On Friday night I had the honour of attending the world’s largest Baci ceremony. A Baci is a traditional Lao ceremony in which guardian souls are called back to the body for good luck and good health. They’re held at many different types of special occasions such as house warmings, weddings, funerals and births.

The Baci ornament, called a  pha khuan, looks like a Xmas tree. Its an upside down ice-cream cone like shape, covered with banana leaves. Off it hang orange marigold flowers (800 kg of them for this one) and white cotton strings. People take the white cotton strings off the ornament and tie them on to people’s wrist to wish them good luck and good health.

This Baci ornament was 10m high, 6m wide and had a structure composed of bamboo and steel. It took 10 people two weeks to build it.  Nine boiled chickens were arranged as a offering under the ornament. A ordinary Baci ornament is usually only 1m high.

In addition to the big Baci ornament were 35 local or provincial restaurants all serving free food and alcohol. That’s right, it was all free! One restaurant was pouring out free Johnny Reds and Soda. Another had a tank full of live crayfish that they were BBQ’ing. There was a crushing line surging around that restaurant. It seemed surreal to find such a generous free food and drink festival here in Laos.

The most astounding beverage at the food festival was a massive jar of rice whisky with two straws sticking out from it. On it was the sign “Free Alcohol from Udomxai province. Please try”. I saw quite a few Lao people take up the free booze offer.

A volunteer friend managed to bring a smaller jar of rice whisky back from the northern provinces on a Lao Airlines airplane. He took it on as carry on luggage, all 3 litres , and sat with the massive jar of alcohol on his lap. It’s an interesting contrast to all the other airlines that will interrogate you over an undeclared tube of toothpaste.

He brought the jar to a house party at my house on the weekend. Most of the foreigners were too scared to try more than a smidgen of it, but the Lao people there loved it. They polished off the jar then refilled it with beer.