Another Backpacker experience, the Luang Prabang Lao New Year, other known as Songkran or Sabaidee Pi Mai Lao!


Laos-people-colors-parade-new-years-drewmanity.jpg costume parade

Laos traditional parade costumes.

Lao New Year, called Songkran or Pii Mai is happening right now. I left Thailand hoping to catch some action over in Laos but I had no idea what an experience I was in for. Very glad that I made the trip, and now marks the third new years that I have celebrated in 4 months. Interesting enough, the first was in Gokarna,India on the white sand beaches, the second was Chinese New Year in China Town Bangkok, Thailand, and now the third and most exciting I must add Luang Prabang, Laos.

New Years Eve Parade Luang Prabang Laos Tempe wat celibration

A huge crowd amasses for the New Years Parade Luang Prabang, laos

When is New Years?
From my experience here in Luang Prabang, Laos. I have been told that the official festival lasts for three days from April 13 to April 15. Although in Luang Prabang the people here are holding celebrations all week.  I was told that the first day of celebration is the last day of the old year like new years eve in the west. Then the second day of the festival is like New Years day, but here it is the in between, the purgatory “The day of no days”. I was told this is a day that falls in neither the old year or the new year but it is still a party day. Then the last day of the festivities and celebrations kicks off the start of the new year.


Beautiful people, Laos New Years parade, Luang Prabang.

New Years Prayers and Reflection on life.

I arrived at the start of the pre party, or so I thought. I wasn’t one hour off the boat and not 10 minutes into my first tuk tuk ride into the heart of the city before I got nailed with a bucket of water from some family. Every 3 meters the asphalt was soaked from tossing water.

Before I even had reached a guest house I was pretty wet and had to dodge, bob and weave through back alleyways and side streets.. From this point on I knew I needed to cover my camera, my laptop and whatever else I had but was intrigued to capture some moments of this festivity non the less.

Worshiping and reflecting.
As much of the festivities are rolled out, the New Year is also a time to visit the temples for worshiping.

Flowers and Gardens.
Small relics, homes, temples and Buddha images are adorned with flowers; Flowers are bought and sold many shops and street vendors sell them to bring to the monks at the Wats, Temples grounds  and the riverbanks for worship. Like celebrating your own religious holiday I feel that everyone follows the tradition but many  may do it a little different but maintaining  key values and principles.

A woman give thanks, in prayer. Flowers and arrangement are made for the New Year celebration.

Bird cages, live fish and turtles oh my.
Another way for people to receive well wishes in the new year is to set animals free. Small little bird cages made of wicker are made to hold tiny birds for purchase and are sold. fish are bought in the markets not for eating but to be released into the rivers and lakes some in the salt water oceans and I even saw some turtles.

Small Bird cages and floral arrangements can be found all over.

What is up with the water?  Why is everyone throwing water on each other?
Originally the water is perfumed with flora or flowers and is dripped or poured on monks and elders as a sign of respect, well wishes and prosperity in the new year.

Monks gently being splashed with water. praises from the new year.

Lao New Year: A man gently pours water on an elderly man, as a sign of respect and well wishes for the new year.

Later it has evolved into a festival of dosing friends and family, and it now has become common to see almost every street corner shop sitting outside with buckets of water and hoses splashing and tossing water on passing cars, motorbikes and people. I of course fell victim, but enjoyed every minute of it.

Here are some shots from the past three days in Luang Prabang, Lao New Years local and tourist hub locations.

A father pours water on his son, during the second day festivities of Laos New Years. Luang Prabang, Laos

A few monks stand watching from a distance the water festivities going on across the street. Luang Prabang, Laos

Sometime colors are added to the water like the orange seen in this one to replicate the flora added for good luck. Each toss, is a well wish in the new year.

Nailed, with a bucket of water.

Why are their colors of powder being thrown too?
The powders, creams, colors, and dies all are in good fun. From my questioning a few locals they seemed to all have the same response, “same same but different”. I think they were recalling the color is a new age way of throwing flowers mixed in water. I really didn’t get an informative answer, nor did I really care. There were all sorts of colors being added, white flour, or powder, shaving cream and various others rich color additives are added to the water or used to smear on people. My white beefy T shirt will never be the same again.

Remember it’s all in good health but don’t drink the water..
 When a Laotian is throwing a bucket of water on you, even though you are already soaks and have had enough, enjoy it, as it is their tradition and it’s all in good fun. Do not forget you traveled to their country buddy, live it up. It’s wishing you good health and fortune, so soak it up. Literally.