It is Pi Mai season in Laos! Pi Mai (known as Songkran in Thailand) is Lao New Year — the biggest and most widely-celebrated festival in all of Laos! It also coincides with the hottest time of year here in Laos, thus acquiring the nickname “Water Festival” because of the Lao peoples’ liberal use of water during this period.
It’s an exciting time of year, but also a bit terrifying, as you never know when you might be drenched with water as the new year approaches. After these past few days of scorching temps, however, a midday water bath is sounding more and more inviting.
Noe has no idea what he’s in for. Come to think of it…neither do we.
Coffee shop kittens! That time of year, I guess.
A rare pic of me giving Noe a bottle, given that there’s usually no one around to take a pic — and “giving” Noe the bottle is a much more appropriate description than “feeding” Noe these days. He basically does the feeding, himself.
So why am I giving Noe a bottle if Lori’s around? Well, that’s a story in itself that’s worth its own post.
In other news, Noe is loving his lion walker. He seemed a bit perturbed that I was disturbing his lion time.
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That’s okay Noe, I know where my place is…
My evening office.
Always trying out new places it seems — and new ones are popping up literally every week. Lori finds them. I pack up the kid and car and come along.
It was kind of a Phonsinuan Village weekend, I guess. Hang Out! (above) and Prime 94/ Naked Espresso (below) are both located on Phonexay Rd.
Prime 94 and Naked Espresso share the same space, but Naked Espresso is the only part currently open for breakfast. More food options than their location down the street on Dongpayna, but great coffee as usual.
The first weekend in April was unseasonably cool and comfortable, so we took a stroll around That Luang Lake.
Things started to heat up by midday and Noe was back down to his skivvies.
Why so glum looking, Mister?
Reading more books. He’s really taken to literature lately…
Getting ready for work and “school,” ma in her new Lao blouse, and Noe still rocking his “Short, bald & handsome” short.
Well, two out of three ain’t bad, I suppose. Guess that’s what happens when you’re a nine month old who still fits into his three-month-old clothes.
On Friday, Lori’s work had their Pi Mai Basi and party. Apparently, half the town leaves for the week of Pi Mai to return to their hometowns and villages, hence the early party (five days before the official start of the festival). It’s kind of like Christmas in a way, where there’s a big lead up to the main event with a lot of parties, anticipation and good spirits.
A Basi is a Lao ceremony that is given for an individual or a group during times of transition (welcome, farewell, wedding, graduation). It is common practice to participate in Basis in the run up to the transition from the current year to the next one.
Lori and I were surprised to discover that a monk was not presiding over this Basi, but in fact this is very common (if not the norm). Basically, the criteria for the presider is that they are old(er), respected and knows all the chants/prayers. Each person grabs one of the strings radiating from the wax castle in the middle, grasping the string between their hands in a nop.
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The ceremony was light and informal, punctuated by the seemingly random throwing of rice, candy and money across the room and various participants inserting cheeky statements at regular intervals.
The presider’s prayers centered around casting out bad spirits and letting in good spirits, and wishes for a happiness, health and prosperity in the coming year. When the presider was finished, each person proceeded to locate another person in which they wanted to confer well wishes on.
With a white string bracelet, the initiator motioned for bad spirits to leave and good spirits to enter, then wishes something good on the recipient — while the recipient holds a tasty treat in one hand and makes half a nop with the free hand. This was then repeated on others until all the bracelets ran out.
For the next week, countless Basis like this will be held throughout the country — the great majority of Laotians will have participated in at least one by week’s end.
After lunch, the festivities continued with a good old fashioned Lao water fight. If you’ve never had ice cold water poured down the back of your shirt multiple times by your wife’s coworkers, then you just haven’t lived. But no to worry, everyone gets an opportunity to give and receive — and just like Christmas, giving is so much more satisfying than receiving.
Speaking of holidays, Lori and I have been double-dipping this year, so to speak. Easter falls on Lao New Year, so the run up to both holidays makes for a busy season this year. Friday, we attended Lori’s work’s Pi Mai Basi. Sunday, we attended the Palm Sunday service at the catholic cathedral. Next week, Good Friday will coincide with the last day of the current Lao year. Saturday is called the “Day of No Day” between years, before the Lao people officially welcome the Year of the Rooster, and Christians celebrate Easter on the same day.
The diversity of people at the cathedral is always really fascinating — Lao, Vietnamese, Indians, Africans, Europeans and others. Religion is complicated here in Laos, with animists, Buddhists, French-Catholics, and anti-religious Communists all vying at one point in history for spiritual dominance.
While we’ve traveled to a number of non-Christian-majority countries, this is our first time living in one. Mozambique is split Catholic-Muslim, but I lived in the predominately Catholic south when I was there.
I think it’s important for everyone who enjoys the privilege of being part of an ethnic or religious majority to live for some time in a place where they are an ethnic and/or religious minority — just visiting doesn’t count. I believe that there is so much to be gained by doing so, and so many of the big global issues we face could be more effectively addressed if more of us had that perspective.
Oh, did I mention it was hot? Yeah, it was pretty toasty on Sunday. I could give you the stats, but I think Noe’s face says it all.
In the true spirit of Pi Mai week, we took to the water for relief from the heinous heat — or at least one of us got to. Lucky duck.
Finally, we decided to have a couple hours out while Noe stayed home with his favorite babysitter. Things worked out so well last week that we thought we’d give it another go.
Lori has a five day weekend coming up when the three of us will be on the road together, so we figured a couple hours for the two of us was justified.
Coincidentally, Lori and I came across this place on the same day last week — but totally independent of each other. That evening we were itching to tell each other about a new date spot we had found, and it ended up being the same place (of course…). So SkyLao at Rashmi’s The Plaza Hotel, it was!
Open from 7am to 11pm daily, service was a bit slow, but the food was excellent. We had a couple of cocktails and some of their delicious Indian food. They say it’s the best in Vientiane. That’s a bold claim — Vientiane has got some pretty darn good Indian. But we agree that it’s definitely up there.
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