Boun Pi Mai (also called Pii Mai and Songkran) is the Laotian New Year and one of the most important festivals in Laos.
Lao people across the world celebrate the festival with family and friends, with the biggest events taking place in Laos itself.
Traditions are closely linked to the Buddhist concept of merit-making. Merits provide a beneficial and protective force and are earned in return for good deeds and virtue, these concepts, therefore, feature heavily throughout the festival.
When is the New Year Celebrated in Laos?
Lao New Year is in mid-April. A 3-day festival takes place from the 13th/14th to 15th/16th April.
As Laos follows the Buddhist calendar, based on solar years, the new year begins when the Sun enters Aries. Each day of the 3-day celebration has its own significance:
- 13th/14th April, last day of the old year, cleaning of houses and villages
- 14th/15th April, the ‘no day’, as it lies between the old and new year
- 15th/16th April, the first day of the new year, an official government holiday
How is Lao New Year Celebrated?
The most important festival of the year, Pi Mai festivities take place across Laos. One of the principal New Year celebrations can be found in Luang Prabang including a market and parades through the city.
Most tourists hoping to travel to Laos for the New Year will need to acess to Laos Approval Letter application.
Water, sand, animals, and flowers all feature heavily in the Laos New Year traditions which are focussed on merit-making.
Why water is important to Lao New Year
A central feature of New Year’s celebrations in Laos is the idea of cleanliness.
On the 13th/14th of April, houses and villages are washed with water fragranced using flowers or perfumes, people can even expect to be soaked with water in the street.
Another part of the ritual is the pouring of water on monks in the hope that, in return, they will receive blessings for a long and peaceful life.
In more recent years, this ritual has been extended to include the throwing of cream, such as shaving foam or whipped cream, or white powder.
The significance of sand in Lao New Year celebrations
Stupas, which are mounds of sand, are made, decorated with flags and flowers and scented with perfumed water. Laotians earn merit by presenting the stupas to the monks. Stupas are either made on the beach or sand is taken to a temple.
Sand plays a key role in the Lao New Year celebrations because of the symbolic importance it holds. It is used to represent Phoukhao Kailat, the mountain where King Kabinlaphrôm’s seven daughters kept his head.
How flowers and animals are used at Lao New Year
Fresh flowers are picked by members of the community and monks, they are washed and used to adorn Buddha statues. These statues are then worshiped into the evening.
In line with the belief of the Lao people that animals should be free, New Year is an opportunity to earn merit by freeing small animals into the wild. Fish, birds, and eels are common animals involved in this ritual.
What do people do in the evening at Lao New Year?
In addition to spending time at a temple to worship Buddha, no Laotian New Year’s celebration would be complete without music and dancing.
Members of the community enjoy traditional molam and lamvông dancing as well as Lao music.
What food is eaten at Lao New Year?
Typical Laotion food is enjoyed at New Year.
Some dishes enjoyed by Laotion families at New Year include:
- Sticky rice
- Green papaya salad
- Barbecued meat
- Steamed fish
How do people Greet Each Other at New Year in Laos?
Sôk di pi mai, Souksan van pi mai or Sabaidi pi mai are all expressions meaning “Happy New Year” in Laotian.
How to Obtain a Visa to Travel to Laos for New Year
Most tourists who wish to travel to Laos for the New Year’s celebrations need to obtain a Lao tourist visa.
Citizens of 150 countries are now able to apply online for the Laos eVisa Approval Letter in a process that takes just a few minutes to complete. By doing so, travelers can obtain the permit without the need to visit an embassy in person.
Foreign nationals hoping to take part in Pi Mai can check Laos visa requirements online to confirm whether they are eligible.
Applications should be made at least 7 days before departure.