My last trip made me think about my experiences with lao khao. A fair few years ago I was invited to a wedding by a good friend of mine who was getting married in Sakon Nakhon. In fact, it was my first time to a Thai wedding and quite excited about it. Being a first time, it was a new, but vague experience on what to expect, as it turns out, both for me and the groom.

“my first experience out in the sticks of rural Thailand”

After arriving from our flight and getting settled at the hotel, the group of us jumped into a van the groom had arranged for the 2 days we were to be there and headed out to his wife-to-be village. Not only was this my first attendance at a Thai wedding, it was also my first experience out in the sticks of rural Thailand. We arrived late afternoon where the bride’s family were busy preparing food for the wedding the next day. As food centers on most Thai events, food was also prepared after our arrival and what I assumed were extended family hanging around drinking.

“the drink of choice was lao khao” 

Sometime during the evening, I and a few guys walked pass a small group of 3 locals who motioned us over to have a drink. Maybe it was the booze that was helping them to be over friendly or maybe it was a sinister plan – the jury is out on that question. Anyway, the drink of choice was lao khao which is a local rice whisky that can be purchased quite cheaply just about anywhere in Thailand. For anyone who hasn’t been introduced to this lovely little brew, my advice is that you really aren’t missing anything and at worse you’ll wish you had stayed oblivious to its existence.

I had previously crossed paths with lao khao while walking down a soi in Pattaya one afternoon with a family sitting at the front of their home/shop which was located quite close to the road. Drinking and eating a meal, they invited me out of the blue to have a drink. They (being I assumed the father) strongly encouraged me to stay for the meal, but I was actually on my way to meet some friends so I declined. Despite his best efforts for me to stay, the least he would accept in allowing me to continue on my way was to have a drink with him. If the smell didn’t put you off, drinking as a shot leaves you with ongoing memories and sensations of the event. After downing the glass that I was handed, I quickly said my thanks and goodbyes before there was time to pour out another shot. There was a bit of laughing and “farang” bantered numerous times as I left – which was done in a jovial manner albeit at my expense.

“the lao khao had been poured”

Back to the moment at Sakon Nakhon and with the experience I picked up in Pattaya, I cautioned the group of 4 that they might want to have think about it before agreeing to a drink (yes we were all bit green back then). Unfortunately in the time it took to respond to the “what is it” and “what’s it like”, the lao khao had been poured roughly 1.5 of a standard shot into normal glasses.

All parties gathered their drinks of paint stripper…I mean lao khao and with a raised hand and a nod by all, we simultaneously down the shot…well most of us did. For me, the trick is to swallow it as fast as you can without smelling or tasting it…and deal with the burn afterwards. Fail to do that and finishing it becomes an obstacle that some discovered. To the amusement of the locals, there was a lot of laughing and finger pointing with something said resulting in even more laughter. I’m sure it was quite amusing to see these ‘farangs’ choke on the poison of choice in rural Isaan.

“I knew this would put things outside the locals comfort zone”

During the laughter, our group of 5 vanished leaving 2. Not being one to let such opportunities pass to allow the worm to turn, I quickly discussed with my now singular drinking buddy about drinking shot for shot as fast as we could. The method of madness is that lao khao is usually drank over a period of time and not like a tequila shots challenge so I knew this would put things outside the locals comfort zone. First rematch was quickly taken up by the locals still bantering and laughing – shot down. Quickly prompting a second, the bantering started to ease – shot down. Third shot and we were now getting strange looks from the boys with discussion starting to take a more serious tone – shot down. Fourth and fifth shots were now taking noticeably longer to pour and one of the locals had dropped out – shots down. To be honest I can’t recall if it was the sixth or seventh round, but the remaining 2 locals eventually put their hands up for no more – finish they said.

Pleased with ourselves with giant smiles on our faces feeling we had clawed back some local face, we bid our fond farewells to the local boys for the free drinks. Our next mission was to find those who had are earlier deserted us to relay our victory! Yes, it’s these silly little things that make no sense but can be some of your fondest memories. OK, fondest might be pushing it…but certainly memorable.

“I awoke … with the rising taste of lao khao”

In all honesty, I think the local boys may had the last laugh because the next morning in my hotel room I awoke suddenly finding myself rushing to the toilet with the rising taste of lao khao I had consumed the night before. My drinking partner I heard later that morning didn’t fare so well either. When we went back to the village, enquiries made informed us one of the locals was still sleeping, one hadn’t been seen yet and the other was out but complaining about drinking too much.

“lao khao fits the local budget better”

Since that night, I try my best to avoid all offers of lao khao except for those who are so insistent that it becomes rude to refuse – and those are kept to a minimum! If you are looking for an easy way out of such offers, feigning some sort of sickness (having a cold, stomach problem etc) usually gets you a ‘Get out of Jail’ card without it being rude. A trick I used on my last trip to Thailand. To summarise lao khao, it’s a cheap drink for a cheap buzz and not the first of choice for locals if they have some money to spend on alcohol. Whisky is the first choice, but lao khao fits the local budget better.