PIMAI LAO IN LUANG PRABANG
Pimai Lao (the Lao New Year, 14th – 16th April), is one of the most important dates in the Lao calendar. As well as being a time of celebration and endless fun, It has also become synonymous with holiday, the celebration of Lao identity, the reinforcement of family bonds and an opportunity to reflect on the year ahead.
Although the Lao new year is celebrated in joyous spirit throughout the country, nowhere hosts more ancient traditions and colorful pageantry than the northern heritage city of Luang Prabang. Although officially a three day festival, the party always goes on for at least a week.
Officially the last day of the year, 13th April is traditionally a day of renewal, the main symbol of which is water. Buddha images are washed, temples repainted and homes cleaned from top to bottom. In the afternoon, young people pour water on the hands of their elders and ask for their blessing in the year ahead. Much like a New Year toast in western cultures, this is sometimes followed by a short speech from parents or grandparents. During the speech, elders give their blessing to their family, as well as highlighting important family events such as births, deaths or marriages.
The blessing of relatives, friends and even strangers with water continues throughout the festival. Traditionally, you wish someone ‘Happy New Year’ (‘Sok Dii Pimai’), before pouring water over their head, symbolizing the washing away of sins committed in the past year. These days, water is also shot through water guns or thrown from buckets and pans, creating and enormous water-fight that’s impossible to avoid.
For tourists, most of the highlights of Pimai Lao take place on the second day of festivities (14th April), known as ’the day of no day’; a day of transition that is neither part of the old nor the new year.
- See thousands of sand stupas on the banks of the Mekong, with their colorful banners and offerings, designed to stop evil spirits from passing into the new year (14th April).
- Don’t miss the procession of Prabang, one of Laos’ most celebrated Buddha images, which gave Luang Prabang its name in 1512 (‘Luang’ meaning great or oryal). The statue is carried in procession from the former Royal Palace to Vat Mai, followed by hundreds of monks in their bright orange shrouds. It’s when the statue is installed at Vat Mai that people can pour water on it, before collecting it as sacred water for blessing friends and family. On arrival at the temple, Prabang is placed in a sim (an alter similar to a chapel) outside the temple. There, he receives a final blessing from the alleged ancestors of the first Lao people.
- No Lao festival would be complete without its beauty contest, of which Nang Sangkhan (Miss New Year) is the most famous of all. The procession of the beauty queen is spectacular and hugely popular. From across the country teenage hopefuls sponsored by leading Lao brands, flock to Luang Prabang hoping to catch the eye of the judges. Traditionally, she must be a virgin and fifteen or over. The winner is announced on 11th April. The new Nang Sangkhan is then carried in procession on an elaborately decorated float (14th and 15th April).
- For an authentic display of traditional Lao music, dance and costume, head to the National Museum on 15th April. For music lovers, there’s also a range of instruments you probably never knew existed.
- During Pimai Lao the party goes on until late. But be prepared to get soaked. Flower is also added to the water, so expect to resemble a half-baked pizza before the end of the day!
Baci (15th April)
For many Lao people, the belief in kwan (spirits which inhabit the human body, as well as animals, plants and inanimate objects) are an important part of the Lao New Year. On the first day of the new year, with transition comes the risk of the kwan leaving the body, exposing them to any number of bad omens. To allow the kwan to return to the body, a ceremony known as a Baci or Soo Kwan is carried out.
First, offerings are made with participants sitting around a table. A chant led by an important figure in the village or family is then repeated collectively to call the kwan to return. Praticipants then tie white thread around each other’s wrists, symbolically binding the kwan to the body, while wishing them good fortune in the year ahead. The ceremony ends by eating a small meal together.
Tips for a great Pimai experience
1. Luang Prabang’s Pimai Lao celebrations are hugely popular, so book flights and accommodation well in advance.
2. You are certain to get wet during Pimai Lao. Always keep passports, mobile phones and other valuables in a waterproof container, or leave them somewhere safe.
3. During Laos’ hottest season, most welcome getting soaking wet. But if you know that’s something you wouldn’t enjoy, don’t plan to visit the middle of April. Otherwise, we’ll see you there!
Schedule for 2017
THE WORLD HERITAGE TOWN
MONDAY,10TH APRIL 2017
Opening Market & Fun fair at That Luang Ground (the old stadium) 19:00 Traditional dance show and popular Lao song performance by local artists at That Luang Ground (the old stadium)
TUESDAY,11TH – WEDNESDAY,12TH APRIL 2017
19:30 – 23:00 Beauty contest for Nang Sangkhan (Miss Lao New Year 2017) and Lao Traditional dance and music at That Luang Ground (the old stadium). There will be a variety of food and drinks available.
THURSDAY,13TH APRIL 2017 07:00 Elephant procession starts from Wat Mai to Wat Xieng Thong 09:00 Local Food Exhibition and Internor and externor Textile Exhibition at That Luang Ground (the old stadium)
FRIDAY,14TH APRIL 2017
07:00 Market Fair “Lolat” will be set up on the main street between the old stadium and the Royal Palace. The fair includes a traditional textiles show, local and provincial products. 08:30 Traditional sports competition by local people 09:00 The ceremony of watering the Buddha images for blessing at every temple in Luang Prabang 13:00 Gathering on the beach to make sand stupas “Toppathatsay” to bring a good luck. Basi ceremony at the sand stupas, traditional cultural performance, local sports, Dragon Fire Rocket and sightseeing at “Hatsay moungkhoun” (Mekong River beach, Xiengman village, Chomphet district)
SATURDAY,15TH APRIL 2017
08:00 Textile Exhibition at Ban Phanom, a tradition of Tailue ethnic group and followed by Baci ceremony for international and local guests. 13:00-17:00 The procession of Miss Lao New Year (Nang Sangkhan) will be set up on the main street from Wat Thatnoy to Wat Xieng Thong 19:00 The ceremony of watering the Buddha images for blessing at every temple in Luang Prabang
SUNDAY, 16TH APRIL 2017
05:30 Morning Alms Giving ceremony “Sai Bat” at Wat Sene Soukharam and the climbing of Phou Si mountain to pay respects 13:00 – 17:00 The procession of Miss Lao New Year (Nang Sangkhan) from Wat Xieng Thong back to Wat Thatnoy (repeating the Saturday parade) 19:00 Naga and Lantern parades comes down from Phou Si mountain to the Pond inside National Museum (the Royal Palace). Also see traditional dancing (Pa Lak & Pa Lam dancing, Giants, Monkeys and Nang Keo dancing) at the Museum
MONDAY,17TH APRIL 2017
07:00 Together with monks, provincial leaders, elderly people, international and local guests Bringing Buddha image “Prabang” out of Hor Prabang inside the National Museum to Wat Mai 13:00 Provincial leaders, Miss Lao New Year and all guests will visit Pak Ou Cave for watering of the Buddha images In the evening there will be watering of the Buddha image “Prabang” and see the Pa Lak & Pa Lam dancing at Wat Mai
TUESDAY,18TH – WEDNESDAY,19TH APRIL 2017
08:00 – 23:00 Watering of the Buddha images. At night see a traditional art performance from Pa Lak & Pa Lam Hall at Wat Mai.
THURSDAY, 20TH APRIL 2017
08:00 Bringing of “Prabang” Buddha image back to the National Museum.
Photo credit: Cubic Consultancy 2011