Drinking Age in Laos
Many people consider Laos to be the party place in Asia. It has a minimum drinking age of 18 years old on premises, but there is no age limit for off premises consumption. This means that if you are in a restaurant, bar or anywhere alcohol is being sold, you must be 18 to drink it. If, however, you are at someone’s home, a hotel or anywhere it is not being sold, you can drink no matter how old you are. Don’t go getting all slap happy though, drunk driving is not tolerated and you will end up in jail if you try it.
While stores and shops will have any type of alcohol you are interested in buying, there are some special beverages produced in Laos. In fact, the beer made there, Beerlao, is considered to be the best beer in Asia and has placed highly in global beer competitions. Laos wine, made in Luang Prabang, is sweet wine with a red tint that is made from sticky rice. If you want to give it a try, order a glass or bottle of khao kam.
Distilled liquors are made from rice and are considered to be the traditional drinks of Laos the way wine is associated with Italy. It is called lao-lao distilled illegally by many people at home, but there is little enforcement of this law and most people do not even know they should not be doing it. The government produces a brand called Sticky Rice, which is sold in the shops and is more regulated than anything home-made, which makes it much safer. Home distilled lao-lao may contain water that is not fit for human consumption – never drink the tap water, always have bottled water on hand.
Customs Involving Lao-lao
It is very customary for a dinner host to serve lao-lao after dinner to all his guests. Initially, a bottle is brought out and opened. A small amount is poured onto the floor for the house spirits first. The host then pours himself a shot and drinks it straight down before pouring one shot for all the guests. While you are not expected to continue to drink, it is very offensive to the house spirits if you do not drink the first shot you are offered. If you are not sure where or how the lao-lao was made, it may be wise to find a way to fake drinking it. If it has the label of Sticky Rice, or you know that no tap water was used in the distilling process, enjoy the shot and more if you find it to your liking.
A trip to Laos will be filled with many different festivals and customs. There will be drinking at most public events, you should try out the local beverages at least once before going back to your normal drink, you might find you like them. Keep in mind that the few drinking laws, the illegal production of lao-lao and the minimum age in an establishment, are seldom enforced but can be. Never attempt to drive if you have been drinking, take a taxi, bus or jumbo. Otherwise, have a great trip!