I mentioned earlier that we stopped at a “whiskey village” on our way to Pak Ou cave. The stuff they make there is called “lao lao.” It is basically a 100 proof sticky rice-based moonshine, and the drink of choice in rural Laos. Having tried a sample once at the Night Market in Luang Prabang and had a few cocktails with it at the Lao Lao Garden bar, I can tell you that this stuff is not messing around. We got to see it being made, more or less, though no one around spoke enough English to actually explain the process. Somehow it involves big rusty barrels dripping hot alcohol into clay urns.
They sell this stuff to tourists for just a dollar or two per bottle, and usually the bottles, as show above, have preserved snakes or scorpions in them. But this isn’t some tourist novelty. This is actually what people in the poorest villages of Laos drink. Why? Because it’s cheap. The average Lao farmer still makes about US$1 per day. Not nearly enough to afford even discount domestic beer like Beerlao. But they can afford to buy or make enough lao lao to get drunk with regularity. Of course, drunk straight the stuff is deadly dangerous is anything but the smallest quantities, not to mention it tastes horrible. But even in the biggest cities of Laos there isn’t much for residents to do for fun besides sit around and drink beer (an attitude infectious among the expats I met there). Imagine how boring life gets in a hill village miles from anything?