A shot (or several) of lao-lao, the national rice whiskey, is a Laotian rite of passage. The Whiskey Village (Ban Xang Hai), just 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) from the Pak Ou Caves on the Mekong River, specializes in churning out this potent stuff. You can watch lao-lao being produced, taste it, and buy it.
Most people visit Whiskey Village Ban Xang Hai on a boat cruise to or from the Pak Ou Caves, 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) upstream on the Mekong River. There are advantages to taking a guided tour of Whiskey Village, not least that a guide can explain what’s going on during the defiantly low-fi production process, but you don’t need a guide to explore this friendly village.
Things to Know Before You Go
- If you’re already a fan of Beer Lao, then a trip to Whiskey Village to buy lao-lao is a must.
- While Ban Xang Hai is most popular with younger travelers, it’s a traditional Lao village as well as a whiskey distillery. Families shouldn’t avoid a tour just because it stops at Whiskey Village.
- The word “lao-lao” means “Lao alcohol”—the two “lao” sounds have different tones and different meanings.
- Souvenir stalls at Whiskey Village also sell textiles.
- Disembarking a boat at the village requires decent mobility and balance.
How to Get There
Whiskey Village (Ban Xang Hai) sits on the banks of the Mekong, roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) by road from Luang Prabang and 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) by boat from the Pak Ou Caves. It’s more interesting to visit by boat as part of a Mekong River cruise, and this is how most guests arrive. Tour boats depart from the pier close to Saffron Café in Luang Prabang.
When to Get There
There’s no bad time to visit the Whiskey Village (Ban Xang Hai), although it is at its busiest during the tourist peak between November and January. If you’re planning on drinking more than a snifter of lao-lao, or sampling multiple bottles to select souvenirs, you’re best off visiting during the afternoon after you’re done with the Pak Ou Caves.
Bear Paw Whiskey: Just Say No
Animal rights are not far advanced in Laos, and a depressing menagerie of wildlife, much of it endangered, can be added to bottles of lao-lao in an attempt to improve virility. Bear paws and tiger bones are sadly common, and it’s important to understand that by buying a product containing endangered species you are contributing to their extinction.