Here’s something that’s as ubiquitous as it is surprising in Laos: a friendly game of pétanque. The game, similar to bocce, boules, and lawn bowling, is one of Laos’ favorite past-times. While on a walking tour of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, or any public park in Laos, you’re certain to see players in action. The sight of friends, neighbors, and lifelong competitors taking part in this relaxing game will bring a smile to your face every time.
Pétanque was first brought to Laos with the French, but long after the French left, the game remains one of the most popular sports in Laos. In fact, Laotians are so good and dedicated to the game that a 17-year-old Laotian, Soulasith Khamvongsa, took the gold medal for pétanque in the 2001 South-East Asian Games. He told CCTV, “Petanque has been popular in Laos for a long time, ever since the French brought the game over. But Pétanque’s popularity really took off after we won that gold medal.” Khamvongsa is considered one of the top 40 pétanque players in the world.
One of the reasons the game has such enduring popularity is because it’s suitable for all ages and physical abilities. Because it is played mostly from a standing position and does not require physical exertion, pétanque can be enjoyed by elderly people as well as children.
So how does one play? The rules are pretty simple. A stationary metal ball, called the “jack” or cochonnet, is thrown onto a flat pitch, often times made of packed sand, dirt, or grass. Taking turns, each team throws three metal balls towards the jack. The team with the ball closest to the jack wins the round, and points are collected based on the various distances of the balls. This continues until the first team to score 13 points wins. Pétanque can be played with single players or with teams of doubles and triples. One key strategy is to purposely hit the opposing team’s balls away from the jack!
As community-oriented as Laos is, it’s no wonder this inclusive team sport is so popular here. If you’d like to see or join in a game of pétanque while you’re on holiday in Laos, just let our locally based Travel Specialist know. It’ll make for a great way to mingle with locals and have an immersive experience in Laos!