We somehow found ourselves in the capital city of Laos during their New Year festivities. What’s funny is that we had no idea, and were completely caught off guard by the insanity that was to come.
Pi Mai (Lao New Year) in Laos is celebrated for like, a week. It’s consists of an epic water fight. It’s hard to describe the intensity of the celebration, but just know that the Laotians don’t hold back. Locals line the streets to dump buckets of water on innocent passerby all day long. That sounds underwhelming, but it’s anything but. It comes at a perfect time, as the middle of April is the hottest time of the year and you will already be drenched in sweat anyways if you go outside. Along with water, people also throw baby powder on passer-bys, however, this done less frequently.
There are similar celebrations in Thailand and Cambodia, and plenty of tourists take to the streets and join in on the water-fighting fun. The water symbolizes washing away the old year and starting the new one. I think in the other countries people mostly use water guns, which seems much more reasonable than huge barrels and buckets of water. Like I said, these Laotians know how to throw down.
Pi Mai in Vietiane
The first time we got a taste of this was while we were riding in a tuk-tuk after an exhausting 10-hour bus ride. We came to a busy intersection and then people started randomly spraying water on us. Usually I would laugh, but we had our luggage with us and our electronics were not in waterproof bags. I actually thought I might cry. Our electronics ended up being fine and we arrived safely at our hotel soaking-wet.
The following day we spent hiding out by the pool across the street from our hotel. As soon as we left the pool and crossed the street our hotel owners and their families couldn’t help themselves– they dumped ice water on us and then gave us a beer to celebrate.
On day three we realized that the water fights were far from over; Ahem, they were just beginning. We had the idea that if we couldn’t beat them, we might as well join them. We bravely walked into the city wearing quick-dry clothing (bathing suits are too immodest here) and our money and phone in a waterproof pouch. What followed was one of the most fun days we’ve had.
We got blasted with water by a tuk-tuk driver inconspicuously hanging out on a street corner. We got hit with a water gun by a lonesome little boy hiding around a corner. We got completely drenched by a family with 2 huge water hoses. Kids chased us with pans of water. An elderly lady with a pool in the back of her pickup truck took her water bottle she was drinking from and poured it over us. Teenagers by the dozen threw buckets of water as they rode in the back of pickup trucks on the way to the festival.
Gettin’ Cray Cray
We made our way over to where the crowds were and found ourselves in the middle of a foam party. I quickly got transported back to my college days and shuddered a little. Foam parties were really fun when I was 18. Foam parties became gross and dirty when I turned 25 (psshh who am I kidding? They were always kind of gross).
The music was thumping and people were having a blast under the foam machines. We kept walking through, which brought us to some crazy beer festival. Hundreds of people were standing under a huge covered stage, getting blasted with water. The DJ was playing really bad American pop songs and singing Miley Cyrus covers. After the initial amusement wore off we made our way in the direction where all of the civilized people were heading.
I say civilized, but really that is stretching it. I was kind of having flashbacks to the Jetties Beach in North Jacksonville on a summer holiday. I’m talking redneck and proud. Huge pickup trucks were driving by with dozens of people in the bed of the truck; Whole families from the baby to great-grandma were tagging along. They all had huge barrels of water and buckets with them. Some of them even had inflatable pools in the back.
Some Festival Thing
We finally made our way to some festival thing, where we paid $1 to get in. At this point, we had been wet for about 2 hours and didn’t think much more could surprise us about this day. Well, we were wrong. We walked in and were greeted with fire trucks with their water hoses on full blast over the crowds. Dude, it felt real good.
We heard some live music a few feet away and decided to check out the scene. There were plenty of Laotians out on the dance floor shaking their groove thing. Some folks invited us over to their table to drinks. We couldn’t really communicate, because they didn’t speak English and we don’t speak Lao, but it was cool nonetheless.
The next thing I knew I was being dragged onto the dance floor by an elderly man. He just had to have a dance with this random white girl at the festival. He and his friends welcomed me into their dance circle. Dancing to Laotian music isn’t really my thing, but I sure gave it a try.
**I have no pictures of this part of the day because it was obviously not smart to take my phone out!
Sand Art Displays
The sun was starting to set and we decided that we were water-logged enough and wanted to check out the sand art. We honestly saw it from a distance and got curious as to what those big brown things were. We were in for a total surprise when we realized how amazing the sand sculptures were. It was a highlight of the crazy-weird day!
By the end of evening we knew it was time to head in when the lady boys started dancing and laying out in the middle of the roads. The teenagers completely took over the main street with their insanely large block party. You know, we are just getting too old for that and can’t really hang. We walked back to our little guesthouse and went out for a nice and quiet dinner with friends.
Farewell, Pi Mai
The celebrations continued well into the next few days but we found ourselves hiding inside and running for cover when the water came. Our one epic day wore us slap out. However lame we were, the Laotians more than compensated as they continued to party hard all weekend. They really turned it up on that last night and it was nearly impossible to drive on the roads as they were gridlocked. Luckily for us we got around on foot and managed to avoid the *most* of the water.
These are the kind of experiences that keep us on the road. It’s the days where we wake up without expectations and then are blown away by the hospitality of others. We didn’t expect to be greeted so warmly and welcomed some brightly by strangers who were just celebrating their holiday (maybe all that beer had something to do with it?). We certainly didn’t expect to be dancing with the locals by the end of the day.
Joining in and celebrating Pi Mai was a ton of fun and we can’t wait to take some of the tradition back home with us during those hot Florida summers! Water fight, anyone? (we’ll leave out the foam parties)