Fun-Soaked Times at the New Year Celebration in Vientiane, Lao
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
Odds n' Ends
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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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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