01/11/2015 10:27 GMT+7 Email Print Like 0

Making Saa Paper in Luang Prabang

When visiting Laos, the night market in the old quarter of Luang Prabang is an ideal place for tourists to choose presents for their family and friends. Among numerous colourful crafted souvenirs made from various materials such as silver or silk, those made from humble Saa paper can still win a tourist’s favour.
Saa paper can be used to make name cards, postcards, photo albums, calendars, lampshades and traditional pictures. This kind of paper is thick and rough but very light and porous. The paper’s textured finish is distinctive with the paper’s fibre disorderly intermingling with each other like cobwebs.

A shop selling souvenirs made from Saa paper in Luang Prabang (Laos). Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Colourful picture storage tubes made from Saa paper. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Lao traditional pictures drawn on Saa paper. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

A wide range of products are made from Saa paper to meet tourists’ demands. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Saa paper feels rough but light and porous. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Lao traditional pictures on Saa paper. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Drawing pictures on Saa paper at Luang Prabang’s night market. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Souvenirs made from Saa paper are sold at Xangkhongposa Village. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

With the guidance of local shop keepers, we arrived at Xangkhongposa Village, which is famous for making traditional Saa paper and is also a popular handicraft tourism destination in Luang Prabang. We came to discover the procedure of making Saa paper at a paper making workshop which also serves as a souvenir shop.

The main ingredient to make Saa paper is the bark of mulberry trees (known locally as “Saa”). The harvested stalks are cut into short sticks, dew-retted, soaked and steamed to extract the strips of the inner bark. Then, these strips are drenched in an alkaline solution before being beaten into pulp with stone mortars and kneaded into balls.

Afterwards, a pulp ball is dissolved inside a wooden frame with a fine silk screen on one side called deckle, which is placed in a pool of water. The maker gently swirls the pulp around to make it scatter evenly and then lifts the deckle to make the water drain off, leaving a thin layer of matted fibres on the screen. This process is repeated until the layer of paper reaches the desired thickness. The frame is then set in the sun to dry out, and finally, the completed sheet of paper is peeled out of the frame. Because the paper is dried with the frame, a huge number of frames are needed to produce Saa paper.

Mulberry tree provides the ingredient for making Saa paper. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

The bark of mulberry tree is sun dried to make paper. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

A stone mortar and pestle are used to beat the bark of mulberry trees into pulp for Saa paper making.
Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Putting leaves on the frame to create patterns for the sheet of paper. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Swirling to make the pulp scatter evenly on the frame when making Saa paper. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Each sheet of Saa paper is dried with a separate frame. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Xangkhongposa villagers produce boxes from traditional Saa paper. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Nowadays, to meet tourists’ high demand, Xangkhongposa villagers add natural dyes to the pulp during production to create colourful sheets of paper. Saa paper is not only used to write or draw on but is also made into a wide range of products. It is the creativity that makes traditional Saa paper made from mulberry a key attraction for visitors to Luang Prabang. 

Saa paper, which has a history of thousands of years, is used not only to write on but also to make unique souvenirs for visitors to the present day Kingdom of Lan Xang (A Millions Elephants).

By Viet Cuong