The Lao tribe from the Dien Bien province originated in Laos. Their indigenous language sounds similar to Laotian with subtle differences. In the past, the Lao grew cotton and indigo to weave and dye the fabric used to make their clothing. Today, they buy the fabric, but elders in the village still weave and embroider their decorative brocade by hand. Younger generations prefer to buy costumes from Laos, which they wear for celebrations, rather than following the traditional methods of their mothers and grandmothers. I was amazed by the number of women in the village who were over 100 years old and still healthy, especially considering the fact that they smoke pipes regularly. I even met one woman who was 109!
Lo Thi Banh, 94 years old, was my favorite subject, laughing at the novelty of being photographed as she smoked. Like other women of her generation, she wore small, silver earrings to stretch her ears. This village seems to be the last one where costumes are still made in the Lao fashion. Lao in other regions typically wear costumes made by the Lu tribe. Until I found this village I thought the Lao didn’t have a distinct ethnic dress and was happily surprised to find that it was different from the others I’d previously visited.