Something you may not know about Laos is its penchant for the game of Petanque, which is similar to boules, bocce or lawn bowls. Take a walk around any town or village in Laos and you’re sure to see Petanque being played by the young and old alike. Men enjoy a game of Petanque in the cool of the evening on specially marked courts, whilst young children can be seen playing in the dirt under the shade of a few trees. Petanque was originally brought to Laos by the French and may be played on any hard, flat surface, usually gravel, dirt or sand. It is a simple game but requires concentration and accuracy.
So how do you play?
The rules are fairly straightforward. The object of the game is to throw one of three metal balls as close as possible to a smaller ball, called the “jack“. Petanque games are made up of two teams, usually consisting of one, two or three players on each team. Each team member has three metal balls. After tossing a coin to decide which team goes first, a player will stand in a circle which may be either hand-drawn in the dirt or, in this case, a thin tyre ring. The first player throws the small jack onto the playing field away from any obstacles. Players then take it in turns to throw one of their metal balls to try to get as close as possible to the jack. After one round each, players switch ends of the court. The team whose ball is closest to the jack wins.
Too close to call? A ruler or measuring tape will help avoid disputes!
Saturday 7 October 2017 is Lao National Teachers’ Day and as a way to celebrate, Lao schools in Vientiane nominated teams to compete in a Petanque competition. My school put forward a women’s team and after a few nights of training, we were ready to compete!
After a false start in finding the location, a multitude of telephone calls and Whatapp texts – in other words, our convey of cars and motorbikes became hopelessly lost (something that is very easy to do in a country where actual addresses are rare), we arrived at the Petanque competition. My school won the first game but, alas, lost the second game. That meant it was time to kin khao (eat)! And I have a sneaking suspicion that this was the real aim of the game all along…..
The trophies that could have been ours!
So if you are ever in Laos and hear the sound of metal balls hitting each other, follow that sound and join in with a favourite Lao pastime!