We uncork yaa dong's notorious secrets.

Thailand’s infamous yaa dong is more than just a “low class” hit for tattooed construction workers; this medicinal drink is steeped in history and claims special powers brand name spirits just can’t compete with.

Where Did it Come From?
The origins of yaa dong are as cloudy as the drink itself. Although it is often found in Yaowarat’s Chinese medicine stores, Cherdchai Oembunyanan, owner of the 60-year-old company Haang Kai Yai Dra Seau Sibed Dua (roughly translated as Eleven Tigers, see Where to Get It), believes it did originate in Thailand. Despite the claim, he admits that there are also similar recipes found in Burma, Laos, Cambodia and China.

What is Yaa Dong?
Yaa dong is a mixture of hundreds of herbs such as ginger, galangal, chili and lao khao (rice spirit, 40% alcohol). Sadly, no cobra blood or panda sperm. The herbs come as a dried sheet, a powder or in a liquid form. The blend of herbs used have different curative properties. However, according to Cherdchai, the key element is the rice spirit, “The alcohol gives it a kick and acts as a catalyst to make the medicinal qualities of the herbs more effective.”

Is it Good for You?
According to a study by Pennapa Subcharoen of the Public Health Ministry of five types of traditional yaa dong, the stuff is actually good for us. The study claims that the water and ethanol found in the spirits had good antioxidant levels and acted as an antiseptic against bacteria that cause staph infections (food poisoning). Even more miraculous the alcohol seemed to help fight against breast cancer cells.

Cherdchai believes that yaa dong can also help blood flow, energize the body, boost your appetite and make you sleep better at night. He even recommends it to women who have just given birth. For optimal medicinal benefits, he advises taking it twice a day, once in the morning and once before you go to sleep.

Make Your Own
It’s not rocket science, just rocket fuel we’re talking about (see below for where you can get the herbs). If the herbs are in sheet form, then grind them into the alcohol and let it settle for one or two days. If it’s the powdered version, just mix it with alcohol and water (many recipes use water infused with grass) and drink it right away. Cherdchai says you can even mix the powder with honey and make it into a tablet you can suck. Most importantly, rice spirit should be mixed in with the herbs at a temperature around 30 to 40 degrees Celsius.

Where to Get It
Upscale: Bo.lan
42 Sukhumvit Soi 26, 02-260-2962.
Open Tue-Sun 6-10:30pm

Here the yaa dong is served high class. Infused with cassia, golden apple and honey from the royal projects it comes in an elegant shooter and served with seasonal sour fruits. Priced at B120.

Traditional: Chote Chitr
146 Praeng Phuton Rd., 02-221-4082.
Open Mon-Sat 10:30am-9pm

Served in a worn down shot glasses it’s as traditional as they come. Choose from 12 types of yaa dong proclaiming different cures, including one that will clear your air-ways, another that soothes muscle pain and one that deals with flatulence. Prices: bottle B400, jug B130, powder B30 and shooter B70.

Where to buy the herbs:
Seua Sibed Dua
2/2 Soi Aree 5 Phahonyothin Rd., 02-279-4258/9, 02-279-0400

Sheets B12-20, powder B15-20, liquid B25-60.

Tra Kao Rien, Boonsong Herbal Products
556/558 Moo 8, Taew Phra, Doem Bang Nang Buat, Suphanburi, 035-578-040
B12 for sheets and powder.

The Bo.lan Recipe

  • kamlang seau krong (betula alnoides)
  • black pepper
  • kamlang shang peuak (hiptage bengalensis var. candicans)
  • long pepper
  • blao yai (croton oblongifolius)
  • cassia siamea
  • Sadao
  • krachai dam (kempferia parviflora wall. Ex baker zingiberaceae)
  • liquorice
  • ginseng
  • cloves
  • cassia bark
  • cardamom
  • dried bael fruit
  • honey
  • rice spirit

The quantities of each spice is up to personal preference. When starting, less is more. Gradually increase the doses until you are happy with the overall balance of alcohol and spice.


  1. Place all the ingredients (apart from the honey) in a glass jar.
  2. Heat the jar to 40 degrees Celsius and then add the white rice spirit.
  3. Cover and put it to one side for seven to ten days depending on your desired level of spice.
  4. When you are happy with the fragrance add a little bit of logan honey (not too much because you don’t want to overpower the spice).
  5. Bo.lan recommends serving yaa dong chilled, it’s much more palatable than serving it at room temperature.
  6. Serve with some pandanas infused water (sweetened also with the smallest amount of jasmine perfumed sugar syrup) and whatever sour fruits are available at the market. Bo.lan recommends madan but it can be tricky to find. Green mango and mayom also work.