It was my first night out in Byron last night, we had a good crew going of Norwegians, an Italian, a few Kiwis and Aussies thrown in for good measure, and me as the token American as per usual. There was this Aussie at the trivia night at my hostel, he looked so familiar but I couldn’t place where I knew him from. A few beers later, I ran into him again at one of the local bars and it suddenly hit me, he was the tour guide that feasted on snake with me back in Hanoi, Vietnam, and the guy who was pouring me rice wine all night.
He came back to Byron, his hometown, for a short trip before moving back to Hanoi. It’s moments like that where you realize how small the world really is (cliche epiphanies for the win). Anyway, it reminded me that I still haven’t written about my experience in Snake Village, and boy what an experience it was.
If you’re faint of heart, a die-hard animal lover (no pun intended), or a PETA enthusiast, I recommend you pass by this post and try not to judge me too hard.
I read about Adventurous Kate’s experience going to Snake Village and drinking snake blood when I was planning my trip to Southeast Asia, so I put it in the memory bank for when I arrived in Hanoi to look up how to make that happen. It sounded like a once in a lifetime experience, not to mention, pretty badass.
I talked to the Vietnamese chef at the bar I worked at back in Melbourne, to find out if it was really a cultural experience or more of a tourist gimmick. He said eating snake is common in Vietnam, drinking the blood is meant to make you strong and increase your virility, and being chosen to eat the heart is synonymous with sitting at the head of the table, it’s a sign of great respect. That’s not to say that Snake Village isn’t geared towards tourists, it 100% is, but it’s still a part of Vietnamese culture that I probably wouldn’t have been able to experience otherwise unless I had been invited into a Vietnamese home.
Hanoi Backpackers was known for doing good tours to Snake Village, and we just happened to be staying there. However, when we first arrived we kept hearing rumors that they hadn’t done a trip to Snake Village in over a year, something about tourists getting too drunk off the rice wine and falling into the ponds in the village. I was bummed, it was something I was looking forward to, and it didn’t seem like many other places we offering tours there either.
But then we went down to pay for our Halong Bay tour, and on the front desk was a signup for a trip to Snake Village. The date landed on our last day in Hanoi, right after we arrived back from Halong Bay. I took it as a sign that it was meant to be and put my name down immediately and paid the equivalent of around $25US.
When the day came, we all piled into a van and headed to Lệ Mật, commonly known as Snake Village and a bit of a rough place, about 7km northeast of Hanoi. We jumped out and were immediately greeted by an enthusiastic Vietnamese man who showed us to the snakes.
He was the snake charmer of the village, he did everything entertaining you could possibly do with snake, including sticking one all the way into his mouth and bringing it out alive again. Then it came time to hold the snakes, some of the girls in our group were deathly afraid of snakes, and the snake charmer made sure to keep sneaking up on those who had initially squealed and put a snake on them. He was a hoot.
I happily volunteered to hold a couple different snakes, and trusted the snake charmer to wrap them around my neck and coil them on my head. It was a strange feeling though knowing that we were playing with the snakes that we were most likely going to kill and eat later.
When it came down to the feast, there was a lot of rice wine involved and about 7 different snake dishes that came out, and you had to take a shot of rice wine between every dish. Before the feast came out, the killing of the snakes had to happen, something they do in front of everyone to show you exactly what you’ll be eating.
They killed about 7-8 snakes, meaning that many people were able to eat the beating heart if they wanted to. I thought about it for half a second, and decided to decline, I guess even I have limits sometimes. For every snake, they would cut it open just below the throat where the heart was, and would have someone swallow the still beating heart. I heard you’re not supposed to chew the heart because it releases a small amount of venom that makes you pass out for a few minutes. After the heart was out, they squeezed all the blood and bile into two separate cups, and mixed both with rice wine.
We all had a shot of the blood and then the bile, which wasn’t as bad as I expected because the rice wine flavor was so strong, and really I just tried not to think about it too much.
And then it was on to the dishes, the guide at our table (who I ended up meeting again in Byron last night), was hilarious. There was a bit of a competition between the tables to who could drink the most rice wine, and for our table of four he was bent on us winning. And let me tell you, rice wine is very potent.
We feasted on everything from crushed snake bones, to snake vertebrae (“snake ribs”), crispy snake skin, to a seasoned grilled snake. Literally, no part of the snake was left uneaten, including the blood and bile.
When the feast was over we piled into the van, full of snake and all a bit tipsy, talking on our way back to the hostel about how we would not soon forget our time in Snake Village.
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