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Fun-Soaked Times at the New Year Celebration in Vientiane, Lao

Published by Deanna Pagnan, Writer

Country: Lao People's Democratic Republic

The Experience

Dancing under the splash of water hoses; dodging balloons filled with coloured water; smiling at a sea of faces painted with talcum powder—these are not your typical New Year festivities. Yet, this is exactly the celebration awaiting visitors to Lao’s capital city, Vientiane, during Bun Pi Mao Lao: the Lao New Year. Lao New Year celebrations last from April 13th–15th and are marked by a jovial water fight that the entire city takes part in. Quite simply, this was by far the most exciting and memorable Yew Year celebration I have ever experienced.

Arriving a day before the Lao New Year, the sleepy streets of Vientiane were quiet and offered no hint of the splash-filled revelry that would soon begin. Leaving the guesthouse the following morning (the first day of Lao New Year celebrations) I was greeted by a cheerful group of Laotian youth: dancing, drinking and dousing each other with water in the street. As a foreigner, I was a prime target for the water fight, and so I was immediately soaked by the group and invited to join their street party. After my first encounter with Lao New Year traditions, I quickly revised my travel itinerary so I could enjoy the full three-day fun-soaked Bun Pi Mao Lao.

The first street party that I encountered on Lao New Year was quickly outdone by the huge parade-like celebration being held on the Mekong riverside. The streets were lined with water-throwing revellers while decorated cars, trucks and “tuk-tuks” drove by blaring music and shooting surprisingly high-powered water guns at the crowds. No one is spared from the water’s reach, and I watched as children, professionals and even policemen laughed as buckets of water were poured over them. It's particularly entertaining to watch as travellers arriving in Vientiane found themselves and their backpacks unexpectedly drenched. Enthusiastic Lao New Year revelers even use talcum powder to paint the faces of those around them.

This massive Lao New Year water fight is more than just an excuse to get some much-needed reprieve from the hot summer sun. The sprinkling of water on one another symbolizes a cleansing of the past year’s troubles and the welcoming of a prosperous, healthy New Year. In addition to the cleansing water, Laotians also tie a white string around their wrists: a symbol of the New Year said to bestow good fortune.

Since most businesses and restaurants are closed for Lao New Year celebrations, we were honored to share New Year meals with the owner of the guest house and several others along the street. I have never received such friendly, accommodating treatment in a foreign country, particularly one in which I could scarcely communicate in. The contagious laughter of Laotians, and the uninhibited dancing and generous spirit made this Lao New Year festival a truly remarkable experience. Even though Thailand is often described as the “Land of Smiles,” I believe Lao is much more deserving of that title. I can think of no better way to bring in the New Year than to do it Laotian style.




When to Go to Lao New Year

Lao New Year is April 13th–15th, so try to get to Vientiane beforehand as the accommodation can fill up pretty fast. Be aware that most shops including banks, money exchanges and Internet cafes are closed during New Year celebrations. Make sure you have enough cash to last you until April 16th.

Odds n' Ends

If you plan on taking part in Lao New Year celebrations—you are going to get wet! I suggest wearing old, comfortable clothing and lots of sun screen. Waterproof bags are good to have on-hand to protect your camera, cash, and anything else you don't want getting soaked (and ruined). If you don't have a dive bag or a ziploc bag, some stores sell small waterproof bags that are just big enough to hold a camera and some cash.

A word of caution: coloured talcum powder contains a dye that is impossible to get out of clothing; so be sure to leave your best stuff at home.


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Language Guides

Lao , Mandarin , Vietnamese are some of the languages spoken in Lao People's Democratic Republic. If you know of a freely available phrase book or podcast for one of the missing languages, let us know!


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