Our brief history with Rice Whiskey–Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos

Somewhere in Northern Laos–The first experience I had with the stuff, was hardly into our first day. And it wasn’t optional. Our boat rested at the rickety wooden docks of a small village with huts that dotted the lush greenery of the Mekong riverbank.

A welcome committee to us Westerners, as we were allured into a restaurant with a sign advertising free whiskey, and a free shot given to us at dinner, and pretty much a free shot anytime the waiter passed our table. But no, scratch that, my first experience was our guest house at the moment of our arrival. We were basically forced to take a shot every time someone signed papers. I looked at a table surrounded by a bunch of smiles that said ‘get me outta here,’ and fake nods when she offered us more shots. It seemed innocuous. But after each of the six of us finished off an entire bottle with our host, our stomachs were burning and centers of gravity shifted. We decided to grab dinner to quell the burn, but couldn’t escape it, and I had the feeling that this ride had only just begun.

View of the Mekong River

I’m joking, free alcohol is never too bad of a thing, maybe dangerous, but in this case I appreciated the gesture, I just didn’t want it to get sloppy when we had another day of boat travel ahead. Nevertheless, it was the friendliest welcome, from the most unfriendly whiskey I have ever tasted.

Views from the Pak Ou Caves, Laos

A chorus of roosters broke the spell on the dawn of the following day, and we were off. The last leg of our journey to the idyllic Luang Prabang. Emerald waters flowed smoothly, and the Dutch backpackers decided to take the lead, and get plastered while we dozed off in the back of the boat to the sound of riverwater and paddling oars.

The days in Luang Prabang were fruitful, serene and site-driven, often with a bottle of rice whiskey in hand.  Draped in orange cloaks, the monks paced about with no need for hurry.

Relax, enjoy the aroma of french bread at dawn, and the lights and sounds of the night market at dusk as the Mekong river slowly slides by.

Downtown Luang Prabang

On our first night we discovered that a 750 ml bottle of the drink sells as low as $3 American.  Some drink journalists say that in Vientiane, the nation’s capitol, and in other, less touristic cities it is the cheapest hard liquor in the world.

Dare I say that we over did it, one of my buddies passed out on the front steps of our guest house. We slapped him a couple of times, and luckily he rallied. Somehow, someway and after some amount of time we ended up at the local bowling alley, putting up strikes, and beating Dutch backpackers in our Californian past time–it was their King’s Day too, so the victory was twice as sweet (I’m kidding guys, I swear). Afterwards, we decided to search for something a bit more clandestine and potent, and I’ll stop there. One of the few times a drink got the best of us.

The upper caves

This Whiskey calls for a specific ratio of Whiskey Coke mix to make it palatable. As most versions of the well are poured at a 3:2 or 3:1.5 even, Lao Lao (its street name) deserves a generous pouring of Coke at a 4:1.5 ratio. Or, if you and your coterie feel the need to put some hair on your chest, go ahead, take it straight, and tell them Mr. Cohiba recommends it. 😉

Con Amor,

Alexander Gittleman

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