New Year in Laos is called Songkran and in 2016 took place from 13 – 15 April. This coincides with the hottest time of the year and also happened to coincide with our first day in Laos…
Rather than the gorgeous sleepy UNESCO heritage town nestled on the banks of the Mekong River with the chic French style cafes we were anticipating, Luang Prabang was CRAZY…
Songkran also takes place in Thailand (with a particular frenzy in Bangkok and Chiang Mai) and other neighbouring countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia.
The first day of Songkran marks the final day of the old year and on this day people prepare by cleansing their homes and buddha statues with water and preparing flowers. The second day is a ‘non day’ where people spend time with their families and the third day is the start of the new year. A number of celebrations take place on each of these days and in Luang Prabang the celebrations usually last for around a week.
At temples during Songkran sand mounds (stupas) are made which are then decorated and splashed with perfumed water.
Songkran is also known as the ‘water festival’ as over the years the house and Buddha cleansing has evolved into 3 days of major water fights in every street. It was impossible to walk within a few meters of the guest house we stayed in without being drenched!
Locals throw buckets of water and fire super soakers and hoses at everyone who passes whether they are walking, riding bikes and mopeds or in cars. Pick up trucks endlessly circle the streets packed with people and kids who are also hurling water at you!
On day 1 we set off armed with the waterproof and non-destructable Go-Pro anticipating (and receiving) a thorough soaking…
Every day during our time in Luang Prabang it was difficult to venture out of our guesthouse without getting soaked to the skin! There was no option ‘not to play’ as you got wet anyway! Fortunately the weather was hot and our clothes dried quickly.
There was also loud thumping Asian bass music blaring out in every direction and families cooking, eating, laughing and enjoying their special time together.
The water throwing and bass pumping ceased in the evening and we were able to go out to get some dinner while staying dry!
As with Chiang Mai there was a lot of smoke pollution while we were in Luang Prabang which caused a constant haze over the town and surrounding areas. We went for a walk to see the famous ‘Mighty Mekong’ river which runs right next to the town but could barely see the other side! By the evening our eyes were stinging a little with the smoke. April is probably not the best time to visit Luang Prabang…
The market felt much more ‘local’ than touristy with fresh fruit and veg for sale, alongside meat, skinned chickens, live feathered birds and New Year decorations.
We visited the Manda de Laos a couple of times which was directly opposite our guest house. This restaurant had a lovely setting with tables scattered around its UNESCO lotus pond. The food was of a high standard and was well presented although it is possible to get a meal of equal tastiness but for half the price in other local restaurants. For example we had a delicious Laos Green Curry in a Delilah’s along the main street where a meal and drinks for 2 was under £10.
One of the main attractions outside of Luang Prabang is the Kuang Si Waterfall and Bear Rescue Centre which will be featured in our next blog post!