Months ago we planned out a rough intinery for our 6 week trip through Thailand and Laos to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Then I looked at our dates and realised that we would be riding round the Laos countryside during Songkran. The Laos (and Thai) New Year festival is celebrated by pouring water over friends and family, to symbolically wash away the strife of the last year. Somewhere along the way, this has turned into soaking anybody you see with as much water is possible. Including those riding past you on motorcycles. We knew we’d be a big target for those with buckets, hoses and super soakers…was this a good idea? We decided to go for it, the attraction of Konglor Cave was too much to resist, and so we rented a couple of bikes and headed out into the country.
Within about ten minutes we’d been caught by a couple of girls with buckets of water and a great aim. But it was hot and we enjoyed being ‘part of it’ so we laughed it off and kept riding. This a very rural area and even the main highway passes only through tiny villages. We passed people celebrated songkran in many different ways: people going to the temple to make offerings; kids having water fights, old boys drinking Beer Lao, big groups dancing on their porches and families sitting around sharing chat and food together - it was great to just see the people doing exactly what they wanted on their few days off for the year. That evening our ears were filled with the thudding beat of the nearest songkran party - luckily we were so tired we went straight to sleep.
Everyone we passed the next day looked a little worse for wear! At Konglor cave, they had a big fair with music, games and pedalos on the lake - when we arrived everyone seemed to be recovering from yesterday’s party and getting ready to start again! Truck loads of people kept arriving to join in - it was clearly the place to be!
Once we got back to the main highway, the parties were aplenty and we were getting soaked every couple of minutes! We stopped for gas and a group of old men drinking together called over to us. We said hello and wished them a happy new year and before we knew it they were poured water on our backs whilst mumbling various things which I think amounted to ‘good luck’ and ‘happy new year’. In return for getting wet they offered us some beer; we wished them all the best, thanked them for the beer and took off. They were very sweet and it was a much gentler experience than being soaked with a hose as you drive past!
A bit later we stopped again for a cold drink and to give our back-sides a break! The family whose shop we had stopped at once again poured water down our backs and wished us a happy new year. But then out came the hose, the talcum powder and the obligatory selfies - it was great fun!
We got back to Thakhek low on petrol but with just a couple of kilometres to go. The road we need to take, however, had been turned into a kind of water fight carnival and after trying to find an alternative route, we decided we’d have to just go for it. We slalomed through the trucks full of revellers and the street dancers - including a fetching group of Cathoy - as safely as we could, whilst being drenched time and again. It was an exciting and fun finale to our trip, and the bikes got a wash!
Our tips for a great Songkran:
- Clothes Wear something you're not too precious about and probably not white - some people put colour in their water!
- Keep your valuables dry Avoid having electronics on you unless you have a dry bags. For essentials such as money, phone and a small camera you can buy little waterproof bags from any small shop.
- Say 'Sabaydee Pi Mai' Laotians will really appreciate you learning a little bit of the language and joining in with their biggest holiday!