The Luang Prabang Night Market
Did you know the Luang Prabang Night Market was inspired by a trip to Paris? It just so happens that many years ago a local man flew over to France for a holiday and fell in love with the handicraft markets he saw there. He felt that the concept would work well back in Luang Prabang so when he returned he asked the people in his village – Ban Pha Kham – whether they’d like to be part of a night market. He also spoke with the local authorities who were keen to support the idea… so in December 2002, the Luang Prabang Night Market was born.
Today the night market is the largest of its kind in Laos. It features more than 500 vendors selling their wares every night from 4.30pm – 10.30pm. Many of the villages from Ban Pha Kham continue to bring their handmade goods to the market each night…you’ll find their stalls at the entrance of the market outside the tourism office and down to Wat Mai. They’re now joined by villagers from Ban Choum Kong, who sell their products at the furthest end of the market.
What can you expect to find at the Luang Prabang Night Market? A lot of beautiful handmade products – from coffee bean soap bars, to traditional Lao textiles.
Some of our favourite items include soft panel books for kids featuring colourful animals that have been hand stitched…natural amplifiers made from bamboo which work as battery-free speakers for your iphone…and key rings made from bomb scrap metal.
You can also find a range of general souvenirs like t-shirts, elephant print dresses, fisherman’s pants, handbags, fridge magnets and sarongs.
If you’re wondering which products are made locally and which are imported, it’s not too hard to tell. The quality of the fabric and the detail of the stitching is always a good indicator. You can also look for the ‘Made in Luang Prabang’ stickers and signs.
Laodi is the first rum made in Laos by fermenting and distilling pure sugarcane juice. Brewed down in Vientiane, Laodi opened its first Luang Prabang stall at the night market in late 2016 and it is proving to be a hit with tourists…maybe that has something to do with the free tastings on offer each night! Rum flavours include plum, coconut, passionfruit, coffee and sugar cane…as well as the standard white and brown rum.
The market plays a vital role in the local economy. Many of the vendors head to the night market after working their day jobs. They are school teachers, government workers and shop keepers – and they rely on the market as a second income to help them make ends meet. There are also many university students who use the profits from the night market to help pay for their school fees.
Each stallholder pays a fee to the market operator dependent on the value of the products they sell. For example, if a vendor is selling high quality handmade textiles – they’ll pay more for their market stall than someone selling t-shirts. You might also be interested to know that vendors pay an extra fee for the electric bulbs that hang over their stall…the more brightly lit, the higher the rent.
Charlie and his wife have been selling goods at the night market for the past eight years. Two years ago he came up with an idea to create quirky purses featuring colourful animals with some words in English. He did a bunch of sketches and then his wife embroidered them onto fabric and sewed the wallets so they could sell them at the markets. The couple have two children and take turns at running the stall. It’s their only source of income.
“I am studying at university. When I have to stay back late for my classes I call my wife and she comes to the market with our daughters. When it’s the low season, sometimes we go home without any money so we have to be careful not to spend much”
Meet Ms Soumporn
She has one of the most colourful stalls at the market – selling beautiful paper umbrellas that her brother makes in Ban Pha Nom – and she’s been at the same spot since the market began back in 2002. Ms Soumporn sells 4-5 umbrellas per night and the money she earns from the market goes towards putting her children through school and buying food for her family.
“The paper used for the umbrellas is made here in Luang Prabang. The bamboo is from Xieng Khouang. My brother learnt the art of making umbrellas from a craftsman in Thailand”
Before the official night market was set up, Hmong women used to come from nearby villages to sell their embroidered goods in Luang Prabang. A small group of them used to sit near the tourism office, which is why the market is often referred to as the Hmong Handicraft Market. And long before that…the area was used as a place for locals to sell their fruit and vegetables as you can see from this photo.