Ban Xang Hai - the Whisky Village outside of Luang Prabang
The Whisky Village in Luang Prabang
Ban Xang Hai, commonly referred to as the “Whisky Village” sits about 30km north of Luang Prabang, and is a ubiquitous stop on any tour to the famous Pak Ou Caves. A visit to the village includes free shots of strong Lao whisky, the chance to buy lots of traditional handicrafts, and a short stop to explore the village. While the Whisky Village is a part of every trip to Pak Ou Caves, is it a worthwhile excursion? Is it worth it to visit the Whisky Village in Luang Prabang? Is the lao-lao rice whisky any good? Read on!
Learn more: What is Lao-lao? >>http://acoupleofdestinations.com/blog/lao-lao-whisky
Tasting and buying lao-lao at the Whisky Village
The boat departed from Luang Prabang at 9:00 in the morning, on the way to the sacred Pak Ou Caves. A ninety-minute journey along the slow-moving Mekong River brought us to Ban Xang Hai, the famous Whisky Village. While disembarking from the narrow longboat, hardly before stepping off of the rickety wooden plank that led to the village, a local man shoved a glass of red rice wine into our hands.
“Free whisky! Try it for free!” he encouraged us to give it a taste.
I took a sip of the dark red drink. It was surprisingly smooth and a bit sweet.
“It’s good”, I told him honestly.
“Only 15,000 kip! Now, try the white one.”
The old man handed me a thimble-sized glass of a clear white liquid. The Spanish guy next to me raised his glass, and we clinked them together. I took a sip.
I felt like I had been punched in the nose, and from the looks of things, so did my new Spanish drinking buddy.
“Wow.” was all he said.
“That’s the strong one” the old man looked proud of his product, and laughed as tears welled up in my eyes. “50% alcohol.”
The strong one… no kidding!
There’s no pressure to buy any of the whisky, although you have plenty of oprotunities to do so at the Whisky Village. A small bottle of the 15% rice wine or the 100-proof Lao moonshine will only set you back 15,000 to 30,000 kip. It’s incredibly cheap if you are brave enough!
If you are even braver, why not try a bottle of local “snake wine”?
Snake wine (really snake whisky) is made from preserving cobras, scorpions, spiders, and herbs inside small bottles of super strong whisky. Though the drink is a traditional health and energy drink, it’s now sold almost exclusively to tourists as a souvenir. I don’t necessarily recommend drinking it. The practice could be considered cruel and unethical, and who knows how safe it is to drink. Still, it’s a shocking souvenir to give to a friend back home.
How is rice whisky made?
The rice whisky, or lao-lao, for which the village is so well-known is made by first fermenting khao neaw (sticky rice) in large earthenware urns. As you walk through the village, you can see lots of rice being fermented at local workshops.
After the rice has been fermented into a rice wine, it’s then distilled in a large metal still, much like moonshine. While lao-lao has been produced this way for hundreds of years, I caution you to drink it at your own risk. There is no health standard or government organization that oversees the production of this alcohol.
The tour to Pak Ou Caves includes a stop at the Whisky Village. The stop is usually short, 20 or 30 minutes. It’s enough time to explore the tiny village, which makes more than just whisky. If you are lucky, you might even see a local woman weaving silk in the traditional way. A number of other handicrafts besides whisky are available for sale at local souvenir stalls if you want to help support the village.
How to get to the Whisky Village in Luang Prabang
The best way to reach the Whisky Village is by boat. It takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours to reach the Whisky Village from Luang Prabang. As the Whisky Village is always a stop on the Pak Ou Cave tour, combining both into one visit is the best way to see the village.
Is it worth it to visit the Whisky Village?
On its own? Maybe not. The village is interesting enough, if only to learn a little bit about traditional alcohol production, but the twenty minute stop on the Pak Ou Cave tour is plenty of time to see the entire village. Since it takes nearly two hours to reach by river, it’s not really worth it to visit the Whisky Village on its own.
As a part of the Pak Ou Cave tour? Absolutely! It’s an interesting diversion and a cool look at local life and traditional industry along the river.
Learn more: Pak Ou Caves in Luang Prabang (located just outside of the Whisky Village) >>http://acoupleofdestinations.com/blog/pak-ou-cave-luang-prabang