I like to try the hard liquor of the country I'm in. In Scotland it was single malt whiskies, and that left me with an enduring addiction. In Italy it was Grappa - poor-mans rot-gut made good (you take all the leavings after you've made wine - stems, skins, seeds - and ferment them). In Thailand it was rice whisky - high alcohol content, sweet, reasonably smooth, and fairly unremarkable. Here it's lao-lao. It's made from rice or sticky rice (I'm not sure which), has the clarity of good tap water (which suggests it was aged, oh, a good two hours) and, honestly, it's vile. Imagine the worst tequila you've ever had, add a hint of mustiness, and you've got what I tasted. I didn't even bother to finish the shot.

I went on a tour of the Pak Ou caves north of Luang Prabang recently, and included in that ride up the Mekong River was a visit to a village where the principle product was lao-lao.

A lao-lao salesman offering a free sample.

Samples of both the hard stuff and the local rice wine are free, and the lao-lao isn't quite as bad as what I had tasted previously. Let's get a better look at those bottles ...

Lao-lao bottles with snakes and scorpions in them.

It reminds me of Monty Python's old line about Australian wines: "This is not a wine for drinking -- this is a wine for laying down and avoiding."