Lao-Lao is the name of the local hooch in Laos. It’s a rice whiskey that nearly everyone drinks. I tried a shot of this from a vendor who also had lao-lao with scorpions and other such creatures. This stuff is strong! I felt it, and I’m not a lightweight. The cobras were once thought to give men vitality, but Laotians rarely drink lao-lao with cobras—it’s just for tourists, like having a worm in your Tequila in Mexico.

A word about a word: the name is actually not the same word repeated twice. The first is said with a rising tone, meaning alcohol, and the second is said with a falling tone, meaning the name of the country, Laos. Therefore, lao-lao literally means Laotian alcohol.

While we’re at it, there are couple spellings for Laos because of the French transliteration. The French named Laos in the plural because there were three kingdoms before they colonized Laos, so name ends with an “s.” Even so, in French the “s” is silent. More and more the name is seen as Lao, without the “s.”

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