All water offered to customers in restaurants or hotels will be purified, so one needn’t fret about the safety of taking a sip (for more information on water safety, see the Health section earlier in this chapter). In restaurants you can ask for nam pao (plain water, which is always either boiled or taken from a purified source) served by the glass at no charge, or order by the bottle. A bottle of carbonated or soda water costs about the same as a bottle of plain purified water but the bottles are smaller. And in Laos, the beer just keeps on coming.
Juices and Shakes
For those with a sweet tooth, pressed sugarcane juice (nam awy) on ice is a popular way to stay cool. Look out for a hand-cranked press at any local market. With such a wide variety of wonderful fresh fruit, there’s always plenty of choice when it comes to fresh juices (nam mak mai) and fruit-shakes (nam pan), a blend of fresh fruit, crushed ice and sugar syrup.
One aspect of Laos’ colonial past everyone is willing to remember is the rich, full-bodied aroma of Lao Mountain Coffee.
For an authentic Lao coffee experience, leave Luang Prabang’s tourist trappings in search of one of the city’s dedicated local coffee shops, where visitors are reminded of Laos’ enchanting array of contrasts; the seamless harmony between the quiet, uncomplicated rhythm of local life, with one of Europe’s most widely embraced cultural rituals; enjoying a cup of coffee as the busy world trundles by.
Considering that it barely existed in Laos less that thirty years ago, the popularity of beer is nothing less than remarkable. It’s no exaggeration to say that the country’s most iconic brand, Beer Lao, has become a symbol of huge national pride, as well as the country’s growing appeal to the outside world.
Lao Rice Whisky
If there’s a drink that can be considered a true Lao classic it’s Lao Lao, a satisfying (but often lethal) rice whisky that has been produced in Laos for centuries.
Lao Lao is made entirely from fermented sticky rice. The absence of harmful additives makes it healthier than most spirits. It’s also incredibly inexpensive, with a large bottle selling for as little as K6,000 (around $0.75).
Drinking Etiquette in Laos
1. The Lao equivalent of ‘cheers’ is ‘tam chok’ . As in most countries, the sound of glasses chinking together is a timeless expression of good-will and friendship. In Laos, the raising of glasses is repeated over and over again and is certainly never confined to the first sip.
2. Always ensure everyone has a full glass before filling your own.
3. Drinking directly from a bottle is considered impolite.
4. During festive periods, it is common for a group of friends to share a single glass, signifying friendship and solidarity. It’s polite to accept at least once. The glass is then returned to the host for refilling.
5. In Laos, it is customary to offer a drink to anyone present (frequently including passing strangers). As a visitor, it’s polite to accept the first glass but perfectly acceptable to decline a second (coy bo dum, kop jai).
6. If invited to someone’s home, guests are not normally expected to bring a contribution. When drinking out, generally whoever made the invitation pays the bill, particularly if it’s their birthday.