Daily Life :: Festivals & Celebrations

Lao New Year: On April 13-15, practically the whole country comes to a standstill and celebrates the Lao New Year - Boun Pimai (or Pi Mai Lao). Culturally related to Songkran in Thailand, Boun Pimai is celebrated with shopping, parades, social dances (e.g., ram vong), traditional Lao folk singing (mor lum) and enthusiastic water-throwing.

The religious aspects of the festival are most apparent in Luang Prabang. On the first day, Buddha images are taken out of the wats (temples), cleansed with scented water and placed on temporary altars within the wat compounds. Devotees collect the scented water falling off the images to pour on friends and relatives as an act of cleansing and purification. Offerings of fruits and flowers are made. On the evening of the final day, the Buddha images are returned to their proper shrines within the wats.

Pi Mai Lao at Luang Prabang
Groups and families will gather to make conical sand mounds called "stupas". The stupa is then covered with flour and decorated with hand-painted horoscope banners and around the edges with round balls of sand. The people believe that the sand stupa (with its round base) will give them a year-round protection against sickness and year-round guarantee of wealth and prosperity.

Later the people take to the streets and splash one another with water/flour. Foreigners are not exempted from this ritual, so beware!