Ban Xang Hai, the whisky village • Laos

Discover the village of Ban Xang Hai, famous for its rice whisky, in just over 8 minutes. Explore the local distillery, the Buddhist temple, and meet the artisans and traders shaping the life of this Laotian village rich in tradition and history.
00:00 • intro | 00:37 • a local distillery | 02:28 • the village and the Buddhist temple | 05:33 • craftsmen | 07:15 • traders

made with photos and videos taken during the trip Laos and Bangkok 2022

ethnic minorities in Laos 

 

Laos is a landlocked country with about 6,000,000 inhabitants and about fifty ethnic minorities, or tribes gathering in often isolated villages. The various ethnic groups are often characterized by their language or by the place where they live. An old classification divided the ethnic groups of the country by the altitude where they live, and we thus speak of people of the plain, the hills or the mountains. 

The political evolution over the centuries favored a certain exclusion of peoples and forced them to regroup in villages where they very often live from crafts. 

Some villages are past masters in the art of weaving or papermaking. Others make knives or furniture. 

 

The village of Ban Xang Hai 

 

Originally, Ban Xang Hai, which means village where pottery is made, was a village of potters, of Chinese origin. It is estimated that at its origin in the second half of the 14th century, from 4 to 500 kilns were in operation in the region. 

 

Laoatian whisk(e)y or Laolao 

 

Lao-Lao is a traditional alcoholic drink made from fermented and distilled glutinous rice. The inhabitants of the village have inherited the production technique from their ancestors and continue to preserve it by transmitting it from generation to generation. Rice whiskey is a popular drink in Laos and is an integral part of local culture and traditions.

The village of Ban Xang Hai specializes in making this local rice wine. There are several distilleries there.

But if the specialty of the village is this local whiskey (even if the name of whiskey cannot decently be applied to these rice alcohols), other forms of craftsmanship are also found there. There are weaving looms among others. 

Ethnic minorities have become attractions for tourists and the village of Ban Xang Hai, located on a bank of the Mekong, is no exception to the rule. 

Normally, many boats coming from Luang Prabang heading for the caves filled with Buddhas of Pak Ou which are a little further, pour their waves of tourists into this village. 

We went there at the beginning of the reopening of the country after the hard years of covid19, and were there pretty much alone. This does not prevent the whole village from looking like a huge market with dozens of craft shops.

 

Spoken comments in the film: 

The village of Ban Xang Hai, on the banks of the Mekong in Laos, was originally a village of potters in the 14th century. Like many ethnic minority villages in Laos, some pottery and fabrics are still made here, but Ban Xang Hai has built its recent reputation around laolao, a rice wine that has earned the village the nickname of whiskey village. 

 

But Ban Xang Hai is not just a distillery. It is also a village with people who live and work there and who honor their gods. It is for this reason that the village also has a large Buddhist temple with its monastery.

 

Ban Xang Hai is a village like the others, except that its entire economy is centered on crafts and especially on the sale of these crafts to tourists. The village is located between Luang Prabang and the Pak Ou caves which attract a large number of visitors to admire the hundreds of Buddha statues housed there. This explains why the ground floor of most houses in the village is a stall where fabrics and other objects are sold, even if sometimes their manufacture is not local.

a buddhist temple in Laos, Ban Xang Hai • Laos

What's the weather like in Ban Xang Hai?

about the place, Ban Xang Hai:

North of Luang Prabang, on the Mekong River in Laos, there are several villages inhabited by ethnic minorities specializing in local crafts. You can find all kinds of crafts in the villages of Laos, such as traditional papermaking or silk weaving. If in Ban Xang Hai there are looms and if half of the inhabitants sell their fabrics to passing tourists, the specialty of Ban Xang Hai is the production of rice alcohol called Laolao. Probably for tourist reasons, this village is nicknamed the whiskey village, even if this designation is inappropriate for a rice alcohol.

 

Spoken comments in the film: 

The village of Ban Xang Hai, on the banks of the Mekong in Laos, was originally a village of potters in the 14th century. Like many ethnic minority villages in Laos, some pottery and fabrics are still made here, but Ban Xang Hai has built its recent reputation around laolao, a rice wine that has earned the village the nickname of whiskey village. 

 

But Ban Xang Hai is not just a distillery. It is also a village with people who live and work there and who honor their gods. It is for this reason that the village also has a large Buddhist temple with its monastery.

 

Ban Xang Hai is a village like the others, except that its entire economy is centered on crafts and especially on the sale of these crafts to tourists. The village is located between Luang Prabang and the Pak Ou caves which attract a large number of visitors to admire the hundreds of Buddha statues housed there. This explains why the ground floor of most houses in the village is a stall where fabrics and other objects are sold, even if sometimes their manufacture is not local.

an artisanal still, Ban Xang Hai • Laos

an artisanal still

Buddhist temple, Ban Xang Hai • Laos

Buddhist temple

a loom, Ban Xang Hai • Laos

a loom

a fabric store, Ban Xang Hai • Laos

a fabric store

Ban Xang Hai, Laos