The scholarly debate around ‘global land grabbing’ is advancing theoretically, methodologically and empirically. This study contributes to these ongoing efforts by investigating a set of ‘small-scale land acquisitions’ in the context of a recent boom in banana plantation investments in Luang Namtha Province, Laos. In relation to the actors, scales and processes involved, the banana acquisitions differ from the state-granted large-scale land acquisitions dominating the literature on ‘land grabbing’ in Laos. Starting from the experience of a rural village in Laos, where two Chinese banana investors leased land on six-year contracts in 2010, we trace the strategies employed by the investors to gain access to the land, the experience of the villagers in the process and the outcome of the acquisitions in terms of land use change. The findings reveal how the investors established networks of local middlemen who facilitate negotiations over land directly at the village level, thus enabling them to circumvent any formal involvement of government authorities. The informal acquisition process also ensured a rapid and successful implementation of the plantations with consequent land use change, including the destruction of field structures, plot borders and irrigation systems, as well as erosion and heavy chemical input. Drawing upon the literature on ‘powers of exclusion’ and ‘control grabbing’, the paper argues that despite the apparent small-scale and short-term nature of these leases, the forceful acquisition strategies pursued by the investors coupled with the rapid land use conversion and associated cultivation practices results in strong and longer-term alienation of land from the local communities involved. This implies the need to take these more informal forms of land acquisitions into account when designing policies to address the negative implications of land grabbing in Laos and elsewhere.