riverboat, the MV. Mahabaahu, for a relaxing journey along the mighty Brahmaputra River. An expert naturalist will be on board with us, offering informal Powerpoint presentations about the culture, fauna and the River environment.
The riverboat has an open sundeck, swimming pool (although January may be a bit cold for swimming), excellent cuisine, and pleasant air-conditioned cabins. The staff of chef, cooks, and others is delightful, and the food is delicious. The chef will do a cooking demo if you are interested, and you can visit the engine room of this 4-year old ecologically smart, modern boat.

My Cabin Mahabaahu

Cynthia’s cabin on the MV Mahabaahu

Internet is almost non-existent while we are on the boat, except when we sail by a town and there is slow connection. Each day we moor the boat and go ashore (if you like) in the shuttleboat, to whatever the area has to offer! In Kaziranga National Park where we will take jeep safaris with the naturalist and our guide to see some of the rare One-horned Rhinos and other creatures in the wild. Birds, deer and perhaps some elephants complete the wildlife safari experience. Otherwise, the boat trip is a time to relax, read a book, participate in the early morning yoga class, sketch a rhino, or just dream the day away.

Finally we arrive in Guwahati, visit Peacock Island with the famous and rare Golden Langur population, perhaps shop a bit at
FabIndia, and then in the afternoon of Feb. 5, fly back to New Delhi to depart that night (typical departures are around midnight or very early next am. of Feb. 6.)

SMALL GROUP: LIMITED TO 11 PEOPLE

(Ask about the Extension to the Taj Mahal and Bear Rescue Sanctuary for 2 nights/2 days before the trip. Both places are thrilling, if you haven’t been there!!)

MAP. arunachal-pradeshTRIP PRICE:  $6725
Includes 20 nights accommodation (double rooms with private bath) in good modern hotels in cities, and clean local hotels in remote areas. On the riverboat, the luxurious modern cabins are double share (singles subject to availability).
All local transportation by 3 excellent, comfortable SUVs with professional, good-natured drivers; luggage stored on top of vehicles, and protected with plastic tarps.
Also included are TWO interior flights Delhi to Dibrugarh round-trip (return from Guwahati), comfortable, modern riverboat sojourn down the Brahmaputra, all meals and tea breaks, water/tea/coffee and soft drinks with meals; bottled water on road trips and boat; all village visits and museum entrances as on itinerary; all temple/monastery/nunnery site visits, yak farm visit with yak geneticist guide, land excursions, as on itinerary; airport arrival and departure transport (on group arrival and departure days), Inner Line Permit fee for travel in restricted area of Arunachal Pradesh; professional English-speaking guide from Arunachal Pradesh, and American Cynthia Samaké to accompany entire itinerary– and WOW! a custom travelogue photo book of your trip. Lunch and dinner included on February 5, departure night.

Red silk and cotton jacket on loom, Dirang.

Red silk and cotton jacket on loom, Dirang.

Not included: International airfare, visa for India (get by applying online from Travisa.com before departure); travel insurance (required, usually available inexpensively when you buy your airline ticket online); alcoholic beverages, personal expenses such as guide and driver *tips and luggage porter tips, laundry, between-meal snacks; internet charges, and camera/video fees if required.

Tipping guidelines will be sent with trip information.

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