Sabai Dee Pi Mai Lao!

I’m walking down the street in Luang Prabang and suddenly I feel something hit me in the face. I react by grabbing my cheeks and I take a glance at my hands and notice they are red. Oh no, am I bleeding? What just hit me? I am relieved to find out that I just got hit in the face by a bucket of water full of red dye, I wasn’t just shot. This is how things go in Luang Prabang, Laos during the Laos New Year. If you have ever dreamed of becoming a kid again for a day or having the ability to pelt your grandma in the face with a super soaker without any consequences, you should go. It is basically just one giant water battle using any vessel that holds water, especially super soakers.

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We spent our first morning in Luang Prabang walking around the massive market in the center of town. Among the usual fabrics and clothes, we found a large number of super soakers for sale as well as small birds in mini cages. We bought some fabric for the quilt my lovely neighbor is making for us and enjoyed the excited vibe the city exuded on the first morning of the three-day new year celebration. At 11am, the bustling market would be a distant memory and the water battle would begin. Naturally, we purchased some super soakers the previous day and put on some clothes we cared very little about and set off into the streets. It was literally impossible to walk outside for more than 30 seconds without looking like we just jumped into a pool. The streets filled with Laos people blasting each other with water guns and throwing pails of water or water mixed with dye onto each other. Even police officers were not exempt. Some of the most vicious water throwers were the old women in the town! The best part was that no one gets mad. You can throw water directly in someone’s eyes and they can’t protest because it’s tradition and it means the person throwing water is wishing their victim good luck for the coming year. We spent most of the day walking around with our super soakers and then posting up with some local throwing pails of water on people driving by. Of course, Beerlao, the local beer of Laos, is always involved. Sometimes people would walk by with a bucket of flour and wipe it on our faces and arms as well. It is no surprise that the water in Laos is not particularly clean, so trying to avoid getting water in our mouths and eyes was practically impossible. We thought for sure we would be sick by the end of the festival, but, luckily,we managed to avoid illness.

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As the day progressed, we started to see more and more truckloads of people driving through the main street of town. It seemed as though families had dedicated Songkran vehicles that get totally trashed each new year. The truck bed was always full of people with a big trash can full of water and super soakers galore. They would attack us and we would attack back. We even threw water inside the trucks (their windows were down!) and no one seemed to be bothered by it! The day flew by and before we knew it, we were going to bed and waking up to do it all over again.

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We started out Laos new year day #2 by enjoying the traditional new year parade in the center of town. On the way to the parade, John tried to dodge a pail of red dye and got in the way of a family of four on a motorbike. The front of the motorbike picked John up and carried him about ten feet before he ninja rolled off to the side and landed on his feet. It was quite the scary and impressive spectacle and fortunately no one was injured. Minutes later, we saw another motorbike/pedestrian accident in the same area. Water fights can be dangerous!

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We swore we wouldn’t drink any more Beerlao after the first new year celebration day, but that quickly changed when our hotel owners basically poured it down our throats. After the parade, we joined them and some other guests outside of the hotel on one of the back streets to attack those passing by with water. They would give us a small glass of beer with a big piece of ice and tell us to down it. We did our best to keep up but had to forcibly decline as time went on. It was a really fun day dancing with them in the streets and soaking everyone around us. We ended the day by grabbing some dinner by the river with some other travelers staying in our guesthouse.

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We woke up on day #3 of Songkran wondering how in the world anyone could party and throw water on each other for three days in a row. Although amazingly fun, two full days of Beerlao and water fights were already catching up to us.  We decided to go see some of the city and try to stay dry/sober by renting bicycles. We were able to avoid the Beerlao, but staying dry was not an option. We rode around town, swerving to avoid (unsuccessfully) pails of water being thrown at us. We stopped at a beautiful temple on a hill, overlooking the city and took in the beauty of the area. At the top of the hill, we saw heaps of mini broken bird cages and we realized that the birds being sold at the market were set free up there. We finished our little tour and went for a final joy bike ride through the main city to get soaked one last time. Since this was the final day, things had been taken up a notch and music blared while people jumped up and down on the back of their trucks. We returned to our guesthouse where we would be picked up for yet another long international bus trip – this time back to Thailand! We put our wet clothes on for our tuk-tuk ride because we knew we would be attacked on the way to the bus station. Luckily, we didn’t get too wet and we changed into our dry clothes before boarding our bus. Ahh, it was nice to be dry.

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We had an amazing time celebrating Songkran in Laos and wish we could have stayed in this beautiful, friendly country for longer. At least we had massaman curry and pad thai to look forward to in 24 “short” hours!

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