I was in the biggest water fight you can ever imagine for three days in a row. I’m celebrating the Lao New Year in Luang Prabang.
When I chose my travel destinations, I made sure to look up any important festivals and national holidays that would be happening during my time there. I knew I would be too late for Holi in Nepal and Chinese New year. However, I also found out that the Lao New year is half of April. Among many other traditions, it is celebrated with (at least) 3 days of water fights. So I made sure to plan my trip around this playful event.
It. Was. Awesome.
No one is safe. Everyone participates: old women, young boys, hip teenagers. Leaving your hostel is a sure way to get yourself soaked. When you enter the main festive areas in the centre of town, things get really crazy: loud party music from gigantic speakers on every street corner, youngsters dancing on cool boxes and oil barrels, foreigners and locals joining forces in epic water gun battles, pick-up trucks driving around full with dancing people in coloured wigs throwing dyed water on whoever they pass, unexpected bucket loads released on innocent passer-by’s, teenagers with paint on their hands turning faces and arms into colourful rainbows that don’t come off that easily, students drinking beer with ice cubes, some evil new year veterans who add ice cubes to the water making it a force not be reckoned with, and water, water and more water.
It’s interesting to see people from such different backgrounds, ages and cultures play together. Originally the water was, and still is, a cleaning symbol. But it has turned into a great cultural phenomenon that attracts many people.
I’m so happy and grateful to be part of this crazy water festival. You’ll know how happy it makes me to see people play (I even designed an interactive fountain that triggers playful behaviour). So seeing a whole city of people turn into a giant playground was simply an amazing experience, one I will remember for a very long time.
Do’s & Don’ts for celebrating Lao New Year in Luang Prabang:
– Do expect to be soaked at any time and be OK with that.
– Do arm yourself. It’s more fun that way. Water guns are for sale on every street corner. However, using buckets or a cut open water bottle is way more effective (downside: you need to refill it all of the time).
– Do protect your valuables (if you must bring them in the first place). They sell sealed bags on the street for 15000 Kip (2 dollar). You can also simply wrap your money/camera in 2 or 3 layers of plastic bags. This worked fine for me.
– Do try to see if you can catch a ride on one of the pick-up trucks. Most people are really open about you joining, and it’s a fun thing to dance & jump on the back of a truck with so many others (because of constant traffic jams they only move 50 meter in an hour anyway).
– Don’t wear only a bikini or bikini top. It’s cultural offensive to show so much nude in public.
– Don’t wear clothes that you are fond of. A lot of people add dyes to the water or attack you with paint. Not all stains come out.
Seriously, my country needs a national holiday like this one. Perhaps also the hot weather to go with it, but we’ll work in that later.