Written by AlexThe celebrations for Songkran, the water festival that accompanies Lao New Year, started early. Many people were having all day karaoke parties more than a month in advance of the main festivities.
The week before New Year was when the water pistols and buckets came out. Groups of kids would station themselves on either side of the road, ensuring that there is no escape for passers by, who they would soak from head to toe. Sometimes this would be a welcome relief from the sweltering afternoon heat, but when you had just managed to dry from your last soaking and you were hit again, it could be frustrating.
The official New Year celebrations take place over three days. On the first day, Forest Retreat was closed and all the staff attended a big party at Thong and Paet’s house. There were also a few paying customers in attendance, their tickets entitling them to all the delicious Lao food and Beerlao they could manage.
The day started at around 11 am with a traditional Baci ceremony. Everyone gathered round a decorated centrepiece and a local monk said some prayers (and a few jokes), he spoke way too fast for me and my limited understanding of Lao. He then sprinkled water on the group and distributed the string bracelets. The idea of these is that you tie them on the wrists of your companions and wish them luck and good health for the year ahead.
There was a very nice atmosphere during the ceremony and it was heart-warming to receive everyone’s best wishes. Many of my bracelets were from Lao people that I had never met before.
Next came the meal, Paet runs Minority Restaurant and her cooking is spectacular. She also had some help from the Forest Retreat girls, it came as no surprise that their Lao food is just as good as their Western cooking that we’re all used to. During the meal, Thong was constantly circling the table with his beer funnel and bucket of water, ensuring that everyone was drinking plenty and not getting too dry.
After the meal was when it really started getting crazy. The rates of drinking and soaking doubled and out came the talcum powder and lipstick. By about 2 pm everybody’s hair was white (many people commented that Lizzie’s looked the same as always) and several people had crude lipstick drawings on their arms and faces.
The next day was a much needed recovery day, everyone had the day off except for Dre and Karen who decided to take the opportunity to mend the pizza oven after 6 months of faithful service.
I’m very happy that I’ve been taken part in an important Lao festival and I now feel that I understand the culture of this country a lot better.
Sabaidee Pii Mai!
Happy New Year!