Markets of Laos

Night food market in Luang Nam Tha. Very tasty!

Night food market in Luang Prabang, Laos. Very tasty stuff!

The markets of Laos come in two flavours – for the tourists, and for the locals. They’re a great example of the bizarre selection of food and crafts you can find on the streets in South East Asia. I wanted to show you what they’re like and I picked Laos because the markets there had some of the most weird selections I’d seen on my travels. They aren’t the best quality photos, most are snapshots I took whilst wandering around and I’ve since got better at this kind of photography – but what matters is the content – hopefully you’ll find it interesting!

Frogs live market Laos food

Live frogs in a food market in Luang Namtha, northern Laos. They are quite popular as food in this area. I did eat frog in Laos and Cambodia and I have to say it is quite tasty! Conditions are pretty harsh for the froggies in this pic though, skewered through the legs with these bamboo strands.

A visit to a local food market in South East Asia is usually a vibrant and noisy experience. Vendors sell fruit, meat and vegetables in all shapes and colours, and you’ll probably only recognise a fraction of what’s on offer on your first visit. Usually it’s women manning the stands (or patch of ground) – and they range from “professionals” who buy from wholesalers and resell in bulk, to housewives selling a small amount of produce from their land.

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We had a really good laugh with this lady in a market up in Muang Sing, a town on the Laos border with China. And look – some fruit I recognise! She even gave us some for free, what a darling 🙂

One thing that I love about the less structured markets is how the sellers arrange their food. Check out these neat displays in Luang Namtha, in the north of Laos.

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Night food markets for the purpose of eating, rather than buying goods to take away are very popular in Asia. The big one in the centre of Luang Prabang has some great food at dirt cheap prices and is great for backpackers looking for a cheap eat, as well as the popular with the locals. Many tourists eat in restaurants but often the best food can be found in these steamy eating areas for no more than a few dollars. There’s so much variety – you can get everything from a big bowl of noodle soup to a DIY buffet, and communal tables are a great way to meet people.

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Asia is amazing for fruit juice and smoothies (just check the ice is ok first) and Laos is no exception.

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My favourite things at this night market were the little snacks like dim-sum style dumplings, meat skewers and fast-fried desserts.

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Back in the countryside though, your food can be bought even fresher. It’s pretty common to see fish sold swimming in bowls, chickens in cages and in the case of northern Laos, the occasional frog bucket covered in netting to stop them jumping to freedom!

Big froggies!

Big froggies! The bigger the tastier?

Yep, they're alive!

Catfish – Yep, they’re alive!

I'm guessing the duck's not for sale, but in this part of the world, anything in a market is fair game!

Duck for sale!

The local markets certainly aren’t a place for the squeamish. In the meat sections you will see butchery in full swing and many parts of an animal up for grabs, depending on your location.

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Blood. Yep, in tasty chunks!

Blood. Yep, in tasty chunks!

Rats for sale. I have to say that this market was the only time I've ever seen rats on the menu during my time in Asia. Whether they are bred or just caught, I don't know, but I personally wouldn't be risking eating these!

Rats for lunch? I have to say that this market was the only time I’ve ever seen rats on the menu during my time in Asia. Whether they are bred or just caught, I don’t know, but I personally wouldn’t be risking eating these!

You may think you’ve seen it all now, but for tourists there’s even more. A popular souvenir to buy is the famous “snake whiskey” in the city of Luang Prabang, a rather dubious herbal wine mixture with a special ingredient. I’d like to know the origins of this drink, I was told it was like a local delicacy but I never saw anyone except tourists buying it, and the “Whiskey Village” you can visit seems like an overblown tourist trap. Of course it’s a big hit with the more adventurous backpackers, and I remember being given a shot of it myself from a stall owner I met. Oh, and there’s scorpion options available if snake doesn’t tickle your fancy. It tastes as good as it looks. alanstockphotography-1130751 alanstockphotography-1130748

Craft markets are a staple of tourism income in Asia, and very popular with the tourists in Laos. Luang Prabang hosts one of the biggest, held in the evenings, where you can find everything from clothes to jewellry, art to ornaments. Like any souvenir tourist trap, you’ll see the same items again and again at different stalls and haggling is most definitely required. Of particular note to Laos are the Hmong tribe handicrafts, with their distinctive patterns and colours.

Hmong style purses

Hmong style purses

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Jewellery and metalwork is big in Luang Prabang, but most stall owners don’t like photos being taken of their wares.

To the north in Luang Namtha, there’s a much bigger Hmong presence in the nearby villages, and little old ladies in traditional dress harrass/flatter/entertain tourists in the small market area to get them to buy souvenirs, a tactic which worked with my lady friends! I don’t think she’s got much of a choice here – she’s trying this sarong whether she wants to or not!

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This market was also full of the colourful Hmong handicrafts I’d also seen in Luang Prabang.

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Laos markets really have it all, its a particularly interesting place for them, with its bizarre food offerings and colourful handicrafts. My advice to you is if you’re in Asia, always make time to explore a local market or two – every town’s got at least one and they are always an interesting experience! I’ll leave you with some more Laos market photos. Enjoy!

Red Chillies - in fact these larger one's aren't as spicy as they look, its the little green and yellow ones you've really got to watch out for!

Red Chillies – in fact these larger ones aren’t as spicy as they look, its the little green and yellow ones you’ve really got to watch out for!

Those poppadoms are bigger than those kids!

Those poppadoms are bigger than those kids! It’s quite common to see young children being looked after by their mother running the stall.

Some kind of snails, probably from the river. I never actually tried these in Laos, I wonder whether they're like a snack or if they do them in a sauce or soup? If you know, let me know!

Some kind of snails, probably from the river at Luang Namtha – the river is a popular source of food in the region and spear fishing is also popular with the villagers. I never actually tried these in Laos, I wonder whether they’re like a snack or if they do them in a sauce or soup? If you know, let me know!

Black sticky rice - a Laos staple and pretty tasty.

I think this is Black sticky rice – a Laos staple and pretty tasty. If not, who knows?

Why get a stall when you can just sell out of the back of your tuc tuc?

Why get a stall when you can just sell out of the back of your tuc tuc?

The Luang Prabang Night Market sets up before opening.

The Luang Prabang Night Market sets up.

It's not always tourists at the craft markets, you do see locals buying material and clothes too.

It’s not always tourists at the craft markets, you do see locals buying material and clothes too.

I need eggs. Lots of eggs.

I need eggs. Lots of eggs.

My friend Dave excited to try out a random parcel he bought at a stall. It turned out to be sticky rice. That day I bought something that looked like a Scotch Egg (look it up) - and that turned out to be very, very wrong. I'll never forget that taste... :*( . Dave laughed at me for weeks.

My friend Dave excited to try out a random parcel he bought at a stall. It turned out to be sticky rice with meat. That day I bought something that looked like a Scotch Egg (look it up) – and that turned out to be very, very wrong. I’ll never forget that taste… :*( . Dave laughed at me for weeks.

Yummy dumplings!

Yummy dumplings!

Can you even get this through immigration?

Can you even get this through immigration?

Huge pumpkins, not exactly halloween material though, are they?

Huge pumpkins, not exactly halloween material though, are they?

See you next time!

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