Tag Archives: Pi Mai Lao

Pi Mai Redux

Last month, the country shut down to celebrate the Lao holiday to end all holidays, Pi Mai Lao, or Lao New Year.  Time must be flying here, since I feel like I just celebrated the new year…but wait…I did!

Since last Lao New Year, I have actually celebrated 4 new years, so no wonder time seems to be passing so quickly!  Last April, my friends visited and we celebrated the Buddhist year 2555 with the classic Lao water festival celebrations, which I detailed culturally, and festivity-wise in previous posts.

The details of a beautiful traditional Hmong skirt.

The details of a beautiful traditional Hmong skirt.

A girl's traditional hat for Hmong New Year.

A girl’s traditional hat for Hmong New Year.

Just when the year was starting to feel long, it was time for Hmong New Year in December, when I visited Phonsavane and Nonghet District in Xieng Khouang Province just in time for the colorful cultural parties.  With this week of feasting on plain rice and drinking lao lao out of gasoline containers barely behind me, it was suddenly time for the international New Year.

I rang in 2013 with my friends Elle (who was actually present for the 2555 celebration as well) and Ilse in Bangkok, with Mexican food, VWs-turned-bars, and a rooftop countdown that came a few minutes too late.

Fireworks over Bangkok.

Fireworks over Bangkok.

A VW turned partymobile.

A VW turned partymobile.

Just when I thought I was done with new years for awhile, it was time for Chinese New Year/Tet and the Year of the Snake, and thanks to Vientiane’s large Vietnamese and Chinese population, storefronts hung lanterns and displayed red clothing, while drummers pounded out rhythms on the way to dragon shows with their teams.  I celebrated at a Lao-Vietnamese friend’s house with traditional table settings, incense and fireworks, and the less-traditional Pitbull soundtrack and Beerlao-induced dancing.

Vietnamese/Chinese New Year table.

Vietnamese/Chinese New Year table.

And then…time for another Lao New Year!  Soon enough, a year had passed (or is it several years?) and last month we rang in the Buddhist Year 2556.  As it’s my third Lao New Year, and third Pi Mai blog post, I won’t bore with the details and description (look for that here and here).  Instead let these photos and your imagination take you to a sweltering saturated 3 days in which neons, florals, and Beerlao-yellow blend before your eyes, wigs, sunglasses, and caveman costumes get swapped from person to person, and there are no moments of silence.  By now, the city has long since cleaned up the water balloons and party debris, and I am waiting around for the next new year I can celebrate.  Any ideas?

Anything goes at Pi Mai Lao!

Anything goes at Pi Mai Lao!

Safety first?

Safety first?

Downtown Vientiane on the first day of Pi Mai.

Downtown Vientiane on the first day of Pi Mai.

It's impossible to stay dry.

It’s impossible to stay dry.

 

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Pi Mai 2555

In April, weather in Vientiane changes from extremely warm to “oven breeze weather.”   From April to June, the only respite from the skin-singeing sunlight is the breeze you feel on your motorbike, which instead of a relief feels like…a gust of wind from the oven, minus the chocolate chip cookie smell.

Just another day.

Conveniently, just as the dry season barrenness and oven breeze extremity seem to be reaching their most unbearable peak, the holiday of Pi Mai Lao, or the Lao New Year, rolls around.  The Buddhist new year water festival is celebrated by different names in similar forms in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Burma, and I had been looking forward to the festivities since last year.

Pi Mai party decor at VC

During Pi Mai, it is as if all of the rules and conventions are suspended.  All forms of business shut down, and the city dances in the streets.  People wear skimpier clothing, or matching neon t-shirts, or crazy accessories.  Cross-dressing is not uncommon.  Taps are turned on and water flows endlessly, much like the beer, which seemingly magically regenerates (along with peoples’ tolerance for drinking it).  Music throbs through the air, a festive mix of Lao traditional styles and pumping American top 40.  No drivers or pedestrians are safe from water attacks during the three day extravaganza.


Day 1
A neighborhood party at a Lao friend’s house.  All the required elements: laap and spring rolls, and people of all ages cutting loose.  The 5 year-olds wield the hose, the older generation pulls me onto the dance floor to sway to a cowbell-heavy Lao beat, and the fraternity-style antics of the younger crowd involve lipstick and flour and ripped tshirts.  The sun sets as the dancing has moved to the street, where empty Beerlao crates become stages, and suddenly being soaking wet begins to feel chilly.

Day 2
Elle, my oldest friend, who lives in Indonesia doing Peace Corps (I visited her there in March), arrives, along with Joe and Ben, two more of my oldest friends from high school.  Ben is currently backpacking and blogging his way through Southeast Asia, and kicked his trip off with Pi Mai, and Joe is just along for the ride for a week.  Minutes after settling them into my house, I take them out on the streets for a Lao style welcome.  What should be a 15 minute walk to my friends’ house nearby takes two hours, as all of the neighbors along the way pull us into their parties, for “just one” drink, or a taste of soup, or a dance with the middle-aged man wearing water balloon boobs, or ice down our shirts thanks to some mischievous children.

Day 3
The third day starts at another neighborhood lunchtime party, but then Elle, Joe, Ben and I head to the Mekong to check out the Beerlao Music Zone, the official dance spot in town.  It’s like a roadside celebration multiplied exponentially, with the hosts on stage constantly dousing the audience with water.

…And by Day 4 the city is quiet again.  Discarded plastic bags, the remnants of countless water fights, litter the streets, but otherwise life has gone completely back to normal.  The rules are back in place and society begins to function normally and politely once again.  Until next year.

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Picturing Pi Mai

Between the scanning and the original disposable camera, the quality isn’t excellent, but the colors and movement at least accurately portray the happy neon blur that is Pi Mai Lao in downtown Vientiane.

Taking a ride downtown with Sam--helmets required, of course.

Pulling over to get soaked at one of the many roadside parties.

Cruising past temples in the pickup truck.

Sprinkling water on the Buddha.

Alex recieving a bracelet from a monk.


Kids throwing plastic bags--duck!

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