Laos: 3-day water fight in Luang Prabang for Lao new year

I arrived in Luang Prabang at about 8am after the night bus from Lao capital Vientiane on the morning of the first day of Pi Mai, or Lao New Year (this year is 2,555 in the Buddhist calendar). Having heard stories from friends and other travellers I knew what was in store over the next three days:  getting soaking wet.  So I was slightly relieved to arrive at the guesthouse having avoided any water attacks and having my luggage still dry.

But from that moment on it would be a different story and donning my swimming shorts and a vest I hit the streets.  First stop was the morning market where shrewd vendors were cashing in on the holiday by selling new-year-related products such as good-luck-birds, flowers to gift to buddha and water pistols.  Even early in the morning there was a real buzz going around the streets but after getting some brekky and browsing the market stalls I returned to the guest-house to catch up on some of the sleep lost on the overnight bus.

On the left you can see lots of makeshift paper cages built to house small finch-like birds that one can purchase and release for good luck.  And I believe the rodent type creature tied by his hind legs and left to hang in the beating sun was also up for grabs.  Not sure animal activists would be best pleased with this:

Close-up of the small finches in their cages.  Bit snide really.  And throws up a tricky question: do you pay for them so you can release them or would that be supporting and therefore encouraging a pretty cruel practice?

After a few hours kip the hotelier recommended I visit a party being held on an island in the middle of the Mekong river so I hit the streets and by the time I got to the ferry crossing I was soaked to the bone, but considering it was in the mid-30s it was actually quite pleasant.

The general format for new year is that anybody that owns a shop, travel agency, restaurant, bar or even just a house blasts out music and has a barrel of water and hose pipe out front.  Then a group of people arms themselves with water pistols,, bottles, large bowls and anybody walking past gets wet.  In addition there are just people cruising the streets on foot or in vehicles who will refill their weapon of choice at these establishments and start mini-wars as they work their way around the town.  In addition to water there is also flour and coloured paints being thrown and smeared.

If you have a camera or electronic device it is assumed that you have waterproofed it, because no one os going to stop to ask if they can soak you:

Heading out to the island party on a long-boat:

The island party:

After joining the revellers at the island party for a couple of hours I headed back to the town where I jumped on the back of a pick-up truck and drove around the town with a new group of friends having water fights along the way.

My new Lao friends on the back of their pick-up:

Starting fights:

This guy is asking for trouble:

And he gets it. In your face!

There are no age restrictions:

After the sun went down it was back to the guesthouse for a shower and change of clothes before joining a group of guys from the guesthouse at the local nightclub for some dancing.

The next day was the new year procession which is kind of like a British carnival procession but Asian flavoured.

Some traditionally dressed women lead the way:

I liked the monkeys:

Apparently the woman on the bull is Miss Laos but she quite rudely only faced one direction so I only saw the back of her head:

Show us your fangs:

After the procession it was as we’d left off the day before with more street water fights and ending up in the same night club!

What’s on the menu? Pig head:

I don’t fancy pig head, do you have anything else? Chicken head:

The sun goes down over the Mekong on the second day of Pi Mai:

On the third day I decided to explore the town a bit before starting up again with the street fighting.  Of course this didn’t stop others getting me.

Luang Prabang is full of attractive temples and buildings like this, the city’s museum:

The most popular temple is at the top of a steep hill which strangely juts up in the middle of the city and therefore offers great panoramic views of the city and surrounding area.

To the West lies the mighty Mekong river which runs from Tibet to the Vietnamese coast:

To the East a tributary meanders through the mountains down to the Mekong.  In the distance you can just about see the impressive golden Wat Phol Phao:

Overlooking the city to the south:

The golden temple tower atop the hill can be seen from miles around:

After re-joining the ruckus after my cultural side-step I met up with the Lao guys I’d met on the first day.   They very kindly offered to take me out for a traditional Lao BBQ which was absolutely delicious, and then we all headed to karaoke to sing in the new year.

The sun goes down over the streets of Luang Prabang after day 3 of Pi Mai.  What an awesome 3 days:

The great thing about Pi Mai was that all social barriers are broken down.  People in Laos are friendly enough normally but at Pi Mai the whole country is on holiday and in fine spirits.  Locals and travellers all join in and just have a really good time.  It was definitely a highlight of my trip so far.

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