Following the Buddhist calendar, Songkran is the Thai new year and is the biggest festival of the year, where you basically spend several days eating, drinking beer and throwing water at each other. We went with some sorrow to Laos without knowing that Lao culture, language and ethnicity is as similar to Thai as its traditions, so what some call Songkran, others call it Pii Mai, but it is exactly the same.
Right after crossing the border we and a young woman picked us up and got us directly to Vientiane. When she left, she gave us her phone and told us to contact her if we wanted to do anything while we were in the capital.
We and the next day we woke up very early and started exploring the city to find private parties everywhere right in the streets, and we did not understand why. After a few hours, we called Two, the woman in question, and told us that she had a couple of parties to attend, first at the bank and then at the university, but we could accompany her if we wanted. Obviously we answered yes and we said to meet in the bank.
Partying at the bank!
We arrived at the headquarters of the BCEL —the most important bank in the country— to find exactly the opposite of what we were expecting: a megaparty. Hundreds of workers, all uniformed with a red polo shirt with the company logo, eating and drinking liters and liters of beer, dancing to the rhythm of a singer who animated the party, and barrels filled with water everywhere to get wet every single person in there.
We asked if anyone knew Two and the answer was two glasses with ice and beer —Yes, even if it sounds disgusting to mix ice and beer, you will get used to in Southeast Asia. And you’ll even be thankful when it’s so hot that your beer gets warm in a matter of minutes—. In short, the afternoon started quite well. The next 20 minutes, were a succession of employees coming to take selfies with us, to respond to all their ‘What are your names?’, to bring us different dishes of food and to fill our glasses with beer constantly.
After a while, and being fully integrated into the party, we came across Two. Even if it was 2 PM only, some were already quite drunk. And it was not strange, they had been drinking since 9 in the morning!
From time to time, somebody was approaching you stealthily from the back and was pouring a bucket of water on your head or the collar of your shirt. That when they did not come even more stealthily to put a full glass in your mouth and say to you a ‘hands off’ and that was it, you had to swallow beer until the other person wanted!
We were there a couple of more hours until Two told us to go to the other party in the university, where in fact, she was a teacher.
Second round: Between students and teachers
This was, if anything, even more unlikely.
To celebrate the arrival of Pii Mai, the university opened the doors of all its common areas and gardens, for students and teachers to party hard. Unfortunately, from this party we have almost no picture, since Two told us that while in the bank they had the decorum of not throwing water if they saw us with a camera in hand, in the university would not be the same. So we only have a ninja selfie that I did with the phone at a moment when we were few and we saw some students from Two with whom we had drunk and danced when we arrived.
In this party, compared to the bank’s one, there was almost no food, but the beer jars were still countless. There were loud speakers that were heard all over the campus and gave rhythm to the party changing constantly between Drum&Bass and typical Laotian folk songs.
If I imagined the same party in my college days, I would see the students partying hard and the teachers either would not be there or would be sitting quietly. Here it was the other way around. The teachers were the ones who threw most water, drank more beer and danced more songs.
Also, if you know already that Asian countries are not the cleanest in the world, imagine how the university could be at that time. I would not want to have to be the one to clean up that mess!
To finish, when it was dark we left because Two had to attend a family dinner, where invited us also there. There we were able to relax a lot more and enjoy some good conversations. But of course, the beer and the water attacks continued as before.
Whole week of party
The good thing is that after seeing such parties as we were in the car with Two, we talked about Pii Mai and told us that, as was usual, all the food, drink and entertainment was offered by their respective bosses. In short, they paid them the superparty, and even they still got to throw water to them! He also told us that in fact that was just the pre-party. The party as such lasted only three days but since this year it was at the beginning of the week, then the whole weekend before was also celebrated. So during those days schools closed and the vast majority of workers had vacations, so they could spend almost a full week spending time with family, eating, drinking alcohol and throwing water at each other.
Normally you find music and party at all hours wherever you go, and people spend the day driving their pick-up through the town with people behind wetting pedestrians. We left the capital after two days, and there was no town, no matter how small, who did not celebrate it big time. The truth is that we loved it, but after several days wet at all hours, we ended up a bit fed up since although April is the warmest month of the year, I actually ended up a bit sick as we were sleeping every night in the tent.
So you know, if you have the opportunity to spend a Pii Mai/Songkran in Laos, or any of its neighboring Buddhist countries, do not hesitate to do so. And above all, leave the backpacks, cameras and laptops where you are staying, and buy one of the typical hermetic plastic bags for documentation and phone. I know, it seems a touristy thing but in fact everyone has it and the only one that does not is the tourist that ends soaked and moaning!