Refined for seven centuries in the courts of Luang Prabang, the classical arts of Laos almost died out in the 20th century, but have seen a spectacular revival in the past couple of decades.
Masked dance dramas, performed by extravagantly costumed dancers with orchestras of traditional instruments, were the principal form of entertainment for Lao royalty. Episodes from the Ramayana provided the subject matter for the plays, which used to run over several consecutive nights. Today, you can enjoy more manageable, truncated versions at shows by the Royal Ballet of Laos, staged in the grounds of the former palace.
Culture shows around the town also frequently feature local ‘Mor Lam’ music. This traditional folk form, popular at religious festivals and weddings, revolves around songs accompanied on the khène, a bamboo mouth organ, with percussion, xylophones and fiddle.
The costumes worn by Mor Lam singers usually reflect their ethnic origins. Each minority in Laos has its own distinct styles of dress, though some – such as Flower H’mong, Lao-Tai and Akha – have elevated weaving and costume to a high art form.
You can sample fine examples of local garments at boutiques and exhibitions around Luang Prabang. Two of our favourites are Ock Pop Tok, on the main street, and Passa Paa on Sakkarine Road. The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre also hosts some wonderful exhibitions of minority clothing, domestic objects and ritual art. Performing arts, crafts and minority cultures provide the focus for much of our on-the-ground research, and our consultants have plenty more tips to enrich your own journey.