Pi Mai in Your FACE!

Trip Start Sep 15, 2008
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Trip End Jan 01, 2009


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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Sunday, April 19, 2009

After the first day of Lao New Year (Pi Mai) in Vang Vieng, we decided to catch a minibus up to Luang Prabang where the celebrations and festivities are supposed to be the best in Laos.

The minibus trip was a bit longer than expected, mainly because our driver was learning to drive!  Yes, with 15 passengers along twisty mountain roads, the bus company thought it would be a good training experience.  He was so new to driving that he stalled the van before we even left the station!  Then it was jerky steering and jumpy breaking for 300km.  Thank the Lord we arrived to Luang Prabang alive.

Arriving to a city wide waterfight with all your bags and no idea where your guest house is...well not so smart.  We were prepared with rain jackets for us, rain covers for our bags and water guns for protection , but we still arrived at the Guest House completely water-logged.  As you get soaked the locals say "Pi Mai" in celebration.  As you get soaked the tourists say "Pi Mai" in frustration.

After check-in there was only one thing to do - join the fun!  Trucks with 5 to 50 people packed in the back cruise through the streets with barrels of water to throw, while the rest of town pelts them with buckets of water from the sidewalks.  Unlike Holi Day in Nepal, which turned out to be a holiday for teenage boys to chase white people around with water balloons, red powder and wandering hands, the Laos New Year is a more community event with everyone having fun.  The young, the old, the locals, the tourists, and even the Police all get the water treatment equally.  If they suspect you don't water the water, they will slowly pour a bit down the back of your neck.  One way or another you're getting soaked.  The temperature is mid 30's with humidity so the soaking actually feels great.  Something that seems to have caught on here is smothering each other in car oil and grease.  No idea what this has to do with spring cleaning and a water fight, but it's pretty nasty.  We managed to avoid most of the grease, but some people are completely covered.  The water fight subsides around 6pm when the government turns the water off, but the party continues.

When we were in Vientiane we found this great cafe, JoMa, with taco salad, cinnamon buns, bacon and egg bagels, amazing sandwiches, and good coffee.  It ended up their Luang Prabang outlet is right beside our guest house - fate!  We ate there a lot because it was so good.  It ends up the owners are Canadian, funny coincidence.  When we weren't at JoMa, we were scarfing down fresh spring rolls or bowls of Spicy Lao Noodle soup at one of the thousand restaurants in town.

The second day in town was basically a repeat of water and more water and a few festivities, including a parade for "Miss Lao New Year".  The locals spend part of each day, as a family, at the Buddist temples, washing statues and giving offerings.  At 6pm the water is turned off.  That night we stumbled upon the closing celebration performance of the New Year at one of the local temples.    All the who's who of Lao ended up being at the show, including the President who was sitting right infront of us (great seats for $2).  The show was nice, but a bit long, especially since we didn't understand all of the dialogue.  Nonetheless a nice way to finish this somewhat ridiculous holiday.

Post New Year celebrations was pretty relaxing for us.  We hiked up to Pho Sii Hill for the view and some temples one day.  Another day we caught a bus to the  Kuang Xi Waterfalls with some other Westerners.  At the falls was a bear rescue centre with a dozen beautiful Asiatic Black Bears (Moon Bears).  When we arrived it was feeding time and unlike the sterotypical meat eating bear, these guys go for the melon, lettuce, and banana diet.  The falls themselves were amazingly beautiful, perhaps the most picturesque falls we've ever seen (see pic).  They were also packed with locals and littered with trash, it's the world we live in...  

Our time in town ended with a lazy day - stopped by our favourite cafe and cruised the main street.  Coming to Luang Prahbang during Pi Mai (The Lao New Year) was a pretty awesome experience.  Hanging around the town after the celebrations was almost as amazing.  Strong culture, great people, awesome food, warm weather, and beautiful waterfalls.  We will be back.
 
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