Sai Bai Dee Phi Mai! – Buddhist New Year Celebrations

Throughout my time in Thailand and traveling in Southeast Asia, I experienced countless unforgettable experiences that would be difficult to express fully in writing.  Out of all the experiences I had, I’d have to say one of the most unique and memorable was celebrating “Songkran” or “Phi Mai” – the Buddhist New Year.  The Buddhist New Year festival is celebrated April 14-16 through a unique tradition.  During this three-day celebration basically EVERYONE just has a giant water fight!  So you see kids and grandparents alike throwing buckets of water on one another, shooting water guns, spraying hose water, throwing water balloons, and just celebrating together.  This holiday is celebrated in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar.  The festival started out as a kind of cleansing ritual for the New Year and has gradually grown into a giant water festival. It is said that the more water you get dumped on you the more luck you will have in the new year.

I was lucky enough to arrive in just the right place at the right time to experience this incredible water festival.  After working in Thailand as an English teacher for 7 months, I was about 2 weeks into my backpacking journey in Laos.  My final destination in Laos was the incredible city of Luang Prabang!  The entire city of Luang Prabang is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It’s famous for its many traditional temples and has many monks.  Although I was a little sad that I couldn’t be in Thailand to celebrate, this town soon proved to be an equally amazing place for my Buddhist New Year celebration.  Upon arrival into the city by bus, the water festival was already well under-way.  I got off the bus and hopped onto a tuk-tuk as I rode into my hostel.  Riding into this small town, in addition to the water festivities, there was a parade going on.  Amazed and excited already, I was able to sneak off my tuk-tuk without getting too wet and to my hostel to put my things away before heading right back out to see the parade!

As soon as I stepped foot outside of the hostel, I was already in the battle zone.  No turning back.  Wherever you go, you are going to get soaked.  I was enchanted as I was soon surrounded by a shared joy of children, teens, adults, parents, grandparents, tourists and locals alike celebrating together.  Walking around during this time was a surreal experience.  I remember at one point I felt tears coming to my eyes as I was in awe of this experience. I felt pure bliss and amazement in this moment – at the fact that I was here. I was living my dream and I was in the middle of this town on the other side of the world in a country I honestly barely knew before I started traveling.  I was in the middle of one of the most unique cultural experiences on their biggest holiday celebration of the year.

Along the street, the parade processions passed by – endless processions of monks, children dressed in traditional clothing, and various interesting cultural performances. The water festivities surrounded me. The cheerful energy was tangible, as every single person on that street was consumed by the carefree spirit of a child again.  Families and friends filled every street stationed with barrels, buckets, hoses, and water guns, pick-up trucks drove past with 20 people standing in the bed with barrels and water guns ready, families danced together and drank beer, kids and adults alike deep in the battle zone, not a care in the world.

Being the person that I am, of course, I NEEDED to capture the experience. Despite not having the proper type of waterproof camera or bag, I was able to get some photos and videos. Through strategic navigation and timing, I managed to get some of this footage of the festival in between my own celebration.

Throughout the celebration, I was treated to plenty of free Lao beer by gracious locals along the way.  A couple families and groups invited my friend and I to join them in their celebration, offering us free beer and food, and inviting us to join in their drunken dancing.

This experience was one-of-a-kind and it allowed me to feel truly immersed in the culture of Laos. I felt every worry, every thought, every anxiety slowly drift away as I let go of all problems and just let myself have fun. I couldn’t help feeling the simple joy of this – and I felt like this was a time for everyone to temporarily forget about their troubles and return to that pure joy of childhood. Because in that moment, nothing else mattered. I was there. I was right there in the middle of everything, having the time of my life.

Watch the full video from the fest here 🙂

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