Luang Prabang: The Pottery Village, Ban Chan    

A big pot
Today we got a comparatively early start and to our amazement the sky was clear and blue. It may be the first day in Laos since we've been here when the weather was both haze free and the sky was clear. We took a ferry (made of 2 long boats attached with a platform between to the other side of the Mekong to visit the pottery village. The village across from Luang Prabang is called Ban Xieng Mean. I was surprised to find a tourist info office for the region (Chomphet) which was staffed by a young man who was very helpful and well informed. He told us how to get to the ceramics village as well as about some of the sights in the region and available treks.

Ban Xieng Mean
We headed up a dusty road towards Ban Chan and were relieved when it branched off to a smaller road with no cars. The air was hot and dripped with lethargy but was hypnotically peaceful with the sounds of birds, the buzz of cicadas, humming of bees and flashing of butterflies in the shady parts of the forest.

Alongside the path were tangles of bushes and vines. The forested parts were often burned leaving the area lacking shade. Beyond the jungle paths were vistas of rice paddies, fish ponds and wooden houses. Beyond, blue mountains spread into the distance, plumes of smoke rising to fill the momentarily pristine air.

Smoke from burning the fields fills the air
Sometimes a cool breeze teased us. Sometimes we'd see someone. A woman and her kid were chopping up palm branches and eagerly waved at us.

Cutting up palm leafs
We reached the village, first passing a brick structure with a pile of burning rice husks covering it. When we walked back through the husks had burned enough to reveal blackened pots underneath.

Firing using rice husks
I guess it was already hot for working since we didn't see anyone around making pots. Though there were pots-- large terracotta ones-- drying in the sun.

A boy came running out gesturing us to a demonstration wheel with a couple wooden seats next to it. The wheel was a hole dug in the ground with a spindle buried in it. The wheel was made of carved wood-- a half sphere with a flat surface on top. To make it run slightly evenly, the spindle needed to be wet. The boy threw a heavy rudimentary piece. Then Rowshan tried and produced a couple rather rough ugly pieces as well. The boy was turning the wheel and every now and then it would make a grating noise and suddenly bump up and down a bit making any smooth delicate work impossible. Meanwhile the kids of the town seemed to be arriving home from school. They gathered around and watched and laughed.

Young potter

Wooden pottery wheel

Kids returning from school
We walked around the village looking for adults working. We found one man shaving bamboo to make into baskets. He had a newly finished large pot near him but wasn't going to be working on clay since he had baskets to do.

A man shredding bamboo for baskets
Kids wandered around each holding a hand-full of sticky rice with pork sausage filling. We went back towards the boy's house where he said, a “Big Fire” was happening. There, his mother showed us the kiln. It was a huge covered pit with a door at the bottom, which led to an underground chamber. From above ground we could see pots deep below through the chimney.

A kid with sticky rice lunch
We walked down another path where the kids' school must be since more kids were walking down it. Then we saw a house with a large pot sitting on a wheel and a man wedging clay. He said he would be working again at 1. It was only 11:30. Nonetheless, he eventually sat down and with his wife turning the wheel and feeding him pieces of clay he threw a large coiled piece for us to see even though it was his lunch break. Rowshan arranged to learn to make a large piece on Monday.

A potter works on a pot while his wife turns the wheel

Making a large pot
In the afternoon we went up Mt. Phusi and looked at the city below. It is a beautiful city. Small but filled with trees. Wats glittered golden and the river curved through it. Mountains surround it. Martin said Luang Prabang is considered, “The most beautiful city in SE Asia.”

Rowshan and Tamia above Luang Prabang

Carved shutter in wat

Window of the wat
At the top of the hill is a gold stupa. Lower down are more stupas and a cave. There was also a “footprint of Buddha” - a vaguely foot shaped indentation in a rock painted gold.

Stupa on Phusi hill

Buddha footprint

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