The Fascinating Case of Bottled Critters in Laos-Snake Wine

polkajunction laos

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 of a varied culture.Honestly,I find this cruelty to any form of living being-unethical.


Travelling 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.

Family temple of snakes
The inside pics of the family temple dedicated to Snakes!
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!

Buddha at Golden Triangle
Golden Buddha

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 majestic Mekong river
The majestic Mekong river
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!

Golden Buddha
Golden Buddha on a boat-shaped pedestal-       Thailand

 

Long tailed boats
Long-tailed ferries are a common sight

 

Casino
Casino on the Laos land
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. Maybe a reason for the very sparse crowd though being a tourist place.

 

Laos kids
Splash,splash,splash…
Laos kids
Age of innocence

 

Laos
Officially, in Laos!

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…

 

snake wine
Rows and rows of bottled critters

 

Snake wine
Can you see a scorpion and a snake inside?

I knew that Rice wine is a speciality 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 Wine
Snake wine
A speciality of Laos
Bottled critters

Snake whiskey as it is labelled on the bottles is indeed a speciality 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.

Ready for a whiskey shot?

The villagers have cleverly draped red pieces of cloth on the display benches which made these creepy bottles look colourful. 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.

Self with a snake wine bottle
No, I did not buy this!
Cheese…

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.

Buddha
Moment of fame @ Golden triangle

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 😀

Decor
Wooden artefacts

 

Harem pants
Colourful Harem pants

 

Jewellery
This and That

 

Post Box
Your comments are welcome 🙂

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 travelling 🙂

 

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21 Comments

  1. Oh my goodness snakey whiskey, I heard it before but you actually saw it. Going for a boat ride without a passport looks sometimes uncomfortable but as it is a rule then we have to follow it. It is good that the villagers of Thailand did not allow casinos on the banks due to the influence of Buddhism. I have seen snake oil in the same type of bottles which people apply on their head for better hair growth but never knew that people drink it in an infused rice whiskey. It is good you out the special disclaimer at the top about not promoting animal cruelty.

  2. Oh My Goodness! This looks out of the world. I would never imagine having something as different as Snake Wine. Those bottles dont look appealing either! And rice wine with snake blood. This was definitely an enlightening experience for you.

  3. This was such a fascinating post! I truly appreciate the details and relevant information – like the scary fact you have to leave your passport with the authorities before boarding the boat (I’m not sure I’d have been able to do it)! But even more intriguing are these critter wines…such an interesting concept I’d love to see in person!

  4. amar singh says:

    I love Thailand and have travelled several times but not come across something so unusual and creepy. The exciting trip you had surely paid off with the unique experience and did you shop anything else like the other more realistic souvenirs. I would never be able to try those drinks with the creatures in them. the snake wine sounds very unique and one which I might just give a try for the experience and say done it. thanks for sharing a very different post

  5. Coming from Thailand and also been to Cambodia and Laos, I have seen the snake wine before. I have never taste them and never will although I love trying new stuff when traveling. For me, this is just soo wrong.

  6. A very insightful post by all means. I love all the details about snake “poison” you shared, although I’m never gonna try this. I also liked your journey through the buddhist landmarks and the boat tour

  7. WOW! What a fascinating article. I have never heard of this, and I known without a doubt that I would not taste it!

  8. This is frightening. They look so scary..I am in now way tempted to taste the snake wine regardless of the health benefits. Cool trip to the three countries, though!!

  9. Snake wine..eewww.. it reminds me of fried insect which i saw in pattaya and Phuket. Being vegetarian it was a cultural shock for me .

  10. That is very unique experience. Not sure either if I would have tried it. But I am always curious about the history behind such unusual traditions.

  11. I cant imagine the things they do in Vietnam, Laos or Thailand. Gives me a shudder ..

    1. Haha..yes, it does.But then , I guess it is all about adaptability and survival, ji !

  12. What a unique rice wine. I have heard of worm in tequila and grass in russion vodka, but snakes and critters is taking it to another level.

    1. Haha..indeed! It was too quirky to even try 🙂

  13. wow. Reading about the snake wine, m really Thinking if I would have tasted it. The adventurous me says I would have tasted for fun, while the other part of me says I might not have cuz it looks gross. yewww! But, I must say, the post speaks how much fun you had. Cheers!

  14. Ewwww…but yes the venom is being used in medicines to cure many ailments. However, looking at them makes me feel sick. Thanks for sharing the experience.

  15. Anchal says:

    Thanks for this virtual trip. The place is amazing.

  16. I have been on this tour – I remembered the sweltering heat and the snake wine 🙂 Also, I remembered this trip so vividly because I had food poisoning that day either from something I ate in Chiang Rai or the lunch buffet at the border 🙁

    1. Meenakshi J says:

      Oh Gosh! It is indeed frightening to fall sick while travelling.I remember a colleague of mine who was down with food poisoning after he gorged on the street food in Bangkok!

  17. Meenakshi J says:

    Thanks a ton for dropping in Shaalu and for the feedback too…Have enlarged the pics now! 🙂

  18. Yeeeks!!! I would have fainted at the sight of these unique bottled wines! :/
    But wow! What an exciting day you had! 3 countries, that too without a passport! 🙂 So much fun!
    P.S: Why don’t you enlarge the pics a bit? It would look so much better!

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