Lao New Year: wet and fun!

By Somsack Pongkkao
April 18, 2011

The Nang Sang Khan procession is the highlight of Lao New Year celebrations in Vientiane.

People throughout Laos enjoyed spending time with their families and friends during the holiday to celebrate Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year) from April 14-16.

Not only Lao people but also foreign visitors had fun splashing water on one another to escape the heat and show their goodwill.

In many provinces, the celebrations featured a Nang Sang Khan procession, when each year a young woman is chosen to represent one of the seven daughters of the legendary King Kabinlaphom.

Taking place in Vientiane on April 14, the Nang Sang Khan procession started at Inpeng temple and travelled along Setthathirath Road to the Thatkhao traffic lights and returned to Inpeng temple along Fangum Road.

Roadsides in Vientiane were transformed into makeshift music stages as people held parties outside their house. Most of them were youngsters who danced together in time with the music.

However, this year’s celebrations were more in line with tradition thanks to the government’s campaign to promote safety.

Temples were crowded with people, not only Lao Buddhists but also foreigners of other religions.

Despite rising inflation and high food prices, people still hosted parties and offered food to friends and relatives, an indication of improving living conditions.

It was observed that more people visited temples to make merit. They poured perfumed water over Buddha images and some then collected this water to splash on their heads for good luck.

More young people than in recent years made merit at temples by participating in activities such as freeing caged birds.

Some people asked monks to tie string around their wrists and chant blessings, to dispel all the bad luck of the old year and bring good fortune in the future.

Thousands of people gathered at sacred and popular temples in Vientiane like Simeuang, Ongteu, Sisaket, Haisok and Inpeng, causing traffic congestion on nearby roads.

Pi Mai Lao is a special occasion which allows friends and family to strengthen their relationships, and many people living in Vientiane took the opportunity to visit their hometowns.

Young people also used the occasion to hold somma ceremonies to ask for forgiveness for any inappropriate actions towards their parents, grandparents and other elders.

April is the hottest month of the year in Laos, which explains why no one really minds being constantly wet from the water that is hurled from all directions.

Some people travelled in pick-up trucks, driving along busy roads and throwing water on everybody in sight.

While fewer in number compared to previous years, some people continued the recent practice of throwing small plastic bags filled with water, and sometimes colouring.

The throwing of plastic bags is not in keeping with Lao New Year traditions and has been the cause of many road accidents.

Traditionally, people pour water on one another as a way to offer best wishes for good heath and success.

Water pistols are wildly popular and this year was no exception. Gaining in power and sophistication, these garish weapons were a common sight in the hands of youngsters and foreign visitors.

Lao New Year began on April 14, but many government offices and private companies held a party or baci ceremony before the event to extend best wishes to one another.

During the Lao New Year, businesses were closed as everyone wanted to party and unwind after a hard year of work.

Riverside concerts were held in Vientiane, allowing everyone to get wet all over again and have yet another drink.

Some people went to Don Chan beach to jump into the river before building sand stupas and watching sports.

At homes throughout the country, people danced the lamvong (traditional circle dance) with friends and relatives.

Vientiane was abuzz with activity as dance music echoed throughout the city. The police worked hard to ensure public security during the holiday.

Sunday was not part of the New Year celebration. In the past some people would continue to party after the official holiday, but it seems that this year most were too tired after celebrating since the beginning of last week.

In Luang Prabang province: Activities included a Nang Sangkhan procession between Thatnoi and Xiengthong temples, a trade fair, building sand stupas and a taak baath (almsgiving) ceremony at Phousy.

In Champassak province: Activities included a Nang Sang Khan procession and trade fair at Khonephapheng waterfall. At the Lao-Thai border checkpoint, people of both nations enjoyed the New Year together without the need of a border pass within a 200m zone. In Pakxe town, a road dubbed Thanonhomyen (Road for Cold) was assigned for people to engage in water fights.

In Savannakhet province: Activities included a Nang Sang Khan procession, sand stupas, and the washing of Buddha images at Inghang temple, one of the most popular temples in the province.


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