Not only Roman’s cold, but now pouring rain is keeping us from the Angkor temples – another perfect day for catching up on the blog and researching our next stop: Vietnam.
Here’s a post on something that’s become a bit of an obsession for me: Sarongs!
Most people associate sarongs with flowy, light-weight beach wear – a quick google search shows the same tendency. http://hubpages.com/hub/How-to-Wrap-a-Sarong
This is not the sort of sarong I am talking about. My obsession is with the traditional cotton wrap skirt that we’ve encountered all through Asia.
My obsession started in Myanmar, where this type of clothing is called a longyi, and both women AND men where it, albeit in different styles. With a little encouragement from my friend Ohmar, I started to learn how it was worn, and even bought an inexpensive acrylic version from the market in Bahmo. I couldn’t stop worrying about my technique though and was constantly nervous that the skirt, secured only by my inexperienced wrapping and tucking, would fall down at any second. After a couple of self-conscious wearings, I gave up and shipped it home.
My mother loves to quilt and I love to shop for exotic materials for her while I’m here in Asia. A couple of months after Myanmar, I was with my friends Juelle and Donovan at the weekly market in Ban Krud when some gorgeous cotton material caught my eye. I picked up one purple and one orange bit for my mom, only to discover when I got back to the hotel that they’d already been sewn up: the ends of the rectangular material are sewn together to create a tube of cloth forming a longyi or, as it’s known in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, a sarong! Always eager to play dress up with local fashion, I couldn’t help myself – I tried one on and this time it stuck. My wrapping technique still wasn’t great but the material was too pretty to be ignored. I kept one for myself and felt like a tropical goddess wearing it around, despite my fears of coming unwrapped!
My second sarong/longyi purchase and the one that really started it all
This was the beginning of the obsession! The gorgeous colors and patterns draw me in; despite the fact that I am probably ending up with far more sarongs than I will every possibly need, still I have to pick up at least one in every country we visit. I’ve been practicing loads and am no longer scared of the skirt falling off while I’m walking around. (It does happen sometimes that it starts to get loose – then I just do like the locals and re-adjust and fasten where ever I happen to be.)
The sarong I picked up in Laos
Here in Cambodia, I bought an unfinished bit of material, and the friendly seamstress who sewed it up for me gave me some more pointers on how the locals work their wrap – check the photographic step by step guide below.
My latest purchase from Battambang, Cambodia
As much as I love the sarongs for comfort and fashion reasons, the best thing about them is quite possibly the reaction they get from locals. They’re beautiful and make great souvenirs in my opinion yet I never see other Westerners wearing them, and from folks’ reactions, neither do they. Walking around in one inevitably draws stares, smiles, laughter and friendly comments.
In Ko Lanta I got thumbs up from local women, in Kratie I got a kick out of the old man who, after I was pointed out to him by a friend, emphatically exclaimed “Oh my God!”. Here in Siem Reap, a friendly young woman in a store I was shopping with told me how she loves to wear sarongs at home even though her mother makes fun of her for it (while people almost exclusively wear them in Myanmar and lots of women in Laos wear them, it’s much less common to see sarongs here in Cambodia, especially in younger people and less rural areas), and said it made her very happy to see me in one.
How to wear a sarong – the southeast Asia way
I’m sure there is a more accurate/articulate way to explain this but hopefully it makes some sense. As with most things, I’m finding practice makes perfect!
The ends of the sarong material are sewn together to create a tube:
The sarongs I’ve bought are really long (and while I’m short, most Cambodian women we’ve met are even shorter!). I asked the seamstress if she could hem it for me but she said that’s not done. Instead, you can adjust the sarong by folding the top of the material until it’s at your desired length.
Pull the sarong strongly to one side. Hold the material to your hip to create a crease, pulling the extra material strongly away from your body.
Keeping the material secure at your hip with your hand, fold and wrap the extra material tightly around the front of your legs.
Pull the top corner of the extra cloth out and up, against the inner layer of cloth.
Tuck the upper corner of the outer cloth into the skirt. This is usually where locals stop; I like to tuck down the edges of the skirt for extra security!
The finished product! Typically the women I’ve seen wear the sarong with their shirt tucked into it, as in the photo.