The Fascinating Case of Bottled Critters in Laos-Snake Wine
Disclaimer: I am not promoting the usage of Alcohol/Snake Wine or its consumption in any form through this post. This is just an account of my off-beat experience and an experience of a varied culture.
Traveling and exploring new places is a way of life for our family and I enjoy it immensely. It has helped me to break barriers of prejudice, embrace varied cultures, learn local recipes, make new friends and above all – made me realize that Change and New learnings are the only constants in Life.
My recent trip to Thailand and Laos was indeed a great erudition. Thailand is like India in many ways, yet, very different.Will elaborate on the ‘erudition’ part some other time as we are quickly moving on to the curious case of bottled critters!
Well, Snakes have been an integral part of our dwellings amidst thick vegetation, inside Military campuses.There has never been a posting in which these guests have not glided their way into my home – uninvited. So much so, that I consider their visit very auspicious. Coincidentally, the snake is our family deity and like millions of Indians, we too worship them. Thus, I can say that – Snakes and I, go a long way.
The Golden Triangle
On one of the day tours from Chiang Mai, Thailand, we visited the Golden Triangle located nearby to Chiang Saen city in the Chiang Rai province.It actually is the border area at the intersection point of three countries- Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, lying along the banks of the Mekong river. This Triangle of South East Asia is famous for its illegal opium trade(unfortunately). However, this is no deterrence to not opt for a day tour.In fact, it is a beautiful place to take a boat ride across the river. The majestic golden statue of Buddha welcomes the visitors to this area on the Thailand side while the verdant mountains, the bountiful farmlands, and the wide stretched Mekong look picturesque. Looks postcard perfect on a pleasant day!
With the advent of the monsoons, the river was gushing and gurgling due to high undercurrents. We quickly purchased our tickets for the boat ride as we were given just 90 mins to roam around in Laos and get back to the Thailand side of the triangle. Did I tell you, that one has to deposit their passport to the authorities in Thailand before embarking on this boat ride? Well, Yes, and I was damn tensed about it!
The Ride Begins
Firstly, we were taken to the Myanmar area that had a casino on its bank.Then after, quickly taking a detour, we started moving towards Laos which too had a casino on its shore. I enquired one of the locals as to why Thailand did not have a casino on its banks and was told that the villagers of this area resisted and did not approve the presence of one as they strictly followed Buddhism.Impressive!
In Laos without Visa
The only sights that welcomed us as we set foot on Laos soil were that of the village kids forcing the visitors to part with some eatables! Not an unfamiliar scene in parts of Asia, still, heart-wrenching! It was almost noon when we reached here and was sweltering hot. May be a reason for the very sparse crowd though being a tourist place.
The market was a small-one selling bags, wooden toys and décor, trinkets and other usual stuff. Nothing that was being sold seemed unique after having been to the Night Bazar of Chiang Mai.Until I went near a shop selling bottles of something. My eyes popped out upon seeing rows and rows of snakes, scorpions and other creatures bottled up. The shopkeeper informed us that the bottles were of Rice wine. However, the labels read that these were Snake whiskey! Eeekss…
I knew that Rice wine is a specialty of South East Asian Countries and is made out of fermenting the sticky rice. North-East India and a couple of other states do have their own varieties of Rice wine, but I had never seen anything like this before. I got to know that the fermented rice wine is infused with the dead critters like snakes scorpions and some herbs and then allowed to ferment further.The venom of these creatures being protein –based, get inactivated by the ethanol, thanks to months of fermentation procedure and render the creatures safe for consumption. This is a steeped variety of Snake wine. Was also briefed about a variety of Rice wine in which the snake blood is consumed!
Snake whiskey as it is labeled on the bottles is indeed a specialty and supposedly a medicine to treat ailments like lumbago. But then, I heard varied versions of its usage ranging from being used for boosting the male virility to treating rheumatism. I could sense a lot of Chinese influence in these regions as traditional Chinese medicine too, advocates the usage of Snake wine.
The villagers have cleverly draped red pieces of cloth on the display benches which made these creepy bottles look colorful. If interested, the shopkeepers were willing to offer a small quantity of the whiskey to tourists to taste. Being a teetotaller and for religious reasons, I did not try.However, other Western tourists did taste the Snake wine and I could see them with all sorts of facial expression.
After this off-beat experience, I wanted to venture further into the village but then the group members were more interested in shopping and then, it was time to hop on the boat and sail across the Mekong to Thailand. Also, as we were walking towards the jetty to embark on our boat ride, a person had clicked our snaps. At first, I thought he was doing it to keep a tab on the visitors for security reasons, but by the end of the tour, the same guy was actually selling our snaps to us!! I found the rates exorbitant and did not opt for the photos.
My next move was to the ‘7 eleven’ store to buy something to munch, as it was a long drive back to the hotel room. But, not before taking back my passport.After all, I had to get back to India and then globe-trot some more! Wondering what the group bought after all that shopping, well, by default -Nothing 😀
So, have you tasted the Snake wine or have you had such an off-beat experience? Do share it with me here in the comments or drop it in the Red post box….And if ever, you taste the Snake wine, demand a bravery badge from me…..Till then keep traveling 🙂