Ban plastic straws, great initiative right ? At ORLA Tours, we are convinced of this and we are not alone. More and more bars and restaurants in Luang Prabang have said goodbye to this polluting object. But for this to be truly effective, alternatives must be offered. And this is precisely the purpose of this article: bamboo straws. To talk about this subject, we met Singthong, the founder of Luang Prabang Bio Bamboo. This place is both a restaurant and a workshop where biodegradable and reusable bamboo tableware is produced. Are you interested? In this article, we tell you everything about this unique place and the making of straws. Enjoy the reading !
Hello Singthong, how did you come up with this idea of producing bamboo straws ?
I have been a guide in Laos since 1999. I have accompanied tourists from across the country for many years. During these expeditions, I saw with sadness that plastic polluted the whole territory. It must be said that before plastic, local people mainly used banana leaves as packaging and used to throw them in the wild. At that time, it was biodegradable so it had no impact on the environment, with plastic it's all different. Even if that grieved me, I didn't really have an answer to offer.
In 2002, a friend from Singapore visited me. We went to see my parents and help them with the harvest of the rice.
It was very hot that day and when we got back home, my father offered my friend a coconut with plastic cups. But he asked for a straw instead.
That's when my grandma gave him a bamboostraw. This is how I started this adventure.
How was this idea welcomed ?
In 2002, the locals were not very receptive to the subject. It must be said that the problem of plastic in Laos was not really an actual thing. And, at the time, finding alternatives was not a necessity. So I left the idea aside for the moment.
In 2017, with my wife, we were walking in the forest to find mushrooms for the restaurant. Then, we realized that there was the perfect bamboo specie for making straws right next to us. It didn't take more for the idea to re-emerge. I also said to myself, if I cannot convince others, I will start by doing it for myself and for my family.
Some time later, we gave it a try by offering the idea on facebook. We then received hundreds of positive comments. Restaurants, hotels, tourist agencies, all showed great interest. This is how the adventure began.
So, in details, how do you make a bamboo straw ?
It's simple, you just have to follow the 7 steps below :
1- Harvest the right bamboo, of the right specie, not too young or too old (around 2.5 years old). Note that the one used for straws only lives 3-4 years.
2- Cut to the right size. This step must be done with a hand saw, otherwise there is a risk of damaging the product.
3- Put it in boiling water for 6-7 hours to remove the sap.
4- Leave it to dry for 1 to 3 days.
5- Sand the outside of the straw as well as the ends.
6- Clean the interior with a homemade bamboo brush.
7- Wash again with hot water. All you have to do is let it dry and it's ready !
Currently, an skilled worker can produce 50 to 100 units per day. It is therefore still a very artisanal method. But be aware that a straw can be used 1 to 2 years if it is well maintained. To wash it? Nothing easier. Just let it soak in boiling water.
Today, Bio Bamboo combines restaurant and workshop. How is it going ?
We opened in September 2019, so it's very recent. My wish was to show all the possibilities of bamboo while offering traditional cuisine of my ethnic group, the Tay Lue. Our restaurant therefore serves typical recipes, such as Orlarm, a broth simmered in a piece of bamboo, as well as boiled fish or mashed banana flower. Pretty appetizing isn't it? All our dishes are served in tableware that we have produced on site. Bowls, plates, glasses, spoons, everything is homemade from bamboo.
In parallel, we produce our straws in the workshop to sell it. We offer our customers to discover how they are made as well as the spoons. Laotians and tourists who come to Bio Bamboo see all the possibilities of bamboo: for dishes, for cooking, but also for architecture.
We would like to thank Singthong for the time he has given us. But also and above all for his wish to promote a more ecological way of life. Do not hesitate to contact him (facebook page) to provide you with straws and other bamboo tableware. We can only recommend you to taste its traditional Laotian countryside cuisine. Interested in traveling to Laos ? Contact us to organize your adventure! See you soon.