What's Your Poison?: The Commercialisation of Snake Whiskey in Asia

Snake whiskey for sale in Laos
Snake whiskey for sale in Laos | © Rex Gray / Flickr


Snake whiskey has a long history in Asia, used for millennia as an aphrodisiac, among other things. Nowadays, however, it’s marketed to thrill-seeking tourists and international buyers. Here’s the story of how this traditional medicine morphed into a mass-produced drink aimed at global consumption.

Snake whiskey: The cure for whatever ails you

The origin of snake whiskey dates all the way back to the Zhou Dynasty in China, over two thousand years ago. Back then, people used it as a traditional medicine, believing the essence of the snake could relieve pain, as well as stop hair loss and boost virility. It was a cure-all – a kind of snake oil, long before travelling American salespeople swindled their customers in the 19th century.

Snake whiskey for sale

Culture and traditions

Awamori for sale in Okinawa, Japan

Snake whiskey has been a drink of choice in Southeast Asia for many generations. There are families who have been making this drink for as long as anyone can remember. It’s deeply entrenched in the local culture. There are even towns – such as Lệ Mật, in Vietnam – where snakes are their primary industry, and it has been that way for many years, long before cheap air travel brought a surge of international tourists.

The rise in global tourism

As more and more travellers returned home with stories of their bravery – drinking face-to-face with a deadly cobra – word spread about snake whiskey. Thrill-seeking backpackers came looking for this notorious drink, and many of them brought bottles home to shock their friends and family. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of blog posts about tourists on the hunt for snake whiskey as they travel through Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Today, you can find snake whiskey in markets near just about every tourist hotspot – especially in places such as Luang Prabang and Hoi An.

Snake and scorpion whiskey for sale in Luang Prabang, Laos

As the demand went up, so did production. Local producers also realised there were untapped overseas markets. With bloggers and travel sites providing all the necessary marketing, local producers set up online supply chains for people to have snake whiskey shipped anywhere in the world. Snake whiskey has gone industrial. Nowadays, liquor enthusiasts in just about any country can order a bottle of snake whiskey, either for their own collection, or to give as a memorable gift. This traditional drink has been commercialised.

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,100 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article