The Night Market
As the sun sets on the quaint horizon of Luang Prabang, lights start being strung up and baggage unloaded as vendors begin setting up their stalls for Luang Prabang’s famed night market.
Along Sisavangvong Road, in four neatly disorganised rows, many vendors come from nearby Hmong Market to sell their handicrafts and trinkets. However, what they sell might not be unique to the former visitor of Laos. Streets line with familiar embroidered bags and purses of various sizes and colours, screened ‘Beer Lao’ T-shirts, cotton pants and shirts, woven scarves and paper lanterns. These seem to be cult favorites in South East Asian countries like Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.
Unlike the shopping capital of Bangkok, Luang Prabang’s night market does not sell the usual trendy outfits, miniskirts or crop tops. Which to some, might come as a disappointment. But to the beach-rearing sun-kissed tourist, or the student looking to ‘discover themselves’ by donning outfits once unique to another culture, this might just be the place to be.
This is not say the Luang Prabang Night Market is not worth the visit. Because it is. Unique items like insects soaked in vodka and weird cuts of meat are just a couple of the items on sale that might catch your eye. And for those who prefer to drink and eat, there are specialized alleys that cater to that very need.
On a culturally positive note, the Hmong vendors actually create and paint the items on the spot, so you can be absolutely sure these are not mass-produced in a factory with unethical or inhumane practices like child labor. Despite the hand drawn art works, weaving and dyeing, there is no denying that almost every print is repeated across all the stalls, none uncommon to another.
Furthermore, in lieu of International Women’s Day, posters were put up along the night market, where women artists located around the night market are put under the lime light and praised for their contributions to the culture of Laos and sustaining the arts of its past. This is perhaps reminiscent of Lao’s deep-rooted respect for women, with most villages having dedicated Women Charters whose word is sometimes even more powerful than those in our own country.
But despite its positives, the night market has created a culture of hawking and copycat innovation, which seems more likely to staunch progress rather than encourage it. This is to be expected of the UNESCO World Heritage City, the label simply reinforcing the idea of an over-visited tourist attraction. While the small houses and large roads, with friendly city-folk might seem welcoming, it only served to highlight the fact that these people were now so familiar to unfamiliar faces, making the old city of Luang Prabang, the boiled-down version of its former rich heritage. In fact, many visitors would consider Luang Prabang to be quaint or a macrocosm of ‘a simple life’. However, the quaintness juxtaposed against the hustling city might remind visitors of other UNESCO World Heritage Cities like Malacca.