Wet and whacky in Laos

See in the New Year with a three-day wa­ter fight

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - PAUL McNA­MARA

“Sabai di pi mai!” come the shouts from the Lao­tians crammed into the backs of cars and trucks, parad­ing down the streets of Vi­en­tiane, the usu­ally quiet cap­i­tal of Laos. In re­turn I shout, “Happy New Year!” Then mo­ments later, the sky comes down in tor­rents. It’s not rain, but wa­ter from large con­tain­ers on the backs of the trucks that’s scooped up en­thu­si­as­ti­cally and thrown in the di­rec­tion of any­one look­ing in need of a cool shower.

The grins on the faces of the Lao­tians re­veal this is their high­light of the year, and un­der­stand­ably so. The New Year cel­e­bra­tion is es­sen­tially a three-day wa­ter fight mixed with bar­be­cues, par­ties, mu­sic and pa­rades. Most for­eign­ers visit the en­chant­ing old cap­i­tal of Luang Pra­bang (Laos’s old cap­i­tal) for the New Year; how­ever, there is a dif­fer­ent type of magic ex­pe­ri­enced in Vi­en­tiane where tourists are few. The lo­cals are so wel­com­ing that for a few days you can al­most for­get your ori­gins and be­gin to feel like one of the cit­i­zens.

It’s a con­ta­gious feel­ing that’s hard to re­lin­quish, which helps ex­plain why the of­fi­cial hol­i­day pe­riod of three days (April 13-15 this year) of­ten stretches to more than five days of fes­tiv­i­ties.

A wa­ter bomb comes hurl­ing past. Burst­ing on the car be­side me, it sends out a stench of fish oil as I swerve my fixed-gear rental bike away from the at­tack­ing group. Per­haps not ev­ery­one cel­e­brates strictly in line with tra­di­tion. Throw­ing wa­ter at a passer-by is sup­posed to be a bless­ing and pu­rifi­ca­tion for the New Year. Peo­ple visit the monas­ter­ies and make of­fer­ings to give them luck for the 12 months ahead. They pour scented wa­ter over Bud­dhist stat­ues and col­lect the liq­uid to use when bless­ing oth­ers.

But more of­ten than not, in­stead of a kind old lady brush­ing this blessed wa­ter over your head, it’s huge buck­ets of wa­ter (some­times chilled in ice), flour bombs and dyed wa­ter thrown with speed and pur­pose. It’s all harm­less fun, and no one protests, just ac­cept­ing the bless­ing or re­turn­ing fire. The tem­per­a­ture can be so hot at this time of year that the wa­ter is al­ready a bless­ing, even if not touched by an im­age of Bud­dha.

I put away my bike and make my way to the lo­cal mar­kets on foot for my daily bar­be­cued chicken on a skewer, cam­era par­tially wrapped with plas­tic in one hand, wa­ter pis­tol in the other for pro­tec­tion. I should have bought a big­ger gun. The weak stream of wa­ter it pro­duces is no

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.