Pi Mai Lao, otherwise known as Lao New Year, is a festival celebrated at the hottest time of the year – which is just as well, because most people remain drenched with water for the majority of the event. It’s known as the festival of water fights but there are lots of other cultural activities that run over the week and there are many reasons why it’s a festival ‘not to be missed’!
1. A water fight like no other
Water pistols, water tanks, hoses, buckets, pots and pans…whatever it is, if it can carry water it will be used as a friendly weapon during Pi Mai. Expect to get wet…whether you want to join in the fun or not! It’s a wonderful excuse to become a child again and have a blast with the locals. There are water guns for sale as well as sealable plastic pouches for mobile phones and wallets in order to keep them dry. Most of the splashing takes place in the heat of the day between midday and 6pm…and nobody is safe from saturation so get ready to get wet!
2. Elephant procession
One of the most amazing sights during Pi Mai is the elephant procession which happens a few days before the main parade. It involves up to six elephants (and sometimes baby elephants), decorated with colourful headpieces and garments, being ridden down the main street by mahouts in traditional Lao costumes. It’s not every day that such magnificent beasts are seen strolling past the National Museum or Wat Mai…it’s a sight worth seeing. Have your cameras ready!
3. Sand stupa
During Pi Mai, Lao people build sand stupas – with colourful banners and offerings – in order to ensure that evil spirits don’t pass from one year to the next. The banks of the Mekong, particularly across on the Chomphet side, are covered with hundreds these interesting structures during the festival.
4. The moving of Prabang
The Prabang is one of Laos’ most prized Buddha images. It’s the reason Luang Prabang was given its name back in 1512. During Pi Mai, the statue is carried in a procession with hundreds of monks from the old Royal Palace to Wat Mai. It remains at the temple for several days so that locals can pour water over it as part of a blessing ceremony.
5. Grand parade
The Pi Mai parade is the most colourful of all the events that occur during the festival. It involves thousands of locals – dressed in all kinds of outfits, from colourful Hmong hand-embroidered dresses to monkey-masked dancers. There are many floats that take part in the procession including one that has the winner of Miss Lao New Year – a beauty pageant that takes place every year during Pi Mai. Inevitably, the parade turns into one big water fight but it’s also a chance to see Lao culture at its finest and specifically the culture and costumes of Luang Prabang.