Sunday, April 15, 2012

The most fun you could have on a hot summer’s weekend

This year was GVI staffers Greg and Sam’s first Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year, also shared with neighbouring Thailand as Songkran and Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia), and it didn’t disappoint. 

From the outside it looks like a week of water fights, building up to all out water war on the 3 main days – April 13th - 15th – but in fact there is a lot more to it! 

GVI Volunteers Marie and Louisa enjoy the best of Pi Mai
Pi Mai originates as the beginning of the Buddhist New Year, and water is part of that celebration because traditionally water is gently and respectfully poured over homes, Buddha statues, monks and elders to cleanse and also to wish for good luck and good health. 

But these days it’s that and then some – no-one is immune and everyone will need to be prepared to be not only wet for a period of 3 days to a week, but also to be floured, smeared with coloured dyes or, at worst, grease!  Trucks and pick ups loaded with merrymakers roll along the streets both giving and receiving soakings and smearings for days on end.  It’s really terrific fun (as long as your valuables are safely kept in plastic bags!) and the mood about town is one of good, clean fun!  Music blares from every other house, people dance in the streets, make new friends and everyone is invited to the party.  Few rules apply at Pi Mai and everyone enjoys the celebration with open hearts. 
Wet and dirty for days, but all in the name of fun!

Other traditions include the capture and release of animals, especially small birds, making sand stupas for merit, alms giving to the monks and novices, and blessing ceremonies at home known as basi, which are accompanied by food, Beer Lao, and much music and dancing.
Building a sand stupa on the island in the middle of the Mekong

Luang Prabang also hosts the Miss Lao New Year competition, and she takes pride of place in the city’s parade along the main street on Days 2 and 3.  On Monday (after Pi Mai) the revered Phabang (of Luang Phabang fame) leaves its home in the Royal Museum and is paraded to nearby Wat Mai to enable the devout to make offerings and pour water over the Buddha image.  It’ll be returned in a few days with similar pomp and parade. 

Novices are soaked with water by people seeking good fortune for the new year

A great time of year to be in town, albeit a little quiet on the teaching front, GVI volunteers enjoyed a taste of  Laos with its hair down in one of the most widely celebrated, and easily the most fun, of the country’s festivals.  For more information see this link or these pictures.