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Getting Fed – Laotian Style

Ban Xon – Lunch stop en route to Xaysomboune.

I staggered off the bus and into the little restaurant. My fellow passengers were already seated and waiting for their lunch. There wasn’t a menu in sight. It would probably be in Lao script anyways. I tottered over to the serving counter and peered into the kitchen for inspiration.

The women1 bustled about in the dim kitchen crowded with aromas of sizzling fat, sweet gurgling broths and freshly picked herbs. Cleavers hacked up indeterminable meats which were then broiled, fried, boiled, steamed, scalded or served raw. A massive bamboo basket exhaled steam as sticky rice was scooped up from within by the plateful.

Oh how I slavered and quivered at the sights! But I couldn’t figure out how to get some grub. “Oi!” The bus driver was making brisk come-hither hand motions to join his table. Gratefully and a little sheepishly, I sat down with his crew and two men toting AK-47s.

One of his crew pulled out a big mineral water bottle. “Gin Lao Lao mai?” He grinned. The bottle was filled with a reddish liquid and several stubby roots were anchored at the bottom. The bus driver held out a stiff finger meaningfully “Dee! Lao Lao dee!”

Well, what do you know? I’m being offered a home-made aphrodisiac! This might raise my flagging spirits.

I gulped down a glass of the stuff. My throat screamed. My limbs blazed. Everything in my sight wavered then suddenly refocused with crystal clarity. The reddish-liquid was the local firewater! I smiled through teary eyes and showed them the empty glass. They laughed, apparently delighted by my reaction.

The crew asked the usual questions: “Where do you go? What do you do? How old are you? How long you stay in Laos? What is your job? Why you go to Xaysomboune?” I answered them all in halting Thai2 with some help from one of the gun-totting men. It turned out that the gun-totting men were guards for vehicles en-route to Xaysomboune3.

I might have taken a bit too much of the firewater because the guy next to me began to resemble a giant sausage with clothes. My stomach growled another symphony. I was about to make like a Resident Evil zombie on him.

The ignominy of biting someone to pieces was withheld by the timely arrival of glorious lunch – sticky rice in two colours: black and white, big bowls of steaming fish soup and fragrant meatballs smothered in soft onions. We talked as we ate. My lunch mates were ribald, frank and up-to-date with mobile phones. We debated over the merits of our handphones (we universally agreed that it’s good to have music in a phone but we’re still divided on the other features), the best looking girl on the bus (apparently one of the crew was succeeding with her. Lucky dog!) and the rising costs of renting a girl’s love (not that I know how much it costs).

I didn’t fork out a kip4 when the bill came. I offered but was simply ignored5 by the crew. They didn’t want me to pay for my share. In fact, they didn’t even seem to consider it.

We carried on to Xaysomboune. Strangely enough, I just couldn’t get to sleep that night. It must have been that aphrodisiac!


  1. Men hardly seem to be busy in Laos. They’re usually Lawn Bowling or swinging in their hammocks.
  2. Laotians watch vast quantities of Thai TV. In fact, I have seen entire families turn into stone before the flashing TV.
  3. Xaysomboune is designated as a special zone because of the Hmong Secret War Veteran insurgency against the Pathet Lao. In other words, a war was going on in that area.
  4. The official Laotian currency.
  5. Laotians seem to get around disagreements (bargaining, opinions etc) by tactfully moving away from the disagreement.



What to do

It’s an off-the-beaten-track route to Phonsavanh in the dry season. Great mountainous scenery along the way. You’ll need to get a police stamp when you reach town.  

Getting there

From Vientiane: Bus from Northern Bus Station (9 hours, 75,000 kip, 1/day)
Ban Tha Huea: Flag a bus along the main road (6 hours, 45,000 kip, 2/day)

Three guesthouses around the town.
Doubles: 30,000 – 40,000 kip / night

Near the market / bus station.



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