Sok Dee Pee Mai! That’s Happy New Year for those who haven’t had the amazing experience of being in Luang Prabang during the April New Year Celebrations (13,14,15). Pee Mai is a three day celebration of water, beer, more water and more beer, dancing, singing…… Somewhere amongst this fun and frivolity is a spiritual tradition that goes back centuries. How to describe Pee Mai? Well its almost indescribable. Our first day’s experience fell on a Saturday when we were invited across to the ‘island’ on the Mekong.
Actually the island is a sand bar that is usable when the dry season is well and truly underway and the river is quite low. We visited the island at the invitation of Tou, a young man who is attending teachers’ college and who we were introduced to by a lovely Dutch couple Willem and Mieke who sponsor Tou with his studies at the college.
The impromptu island party is a cross between a carnival and a mosh pit with Buddhist ceremonies layered in between. Our day was spent making a stupa, drinking copious quantities of beer (watered down with ice thankfully) eating fried grasshoppers and watching the Lao version of line dancing. What a hoot!
The rest of a day was a blur with us moving on to our friend’s guest house and being force fed beer and nibbles to well after sunset. The Lao people are wonderfully hospitable and have a great sense of fun and sense of humour.
One feature of Pee Mai is the soaking everyone gets as you ride along the streets. No one is safe from the inundation. As you ride past kids of all ages throw buckets of water at you, sometimes laced with food colouring and other colourful things. There is a sense of etiquette to the mayhem with those traveling to work shaking their head or lifting a hand and they are left alone so they don’t have to cope with drenched work clothes through their shift.
Day two of the festivities found us at the house of our friend, Elizabeth, who is the owner of the Icon Klub, a very funky bar in the old town of Luang Prabang. Elizabeth is a remarkable woman who has been in LP for over ten years raising a daughter, running a clothing design business as well as running the bar.
Our day was spent enjoying Hungarian Goulash (Elizabeth is Hungarian) watching the passing parade and joining in the many spontaneous water fights that broke out. I must say I was channelling a (more than usual) teenage David Aaron that day! And Fiona was channelling a teenage version of herself as well.
Day Three and the adventure continued with a trip to Tou’s village, Pakleum where we were invited to take part in a Baci Ceremony, which was quite an honour and a great experience. Incidentally the village used to be a leper colony with many of the older people still showing the effects of the terrible disease. Fortunately, they have since cured the disease however you still can’t help thinking about it especially when sharing a glass of beer (literally) with someone who has stumps for fingers. Sharing a glass is quite a normal part of Lao hospitality. Travelling to remote villages is definitely not for the faint hearted.
The rest of our day was spent at the local waterfall with Tou’s family then back to a local village for more beer and of course…..line dancing!
What a wonderful three days!