Lao New Year 2020 in Laos: Traditions and Celebrations

Lao New Year 2020 in Laos: Traditions and Celebrations

By Wendy Updated May. 14, 2021

Laos celebrates the Lao New Year from 14th to 16th April. In Lao, the festival is called Pi Mai or Songkran. Lao New Year falls in the hot season in Laos. Celebrations last three days, with every day dedicated to different activities.

The coming of the New Year is seen as an opportunity to let go of the past and embrace a promising new future. Because of this, water, which holds great symbolic value in Lao culture, is used to wash Buddha statues. People also splash water on each other during the celebrations.

Read on to learn more about the traditions of Lao New Year, as well as some useful information about traveling during the festival.

How to Say “Happy New Year” in Laos?

To wish someone a “Happy New Year” in Lao, say “Sabaidi Pi Mai” or “Sok Di Pi Mai”.

Where to Celebrate Lao New Year?

Luang Prabang

New Year celebrations in Luang Prabang last for almost a week. There are parades, beauty contests, concerts, and much more.

For religious people, the most important celebration is the procession where the Prabang Buddha is carried through the streets on a golden palanquin. This Buddha statue is considered the religious symbol of Laos, and represents the right to rule the country.

You will see two red-faced mythical creatures leading the parade — Pou Gneu and Gna Gneu (meaning grandpa and grandma ancestors in Lao) — followed by hundreds of monks. At the end of the parade, the statue is placed at Wat May, where it is kept for three days.

Another highlight of the celebration is the beauty contest, called Nang Sangkhane. There are seven contestants, each one representing one of the daughters of King Kabinlaphom.

Many more processions and traditional performances are held in the evening.

Vientiane

Vientiane sees similar celebrations to those held in Luang Prabang.

Vientiane is the capital of Laos. The celebration there usually includes a beauty contest, a sand stupa building contest, art shows, sports competitions, and traditional music performances on the banks of Mekong River.

Water fights are conducted on the streets with water pistols, buckets, and bottles. Pouring water on someone is a way to wish them a happy new year in Laos. Travelers are also invited to join in the festivities.

Lao New Year Festival Tips

Plan Your Trip in Advance

The Lao New Year sees many people traveling back home from other cities to Laos. Many tourists also gather in the major cities to take part in the celebrations. As a result, hotels and guesthouses are fully booked around this time. It is, therefore, suggested that you book accommodation and make transportation arrangements well in advance.

Safety

Keep an eye on your personal valuables, especially in crowded areas. Prepare waterproof bags to protect your mobile phone and room keys. Leave your cards back in the hotel and don’t carry large amounts of cash or valuables with you.

Water fights are quite common in major cities. There are reports that local people may drag travelers into the celebration, whether they like it or not. If you are not willing to join, you can choose to be driven around in a private car.

Lao New Year Traditions & Customs

Pi Mai is celebrated in Laos for three days. The first day marks the last day of the old year, when people prepare everything they need for the celebrations over the following days.

The second day is a “no day” between the old and the new year. In big cities like Luang Prabang and Vientiane, there are parades, beauty contests, and concerts.

The third day is when the Baci ceremony is held. Its purpose is to keep the good spirits inside the body and to generate good luck for the coming year.

The Last Day of the Old Year

This is a day of renewal, which is symbolized by pouring water. People will clean their houses and villages, prepare the water and flowers for the celebrations on the following days, wash Buddha statues and images, and paint temples.

Once the tasks are complete, elders give a brief speech to their families, and young people pour water on their heads to receive their blessings for the coming year.

The “No Day”

The second day is the “no day”, since it belongs neither to the old nor to the new year. On this day, the elderly will incite young people not to sleep and be active; taking a nap or staying still will result in bad luck for the coming year.

Most of the highlights of the festival take place on this day. Thousands of sand stupas are built on the banks of Mekong River to stop evil spirits from entering the New Year.

Young people are encouraged to go outside and pour water on the elders of the village to receive their blessing, and parades and beauty contests are held in major cities like Luang Prabang.

Baci: The First Day of the New Year

For many Laotians, the kwan (Lao word for spirit) are spirits that live within humans, animals, plants, and objects. With the coming of the New Year, Laotians believe that the kwan might leave the body and get exposed to bad omens. To prevent this, the ceremony of baci takes place.

During the ceremony, participants sit around a table and make some offerings. A venerable elder of the village starts a chanting session, which is repeated by everyone gathered there to call the kwan back. Every participant wears a white thread around their wrist, which is symbolic of tying the kwan to the body. At the end of the ceremony, the participants eat a shared meal.

On the evening of the first day of the new year, people will go to the temples to listen to the chants of the monks and to ask for forgiveness for their mistakes. Celebrations will end with a candlelight procession around the temples.

History of Lao New Year

The celebration of Pi Mai comes from an old tradition of two nationalities: Khmer and Mon Burmese. The new year celebrates the biggest astrological event of the year, when the sun enters the constellation of Aries.

This was influenced by the Hindu Calendar, based on the sidereal year (the movement of the sun relative to the stars). In ancient times, the sun's entry into Aries coincided with the equinox. Nowadays, the sun enters Aries around the 18 of April.

The legend says that the celebration for Pi Mai started when Thao Kabinlaphrom, a mythical king, was beheaded after losing a bet. If his severed head would have touched the ground, the world would have been destroyed. So, his seven daughters brought his head on Mount Sumeru.

Each Pi Mai, the daughters would take turns taking care of the head. Today, the story is still reenacted during the Pi Mai celebrations.

Visit Laos with Asia Highlights

Visit Laos during the celebrations for Pi Mai, and you will get a closer look to what locals cherish, their traditions and customs. Visit Laos with Asia Highlights and get the best out of your experience. Our knowledgeable staff will provide you with 24-hour assistance and will craft the best itinerary for your trip.

Why Travel with Asia Highlights

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