The time I went to an illegal cockfight in Luang Prabang

So there I was sitting around a fire on a log. The city was coming alive.  The roosters crying out, the buzzing sound of motorbikes zipping around, the smell of burning meat and pollution in the air. I was taking all this in while sipping on some hot insta coffee while chatting with a few Israelis who were up early as well. As we were chatting I noticed two sign up boards along the wall next to the make shift kitchen. One said morning yoga and the other said cockfighting. Now as a born and raised Texan this caught my attention. As I sat there discussing the geopolitical situation of the Middle East with the Israelis I couldn’t help but wander in my mind what a cockfight in Laos might be like.

As I left to get ready for the day I ran into let’s call him “John” the proprietor of this guesthouse. I inquired about this cockfighting sign up board. John said “yes, we go at half past one to two o’clock”. I then said “ok, I will go” and then proceeded to sign up on the board.

To kill some time before leaving for the fight I walked out to the Mekong River to find a coffee shop. While strolling along I heard the faint sound of country music. I thought my ears were playing tricks on me until I got closer. Sure enough there was a coffee shop playing honey bee by Blake Shelton. I couldn’t believe it!

I order an iced Laos coffee and kicked back on a couch enjoying the music playing. While listening I was able to pass the time writing a bit until it was time to head back to the guest house.

Once I arrived back John was ready to go. As we were loading up I was able to convince three British guys dressed like they were from the 70’s to join. So we all piled into to the back of the truck and headed out.

Now I realized on the way there we were putting out complete trust in John who I’ve only spoke to for about one sentence.  We had no idea where going or where this place was. We were going along on blind faith that we would come back with all our organs intact!

After about 15 minutes of driving the outskirts of town we turned down a beaten dirt road and pulled in behind a truck. The engine cut out and John hopped out and motioned us to follow.  We obliged begrudgingly and followed him towards the compound. None of wanted to take the lead as we all looked confused at each other.

So we headed down the dirt road the entrance to a walled compound and descended upon the crowd. As I got closer I could hear the roosters calling out, the yelling of the spectators and the smell of chickens mixed with the lit cigarettes in all the spectators lips. As we reached the edge of the ring you could see the two roosters engaged in a fight with neither backing down. Excitement filled the make shift arena among the locals. As they battled the crowd cried out, money in hand waving all about. Then the round ended and the owners hoped in and scooped up their fighters. At this point, the three British guys had left without telling anyone and decided to walk back to town. Probably not a good idea since we were in a shady part of town!

As the owners took their fighters to their corners they worked as their own stitch man just like in real fights in a ring. The owners cleaned the rooters and massaged their bodies as they inspected and reapplied the tape on their talons. They did this so the roosters would not kill each other while fighting. The roosters reappeared soaking wet ready to fight the next round. The owners both walked into the arena, squared off and dropped their fighters and 20 more minutes began. This continued for three more rounds without either fighter backing down.

As we entered the fifth and final round “John” appeared. I asked him about the fight and its rules. John began to explain that first off this is illegal. It carries a hefty fine and prison time if they were caught. I asked him about the roosters and if they fight to the death. He explained to me that the two roosters fighting were each $1000 USD and they do not want to kill the roosters for three reasons. First, the prison time and fine for fighting them to the death is just not worth it. Second, they are a $1000 USD each. So they take good care of them. Third, they make more money off them by them staying alive. In this match, each round had 1.5 million Kip on the line from each owner. Also, after a successful career fighting the prized rooster lives his days out breeding future fighters. With this much money on the line I can see why its so popular here in such an impoverished country.

I asked him if they eat the roosters when they die and John said “No, the meat is no good”. He explained to me that the roosters meat is too tough and that it has no taste. I then asked him about the rules and he explained to me that there are only a few basic rules. First, there is no judge. It is up to the owners to decide who won each round and ultimately the fight. Second, if one backs down or runs away then he looses. Third, if no rooster backs down then it goes by aggressiveness, kicks, pecks and knockdowns. This seemed like pretty easy rules to follow. So after he explained this to me we watched the fifth and final round.

As we were watching I tried taking some more pictures but John quickly said “put that away before you get caught”. This was a big no no especially since I was the only westerner at this point. He said that since they don’t know me that I should just watch and not take photos but that they would not mess with me because I was with him. At the end of the round it started getting a little rowdy because there was a dispute among to betters and the crowd started to turn. John said we need to leave now. I went and found my friend and we quickly got out.

This was quite an exciting adventure to be taken on from “John”. While I may not condone this practice after talking with him and him explaining why they do this it is hard to argue with them. In any struggling nation people will find ways to lift themselves up out of poverty and it seems that a select few in Luang Prabang have chosen Cock Fighting as their path out of it.

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