The only souvenir that I was bound and determined to bring home from Thailand and Lao was some of the area's legendary handmade paper. Not for me, mind you, but for my mom. She is a very talented bookmaker, binding stunning books of various original design by hand, all crafted from exquisite papers she collects on her travels. So I was on a mission. At the earliest opportunity on the very first day I arrived in Thailand, I started my hunt. I knew I wouldn't have time to visit the local paper-making village on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, so the city's night market was going to be my best bet. I dragged my new-found friend Jessica to every potential stall, alley and shop, and after several hours of hunting and pecking, I found a wonderful little store buried in the maze of an indoor mall that carried a dazzling array of Sa (Mulberry) paper. Here's a little history from a leaflet I grabbed with my purchase:
Over 600 years ago in the mountains of Burma, the Karen Hill Tribe people found a remarkable bark that naturally peeled from the trunk of this tall broad-leafed tree at the end of every rainy season. So began the craft of making natural paper without destroying or cutting down the trees. The Karen villagers called this the "Sa" tree (Mulberry tree). For the last hundred years, paper-makers have been practicing their craft in the neighboring mountains of Northern Thailand. They still use natural dyes and lay their paper in the sun to dry, as did their ancestors centuries ago.
Well-stocked with Sa paper, I was a happy girl. But my paper journey was not quite over. To my delight, we had an opportunity to visit a paper-making village once we got to Lao. It was a blip on the radar outside of Luang Prabang, but we got to see the Sa paper being made (many thanks to my fellow travelers for indulging my whims for this side trip). While in that village, I added to my mom's souvenir collection with papers also made from banana leaves, corn and elephant dung. I hope she likes her collection - I sure had a great time finding it for her!