I have to admit that the idea of visiting Laos came to us after we had already started planning the holidays to Cambodia and Vietnam. There were no direct flights at the time between North Vietnam and Phnom Penh, with the suggested route being via capital of Laos, Vientiane. So, I thought why not and scheduled a trip there, squeezing it in for 3 days before continuing the journey onwards to Cambodia.
The capital city of Laos turned out to be a place reminding me of outskirts of Bangkok from the last century, with many tourists staying in the vicinity of the Lao – Thai border while waiting for their Thai visas. It also has few smaller hotels, cafes with good coffee and one Chinese restaurant by the river bank, which looks suspicious but serves great food. The city still has heavy telecommunication cables dotting every street, which adds up to a feeling of a small country in-between two much bigger neighbours.
On the second day in Lao, I finally managed to go to the Buddha Park. I had seen this park being recommended in quite a few guide books, and on the web. I tend to visit as many monasteries, temples, churches, and mosques and hence a place named Buddha Park had really jumped off the page!
The bumpy drive from the hotel to the location took about 1.5 hours. The closer we got, the more excited I became to see the place so wonderfully described in the guide book. However, instead of this attractive place that my mind had created, I found a space slightly bigger than a tennis court with many different statues of Buddha, and other quirky statues. They were placed one next to the other in a very close proximity to each other that made the park look like a dark place from one of the Wes Craven’s movies. My excitement hit the ground level after seeing the place in reality and I realized the trip there had been utter waste of time!
Interestingly enough, however, on the way back to the capital, our driver stopped at the local brewery, Beerlao, and praised the beer so much that two bottles landed on our table during the dinner that evening! The brewery was founded in the early 1970s as a joint venture between French and Lao businessmen. However, few years later the business was nationalized and forced to obtain a status of a state-owned company. During this period, the beer known as Biere Larue was renamed to Biere Lao, and finally rebranded as Beerlao two decades later.
Interesting fact is that at the beginning of the 21st century Carlsberg acquired 25% of the company, and added a familiar taste of Carlsberg to the bottle. Recently, the stake has risen to 50%. One of the turning points in brewing Beerlao was a visit by its female brewmaster to a Pilsner brewery in Czech Republic, in order to learn the process of making this golden drink. I need to explain here that Pilsner is a type of a pale lager, and it takes its name from a city of Pilzen, in Bohemia in Czech Republic. The city of Pilzen started brewing the beer already back in 1295, but Pilsner as we know it was first produced in 1842.
The results of the training in the Czech brewery were remarkable. Especially when you consider that the Pilsner sort of a beer is made in Laos, a country with virtually no beer brewing traditions!
However, what distinguishes this beer from its European cousins is that it is made of locally grown Jasmin rice. The rest of the ingredients, like hops and yeast are imported from Germany, and malted Barley from France and Belgium. I have to admit that I got to be so fond of Beerlao that for the rest of my travels in South-East Asia, I was looking for it everywhere we went.
2 years ago, during my visit there, Beerlao was widely offered in Lao, and in some Western-style bars in Cambodia. It was difficult to order it anywhere else. But as the country started being open to export it more, a curious beer lover may spot it in few European countries with beer legacy as Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands, also in Canada, USA, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Macau. Here’s hoping that soon I can order it in one of the bars in Cyprus