On my first visit to Laos, Vientiane I stumble on a group of kids in the grounds of That Luang Temple who were playing a game similar to French Petanque (or les Boules). A simple game traditionally played on a stretch of gravel as players throw metal balls at a small wooden ball or jack. The closest throw to the jack wins. Like a grownup version of marbles or a simple man’s game of bowls. There’s rarely much thought to the game yet it’s kept grown men happy for centuries. On this occasion it is kids playing it. The metal Petanque balls replaced by flip-flop shoes and a wad of cash replacing the traditional jack. The kids let me join albeit with extortionate entrance fees and only my pair of clumpy Adidas classics to embarrass my skills. Note Adidas don’t glide so well. This was my introduction to Petanque in Laos. (Full post here on my Vientiane City Tour)
It wasn’t until my second visit to Laos where I find the real deal. As I sit with my face in Lao food on the Mekong riverside I hear the crack of balls from behind the restaurant. Similar sounds to snooker or pool balls but with different timing and no scattering of balls. Intrigued I go to investigate. As I peek behind the restaurant I find the building is lined with a gravel Petanque court where local Petanque players drink beer and lob balls. On the back wall is a red and white Petanque scoreboard one which I now see nailed to rural shacks when travelling through Laos. These guys appeared to be hardcore Petanque players. They have little time to look up and the game only disturbed by quick rushes to urinate in nearby bushes. Each player has their own helper to judge scoring and pick up balls between rounds.
After finding my first Petanque game it was easy to find more – just keep an ear open for clacking of metal Petanque balls. While Petanque is occasionally found in public it is more likely to be hidden behind buildings or bushes. One of the more impressive public games I stumble on was on main street Pakse in Laos where spectators egg on players and kids mimic with their own game on adjacent grounds.