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Lao New Year (Pi Mai Lao) in Luang Prabang

Lao New Year - Pi Mai LaoPi Mai Lao (Lao New Year) is celebrated annually from the 14th-16th April in what can best be described as a national water fight, which as it falls during one of the hottest months of the year, is not a bad thing!

April 14th is the last day of the old year. A time to visit temples, pay respect and bless friends and family before the start of the new year. Many people will visit a number of temples during the day, washing Buddha images and hoping for a good start to the new year. Traditionally, the water used to wash the Buddha images is considered blessed as it comes off the Buddha image, and is collected and gentle poured over loved ones to wash away the problems of the past, and to be ready to the start the new year clean and full of optimism. This tradition is still widely practiced, but has evolved into what can only be described as a national water fight. If you are in Laos during this time, be prepared to get wet!

Lao New Year - Pi Mai Lao
April 15th is the second day of the celebrations, and is neither part of the old year nor part of the new year, but a transition period between the two. The water fights continue / increase and the streets are lined with gaily dressed partiers complete with water guns, hoses and face paint. Vientiane and Luang Prabang are the two best places to enjoy the New Year celebrations, with Luang Prabang hosting a parade through the town centre, sand-castle building on the banks of the Mekong, and the traditional beauty pageant.

Lao New Year - Pi Mai Lao
April 16th marks the last official day of the celebrations and the first day of the new year. Traditionally bacci ceremonies are held in family homes and good luck and blessings are sought and given between friends and family for the upcoming year. The water throwing continues unabated, Beer Lao flows just as freely, there is music and dancing in the streets, merrily dressed locals, young and old, tourists and locals join in the most jubilant of Lao festivals and bring the new year in with gusto.

The Lao New Year is a wet one – there is no avoiding this. Walking down the street you will have water poured over you by locals and tourists alike. This is often through water guns and small buckets, but it’s not uncommon to see pickup trucks laden with huge water-containers, hoses and dyed water bombs roaming the streets. If you venture out, make sure valuables such as phones, cameras and passports are left somewhere safe or in waterproof bags.

Lao New Year - Pi Mai Lao
Lao New Year is a thoroughly enjoyable experience and an experience unlikely to be found anywhere outside of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia who all celebrate new year in a similar fashion. The best way to experience it is to get involved – take a visit to a local temple, join in the fun and games, drink the wonderful Beer Lao and throw water with the rest of them – if this sounds like something you would not enjoy, then it really is best to avoid visiting Lao at this time of year. The festival is all-encompassing, there is no avoiding it!

Pimai Lao or Lao New Year in Luang Prabang is a very popular time to visit – Luang Prabang Hotels and Guesthouses can fill up quickly.  It is highly recommended to book in advance.