Since August 2018, over the course of No Mames trip we have been to 10 countries and have been fortunate enough to experience cultural festivals of some of these countries. Through this post we plan to relive Pi Mai festival of Laos 😄
What is it about
Lao New Year is called ‘Songkran’ or ‘Pi Mai’ in Lao. It is based on the traditional solar new year, that was observed in parts of India and Asia.
People throw water on anyone they can, ANYONE! Families get together and make merry. It’s a very welcoming festival in the heat.
When does it happen
Pi Mai is usually a three-day public holiday. It falls on either April 13th or April 14th.
Epicenter of Celebrations
While Pi Mai is celebrated throughout Lao, Luang Prabang, the cultural center of Laos, has a major festivity around Pi Mai. So we had made Luang Prabang our base for the festivities.
What to expect
This festival is officially three days long, but it lasts about a full week and includes big water fights, where people get doused with water and flour in the streets by strangers. No one is spared, no one. Everything is done in a mighty good spirit and the best you can do is buy a water gun for yourself, find a gang you want to join(preferably the one that has water refills) and then attack. There will be music and drinks in almost every nook and corner.
Dress code is C for Comfort
Wear light clothes, clothes you won’t mind being drenched in for a long time. Avoid jeans and pants or any other clothing which might become heavier when wet. Try not to wear shoes, flip flops or sandals would be nice. A cap or a hat if possible. It is HOT! Also be respectful of the locals, do not walk around in bikinis!
Moving around during Pi Mai
Usually the festival starts around 9 AM and ends at sun down. So it’s safe to say if you have changed into fresh clothes after sun down the likeliness of someone drenching you again is minimal. There will always be some groups which are still partying with water into the night but they will not engage with you. The public transport does not shut down during the festival but the roads are kind of blocked so getting from one place to another might be faster on foot.
How is Pi Mai different from Holi in India?
Here are a few differences:
Holi is the Indian festival of colors which heralds the arrival of spring after winter. Pi Mai however represents purification and the washing away of one’s sins and bad luck. As a festival of unity, people who have moved away usually return home to their loved ones and elders.
Since Spring is full of colors Holi is played with colors and colored water. Pi Mai is played only with water and sometimes flour, water is really important.
Holi is a two day festival and Pi Mai is a three day festival.
Enjoying Pi Mai to the fullest
We attended Pi Mai in Luang Prabang in 2019, for 3 days, April 14 to April 16.
It is best to find a place to stay for yourself a day before the festival starts and leave a day after it ends. Moving around with luggage during the festival can be a bit adventurous, an adventure you don’t want. All though early morning is a good time to shift bases if you have to do it. I left Luang Prabang on the last day of the festival, since my flight was early the festivities had not really started.
You will not be able to help being in a good spirit. People just don’t spare you and they throw water at you with the biggest smile. The festival is ageless, men, women, kids, grandparents everyone enjoys the festival together. And the fun part is everyone you meet on the road is drenched and possibly drunk, it could be with happiness or alcohol or both 😄.
The slow moving traffic isn’t spared either. People on two wheelers are prepared for this, some even wear rain coats. There are pick up trucks which are full of groups with a large tank throwing water at the pedestrians. The pedestrians are attacking them in return and everyone is just super happy. Be ready to be tricked with a smile only to be drenched a second later. Karan fell to this many times.
You have to have your own water gun unless you only want to walk around getting drenched which gets kind of boring after a while. If you don’t want to spend money on a water gun(it’s quite cheap) you can use a cup or a glass, basically anything that can hold enough water to make an impact 😛. I got myself a gun. I even got drenched buying one 😂.
Don’t mess with the kids. They are tireless and they will chase you down 😂. They are also in large groups and have really powerful water guns with a very long range. I am telling this with experience, I have fallen to them. Karan used to push me into it and then find safety while I battled the little water gunners. Maybe you can do it a couple of times to know what I mean.
Then there are those who have ice cold water. Pi Mai is during the hot season so being drenched feels nice and cool, but there are some smart asses who happily shower you with cold water. I screamed every time it happened 😂.
At any point in time you can decide if you want to halt with a group and then attack the pedestrians and traffic as a gang 😎. We were happily accommodated every time we tried.
Refilling your water gun or whatever it is that you are using is easy. People are usually outside their homes for the festivities and have some kind of drum or bucket which is being fed by a water pipe. You can ask these people for a refill, they will happily oblige in return of drenching you once. People also buy baby pools to fill them with water, occasionally there could some kids in the pool as well 😁. While this is amusing, these kids are most probably the ones who will be a little intimidated by you if you approach them for a refill, so approach cautiously. Also, beware of enthusiastic moms who scold their kids if they don’t attack you 😛. One such mom threw water on Karan herself because the kids failed her 😂.
On the first and the last day there is also a parade that goes around in the town, which gives you all the feels you get for a celebration. There are people singing, dancing, doing some martial arts and of course there are the monks. Apparently Miss Lao also joins the parade, we are not sure if it’s on the first day or the last. We had missed the one on the first day.
Of course a parade does not mean there will not be any water fights. Water fights are always there. So basically you have to keep your eyes open. No this will not mean that you wont get drenched, this will just ensure that you are prepared 😂. If go with an open mind there is no way you will not enjoy this festival.