Snapshot Tour of Laos and Thailand 
       Tribal Textiles of Southeast Asia
Contemporary Lao Brocades

A great number of different ethnic groups form the populations of Thailand and Laos. Tai-Kadai speaking peoples moved southward from China over the centuries, and now form majorities in both Thailand and Laos.  This group includes the Lue, Phuan, Phu Tai, Tai Dam, Tai Daeng, Tai Kao, Lanna and Yuan peoples. In the northern highlands of each country are found groups of Tibeto-Burman speakers, including the Akha, Lahu, Lisu, Hani and Lolo.  Sino-Tibetan speakers are still more recent settlers, and include the Hmong and Yao. These groups have tended to live in isolated mountainous areas and  have thus maintained many unique characteristics in their cultures and textile traditions.  On this page a few random snapshots feature individuals from these groups.  


Hmong villagers at a Luang Prabang festival. Laos.
Wat Phrasingh. Chiang Mai, Thailand. 
River dragons,  naga (or nak, or ngueak) are central figures in Lao mythology and appear  frequently in Lao-Tai textiles.  These creatures are said to live in water, and dig tunnels under cities and mountains, protecting people and bringing the rains.  This is a potent symbol in both the Buddhist and animist religions of Laos and Thailand. In this photo, dragons guard the entrance to a Thai temple; smaller versions  perch on the roof.  Notice the multiple-headed dragon in the midst of festivities in the photo above as well.
Karen woman,  Northwest Thailand.  Karen tribes live on both sides of the Thailand/ Burmese border. Akha women and children in Northern Thailand.  Akha tribal groups are spread through northern Thailand, and also Burma. There are groups as well in Laos, Vietnam and China.

Rice cultivation is a way of life throughout Southeast Asia-- including Thailand and Laos. Pho Karen man from Northwestern Thailand.
Lao Loum weaver working at a floor loom with a vertical heddle system for storing pattern shed rods. This is for brocade weaving-- especially  continuous supplementary weft weave (khit).  (Vienkham Nanthavongdouangsy, "Lao Weaving and Natural Dyeing Techniques," Legends in the Weaving, Khon Kaen, 2001.) Mien Yao children in Northern Thailand. Yao tribal groups are distributed across southwestern China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.
Hmong villagers in Northern Laos.  Until the Communist take-over of Laos in 1975, the mountains  of northern Laos were populated mainly by the Hmong and Mien Yao.  Many of these people fled at that time to temporary refugee camps in Thailand,  then migrated to the US and other Western countries.  Woman from Northern Thailand.

Iko woman in Northern Laos. River taxis on the Mekong River.  Laos.

A woman tying matmi (weft ikat) patterns on silk yarns tensioned on a lakmee frame. Khon Kaen Province in Northeast Thailand. These will be the weft yarns,  probably for a tubular skirt. The yarns are bound with banana tree twine or nylon cord where the dye is to be resisted. Then after dyeing, additional pattern parts can be tied and the yarns redyed.  (Susan Conway, Thai Textiles, London, 1992. )

Lao Loum woman at her loom, tying on the individual threads of a new warp.  (Vienkham Nanthavongdouangsy, "Lao Weaving and Natural Dyeing Techniques," Legends in the Weaving, Khon Kaen, 2001.) Mien Yao Woman with her embroidery. Northern Thailand.  Pants, turbans, sashes, long coats and children's hats are worked in intricate weave stitch, grid stitch and cross stitch.
Black Hmong villagers in the Sam Neua area of Houa Phan Province in Northeastern Laos. Young Hmong girl in Northern Thailand.

Lisor man in Northern Thailand.
Novice at Wat Sri Chum, Sukhothai, Thailand.
Young Thai girls.  Their costumes include traditional tube skirts and folded shoulder cloths. Wat Xieng Thong. Luang Prabang, Laos.

Sgaw Karen woman attaching seeds to an embroidered blouse. Western Thailand.  (Paul and Elaine Lewis, Peoples of the Golden Triangle, London, 1984.)
Sgaw Karen woman weaving with a backstrap loom. Western Thailand. She is wearing the typical loosely fitting tunic/blouse embellished with Job's Tears seeds. (Paul and Elaine Lewis, Peoples of the Golden Triangle, London, 1984.)

Iko woman and children in Northern Laos.

LEFT:  A Thai farmer and her buffalo.
Akha hilltribe women in Northern Thailand. Hmong method of pressing cloth prior to drawing batik patterns.  This woman has placed her cloth between a flat stone and a log;  then she rocks back and forth on the stone!  (Kiyoko Yasui, "Blue Hmong Skirts," Legends in the Weaving, Khon Kaen, 2001.)

Kayor girl.  Mae Hong Son,  Northwest Thailand.

RIGHT:  Lao fisherman.

Pho Karen girls. Chiang Mai, Thailand.

RIGHT:  Villagers in Northern Laos.
Phramahathat Srinakarin. Chiangrai, Thailand. Young hilltribe children in Northern Thailand.

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Marla meets her match!  A Chiang Mai dragon at Wat Chedi Luang.