Snake Wine of Laos : Up close with bottled critters in alcohol

Of course, not snake wine, but snakes have definitely been an integral part of our dwellings amidst thick vegetation, inside military campuses. There has never been a posting of ours in which the snakes have not glided their way into my home – uninvited. So much so, that I consider their visit very auspicious of late.

Coincidentally, the snake is also our family deity and like millions of Indians, we too worship them. Thus, I can say that – Snakes and I, go a long way.

My recent trip to Thailand and subsequently to Laos was indeed a great erudition. Thailand is like India in many ways, yet,  very different. I shall elaborate on the ‘erudition’ part some other time, but for now, let us quickly move on to the curious case of bottled critters aka snake wine.

Note
I am not promoting the usage of alcohol/snake wine or its consumption in any form through this post. This write-up is just an account of my off-beat experience of varied cultures. Although we may find it unethical it’s part of their culture, and we as responsible travellers need to respect that.
Our family temple dedicated to snakes
Our family temple dedicated to snakes

No, I didn’t go on a quest for snake wine…

Travelling and exploring new places is a way of life for our family and I enjoy it immensely. It has helped us break barriers of prejudice, embrace varied cultures, learn local recipes, make new friends and above all – personally, made me realize that change and new learnings are the only constants in life.

On one such travel exploration from Chiang Mai, Thailand, got to visit the Golden Triangle located nearby to Chiang Saen city in the Chiang Rai province. Of course, not in such of snake wine for sure.

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

What is the Golden Triangle?

Golden triangle is a piece of land lying along the banks of the Mekong River and located at the intersection point of three countries- Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.

The Golden Triangle of south-east Asia is infamous for its illegal opium trade(unfortunately). However, this is no deterrence to not opt for a day tour of this place.

In fact,  it is a beautiful destination to take a boat ride across the river. The majestic golden statue of  Buddha welcomes visitors to this area on the Thailand side, while verdant mountains, bountiful farmlands, and a wide-stretched River Mekong look picturesque.

The landscape looks postcard-perfect on a clear, sunny day!

Buddha at Golden Triangle
Buddha at Golden Triangle

Still no sign of the snake wine

With the advent of monsoons, the river was gushing and gurgling due to high undercurrents on the day of our visit to Chiang Rai.

We quickly purchased our tickets for the boat ride on the Thailand side of the golden triangle. And, were instructed that we could spend just 90 mins to roam around in Laos upon deboarding and get back to the Thailand side of the triangle post that.

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 doing it. But do not fret. They do keep the passports safe.

The majestic Mekong river

On a boat ride to Laos

Firstly, on our boat ride, 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!

Long tailed boats
Long-tailed ferries are a common sight

 

Casino
Casino on the Laos land

In Laos without a visa

The only sights that welcomed us as we had set foot on Laos soil were that of the village kids forcing visitors to part with some eatables.

Not an unfamiliar scene in many parts of Asia, still, heart-wrenching!

It was almost noon when we reached Laos and it was sweltering hot. Maybe a reason for the very sparse crowd, in spite of it being a tourist place.

Laos kids
Splash,splash,splash…
Laos kids
Age of innocence
Laos
Officially, in Laos!

Finding snake wines at Laos market

The Laos market on the banks of the River Mekong was a small-one selling bags, wooden toys and décor, trinkets, and other usual stuff. Nothing that was being sold in Laos seemed unique after having been to the Night Bazar of Chiang Mai until I went nearer to a shop selling bottles of something.

However, my eyes popped out upon seeing rows and rows of snakes, scorpions and other creatures bottled up. The shopkeeper informed us that they were rice wine and alcohol with the snake in bottles. However, the labels read that these were snake whiskey and snake wine! eeks…

Wooden artefacts in Laos market
Wooden artefacts in the Laos market

 

snake wine bottles
Rows and rows of bottled critters

What is the snake wine all about?

In simple terms, the snake wine has snakes seeped in alcohol or wine bottles. However, when we deliberate a little on the process of making snake rice wine, it ain’t so simple.

The process of making snake wine involves infusing fermented rice wine or alcohol with dead critters, like snakes and scorpions, along with some herbs and then allowing it to ferment further.

After undergoing many months of this fermentation procedure, the venom of these snakes and scorpions being protein-based gets inactivated by the ethanol in rice wine, thus rendering these creatures safe for consumption. This is now termed a steeped variety of Snake wine.

Snake blood wine…

We were also briefed at the market about a variety of rice wine in which the snake blood is consumed!

Of course, I knew that rice wine is a speciality of south-east Asian countries and is made by fermenting sticky rice. Also, states of North-east India and a couple of other Indians states do have their own varieties of rice wine, but I had never seen anything like the snake wine before.

Because snakes are sacred for us Indians!

Scorpions and snakes inside the snake wine bottles
Can you see scorpions and snakes inside the snake wine bottles?

Benefits of snake wine and snake whiskey

Snake whiskey as labelled on these alcohol bottles with snakes in them is indeed considered exotic. The snake and scorpion wine is supposedly a medicine to treat ailments like lumbago.

But then, I heard varied versions of its usage— ranging from being used for boosting male virility to treating rheumatism. I could sense a lot of Chinese influence in these regions of Laos as traditional Chinese medicine also advocates the usage of Snake wine.

So snake wine definitely isn’t feeding wine to the snakes, but seeping them in wine rather.

Snake wine bottles of Laos
Snake whiskey bottles of Laos

Tasting the snake wine

If interested, the shopkeepers were willing to offer a small quantity of snake whiskey for tourists to taste.

Being a teetotaller and for religious reasons, I did not try tasting the snake wine. However, other western tourists did taste the snake whiskey and I could see them rendering varied facial expressions! Sorry, but it looked too creepy to be tasting the snake wine.

But, the villagers had cleverly draped the display benches with red cloth pieces, thus making the creepy bottles of snake wine look colourful.

Snake wine shots in Laos
Ready for a whiskey shot of snake wine?

 

Me holding a snake wine bottle in Laos
Me holding a snake wine bottle in Laos. This is the best I could do with a snake wine!

The end to our quest for snake wine

After this off-beat experience of getting to know about snake wine and learning the process of making it, I wanted to venture further into the village on the Laos side.

But then the group with which we were travelling along, were more interested in shopping, and then, it was time to hop on the boat and sail across the Mekong River to Thailand.

Upon deboarding on the Thailand side, our next move was to the ‘7 eleven’ store to buy something to munch, as it was going to be a long drive back to our hotel room in Chiang Mai. But, not before taking back our passports.

After all, I had to get back to India and then globetrot some more.  Are you wondering what the group had bought after all that shopping? Well, by default, nothing!

Harem pants
Colourful Harem pants

 

Jewellery for sale in the markets of Laos
This and That

 

At the Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai
Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai
Post Box in Laos
Your comments are welcome 🙂

So, have you tasted the alcohol with snakes or scorpions in it or have you had such an off-beat experience? Do share it with me here in the comments section.

And if ever, you taste the Snake wine, demand a bravery badge from me…..till then keep travelling 🙂

polkajunction

 

24 thoughts on “Snake Wine of Laos : Up close with bottled critters in alcohol”

  1. hello, is it the same snake wine as the one sold in Vietnam ? Do you know different places to buy it online ? I know only this one but it’s expensive

    any help please ?

    thank you.

  2. I have yet to sample Snack/Scorpion rice wine or whiskey. Like you, I’m a little wary about this. I would want to make sure that the product is ethically made and that they’re truly authentic to Laos, not just a tourist gimmick. I loved all the stops that you made in the Golden Triangle. It looks like you had an action-packed, leisurely trip!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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!!

  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. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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. 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!

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

  15. 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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