Sabaidee Pimai!

Forget countdowns.
Forget fireworks.
And bring your watergun.

Welcome to the Laos New Year celebration which is the celebration of the Buddhist New Year. It is every April 14, 15 and 16 and is observed in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

The way it is celebrated is with water. Lots and lots of water. There are water fights everywhere. In Vangvieng, where I was on the first day of the celebrations, we (myself, Anthony and my new Dutch friend Freek) armed ourselves with massive waterguns and marched down to the main road in this small, old-Western-cowboy resembling town. All along the road people were hanging out in front of their shops and restaurants splashing buckets of water or firing waterguns at every passing car, bike, motorcycle and person. My personal favorite targets were dry tourists.

There were about a dozen of us who had been on this street for a couple of hours and we soon got this gang mentality where anytime a new person or group of people would start walking down the street we would storm them in full force making sure they were drenched. And in arguably the most promising display of diplomatic relations in the Middle East this millennium, an Israeli group on the other side of the street from where I was would whistle over to me, “Hey, Iraq!” and nod in the direction where they needed my support in battle.

We thought Vangvieng was crazy. But it was nothing compared to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos where he took a four hour bus to the next day. While Vangvieng’s water fights were mostly tourists, the whole city of Vientiane was involved and no one was spared. Everyone was out on the two main roads with blaring music playing out of massive speakers parked in front of beauty salons and hand woven rug stores. Everywhere. And if you guessed that the most popular Laos New Year songs would be Akon’s “Right Na Na Na” and Flo.Rida’s “Low”, then you win $1 million.

The second day of the New Year’s celebration, our first day in Vientiane, we hung out for several hours in front of Sabaidee restaurant which is on a corner on the main drag, terrorizing the entire intersection. While locals seem to have some unspoken rules, like only dousing those who walk by you, not dousing policemen, or just splashing a few drops on the elderly, Anthony, as always, took the whole thing to a new level.

Everyone became a target. An elderly couple taking a dry, friendly stroll across the street. Anthony chased the poor old lady down and she was doused. A couple of backpackers just arriving into town, big, heavy bags on their back trying to get oriented to this new city. Happy Laos New Year. They tried to run away but it was fruitless. They got drenched. I’ve never seen grown men run away so scared. It was classic. And the ultimate target was unloading a bucket of water into the open window of a car or bus driving by. If this was a video game, that move would be worth at least 100 points.

Pickup trucks with people loaded in the back would cruise slowly down the main drag to give everyone on the streets a chance to douse them. And the artillery in Vientiane was more advanced. Gone, for the most part, were the guns. Bring on the buckets and little water bags and the ultimate in water warfare, colored water. My clothes are now colored red, green, black, yellow and orange. We hopped on back one of the trucks and rode around for an hour with a family who spoke no English but we quickly bonded as well-seasoned war veterans. At one point we were getting absolutely drilled by no less than thirty people standing on the sidewalk pelting us with these little water bags, which as I found out can sting the hell out of you if they are tied tight and hit you full on.

There’s something fun about dumping whole buckets of water on people and having it done to you too. Besides one grumpy German guy who may be the most miserable guy on the planet, everyone took it very lightly. We were talking about how back at home, in the States, Belgium or Holland, it would start off civil but after people got drunk people’s egos would get the better of them and fights would break out. People were getting quite drunk here too but not a single bout of violence or ill will broke out.

Except when towards the end of the last day, done with the water fights and wearing my last dry tshirt walking to dinner, I pleaded with this group of Laos teenage girls to spare me. They smiled sweetly and said Ok. I’m a sucker. As soon as I turned my back on them, WHOOSH!, I was drenched again.

Happy Laos New Year!