Hogtied in Laos: Pigs in Skintight Cages and Other Market Barbarity

Posted by - February 9, 2017 | Category: Asia, Canteen, Laos

Phoukam Garden Agriculture Wet Market, Phonsavan, Laos

Phoukham Garden Agriculture Wet Market Phonsavan Laos

Whenever I see the word “wet” preceding the word “market” I know it’s usually time to break out the smelling salts. The smell alone is enough to bring on a fainting spell, especially when it comes to wet markets in Asia. The Phonsovan Market, also called the Phonsavan Morning Market, or sometimes by its full name  — The Phoukam Garden Agriculture Wet Market — proved to be no exception.

Phonsavan market lady peeking chillies Laos

Since it takes the better part of a day to get to Phonsavan via bus (the 30-minute flight from Vientiane can cost up to $300 USD if you don’t book well in advance) most travellers spend one or two days in Phonsavan at most. I spent five. Mostly due to the fact that the hotel I was staying at had good internet, and I was itching to catch up on some work. I had ample time to meander about the town though, and the market was a ghoulish surprise. And I’ve seen my fair share of ghoulish markets.

Phonsavan market Laos colourful beans and seeds

If you’re still wondering what a wet market is, it’s where vendors sell fruits, vegetables, meat, and other edibles, as opposed to a dry market, where sellers hawk clothing, kitchen supplies, and other dry goods.

Phonsavan Laos hanging gourds at market

The place starts out amicable enough, as most wet markets in Asia do — loads of spices and chilies and veggies of every description.

Phonsavan Laos food in Laos suprise wrapped in bamboo leaf

Even some colourful well-packaged snack foods.

Phonsavan Laos gelatin deserts in plastic

Like all markets, things tend to get interesting further towards the back. The smell heralds your arrival into the meat section before you catch sight of it. It’s no secret much of Asia is no place to be if you’re an animal (just ask these bears rescued from the vile bear bile trade.)

Wet Market Phonsavan Laos headless dead chicken carcasses

Neither chickens nor pigs are granted any propriety, nor refrigeration for that matter.

Phonsavan wet market Laos pig hooves and snoutsJPG

What immediately caught my eye though when I walked out back past the covered market area was this poor guy.

Phonsavan wet market Laos large pig wrapped in wicker basket cage

At first, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at. But yes, sadly, it is a pig wrapped in a form-fitting bamboo cage. Presumably, the rock wedged underneath is to keep him from rolling over and attempting to flee.

Phonsavan Laos live pigs in wicker baskets

At Phonsavan Market, plenty more pigs suffer the same indignity in the sweltering mid-day sun.

Phonsavan Market Laos live pigs in bamboo cages

Only the piglets in the metal cage seemed to have access to any water.

Phonsavan market Laos live pigs lined up for sale

At least the chickens and roosters were able to stand, albeit tightly cramped huddled alongside their brethren.

Phonsavan Laos wet market chickens and roosters in cages

Phonsavan Laos wet market row of chickens in cages

Phoukam Garden Agriculture Wet Market Phonsavan Laos chickens and roosters in cages

Phonsavan market Laos ducks in wicker cage

And at least the fish had running water.

Phonsavan market Laos live fish in a bucket

Phonsavan Market Laos kid picking her nose while mother sells fish

Not so for the eels however.

Phonsavan market Laos eels in a bucket

Then there were these guys.

Phonsavan market Laos iguanas tied up with string

My heart sank. The bigger iguana looked to be protecting the smaller two from whatever dangers may come. Though how much protecting he could have done with those bound legs remained to be seen.

In the past whenever fellow travellers have asked me what I’ve learned on my journey, this is the phrase I have at the ready:

Be not afraid. Most people are there to help, not to harm.

Be not judgmental. It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

Be not an ass. Remember, you are a guest.

The older I get, and the more that I see in the world, the harder a time I have with the second statement. Maybe I’m just becoming a big softie in my old age. Or maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up on a farm to see how animals are treated. Or maybe it’s that sneaking suspicion that sometimes things are just wrong.

I was a vegetarian for two years back in my college days, but I chalked that up to part of the college experience — much like bisexuality or root perms (hey, it was the 80s — dreadlocks and tattoos hadn’t made the inroads they have today.) Sometimes I wonder if I was onto sometime there. Would I have reacted differently to this place had I still been vegetarian? Part of me wanted to buy those iguanas and set them free in the woods behind my hotel. And part of me said, “it’s not wrong, it’s just different.”

When one starts to question one’s own choices in life, that’s how you know travel has changed you.

TravelTips: Phonsavan Morning Market

  • Although the market is open well into late afternoon, it’s best to visit early in the morning when things are in full swing. Many of the more exotic animals and fruits and vegetables are the first to be sold.
  • Grab lunch at the back of the market. There are stalls serving rice and noodle dishes for only 5,000 KIP (about $0.61 USD)
  • To find the Phonsavan Morning Market, look for the Nice Hotel (yep, that’s the name) along the main drag, and then walk up the street opposite it. You can’t miss it from there.

finger pointing down -- 683x48

What are your thoughts on the Phonsavan Morning Market?

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34 comments - add one
  1. Hi Raymond,

    This is rough stuff.

    I recall seeing pigs wrapped up like that in Hoi An, Vietnam. Lived close to a butcher. Not pleasant.

    I do my best to treat all sentient beings with loving kindness and know that each kind act reverbs through the Universe, in waves, and slowly influences humanity to do the same.

    I still do judge of course but really dig deep to show as many folks from different cultures as possible to treat all feeling creatures with respect and heck, just to show ’em some love.

    On a side note we loved our time in Laos. Heading to Myanmar next month which should be neat….especially since we are in Qatar for the month now. A wee bit different than Laos and Myanmar as I saw a $200,000 super car for every photo you snapped above, when I visited The Pearl yesterday 😉 No joke!


    1. Thanks for your thoughtful message Ryan. I lived in Oman for 2 years and saw plenty of those flashy cars on visa runs to the UAE. Never did make it to Qatar though, so quite jealous on that front!

      It’s hard to see animals in distress like that to be sure, but like you said, setting an example by being kind can lead to change. Hopefully. 🙂

  2. Great post and thanks for sharing your experience. The animal situation at the market is awful and I don’t think I could handle it (I’m a lifelong vegetarian, and, um, human). That is straight-up animal cruelty and it makes me not want to visit this country. Which is unfortunate because I was just banned from the UK this morning for being a digital nomad and am looking for a new destination this very minute 🙂 I heard about your blog through an old Travel Freedom podcast and am trying to get my blog running, so I appreciate the inspiration.

    1. Thanks Laurie! Don’t let this one market put you off visiting Laos. It’s a great country with very friendly people. I wish you the best of luck with finding a new home! 🙂

  3. I never put so much thought about how animals were treated, or butchered, until I started traveling. Meeting new people, listening to their arguments, reading more sources of knowledge, and more traveling help me see things differently. It’s never black and white, or right and wrong. There’s always a complex set of cultural and religious values which make things look like what they do today.

  4. These local markets can be quite fascinating to explore and also difficult to stomach.

    Often when traveling, and I see in what unhygienic and tough conditions the local animals are kept in, it is quite a motivation to become vegetarian.

    1. I’m with you on that one Ric. One of these days I might try to give up my meat-centric ways again, but for now the call of oven roasted chicken breast is too much to ignore. 🙂

  5. I could stomach the smell of the market where raw meat is laid out in the open instead of being refrigerated. I have seen similar setups in Peru and the Dominican Republic, so nothing is shocking there. But, I am not sure how I would feel seeing those pigs trapped in bamboo cages or the eels barely getting by with minimal water in buckets to be quite honest.

  6. Have you encountered anything akin to an “organic” or “free range” farm while traveling in Southeast Asia? Seems like it would be a rare thing. In other parts of the world, we have the luxury of ethical considerations, whereas other people are just trying to put food on their impoverished family’s table.

    Balance is key with everything, and though I can’t condone the treatment of these animals, I can at least try to understand that the people running these markets have hard lives. Hopefully one day they will be having Twitter debates about vegetarianism and animal rights as well.

    1. Hi Byron, I’ve seen a few organic farms, but most are run by Westerners. There have been a few notable exceptions though — like farm I visited just outside Luang Prabang in Laos. I understand that most of these folks are trying to eke out a subsistence living, and you’re right, they don’t have the privilege that we do to debate such practices.

  7. Your post made me sick in my stomach, Raymond. Unfortunately animal cruelty is alive and well in many other parts of the world that are considered very “civilized.” As an animal lover, when I see this kind of barbarity I feel like applying it to those who do it to these animals.


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