April 15, 2012 - New Year Celebrations in Cambodia and Laos

More calendars, more New Year's celebrations! Keep reading; the Lao New Year sounds super fun!

Cambodian Khmer New Year was a couple of days ago (April 13), but it is celebrated for several days. Today, the third day, is Tngay Leang Saka, the day to bathe statues of Buddha with perfumed water. People also bathe elderly relatives and get good wishes and advice from their elders. Other festivities include colorful costumes and rituals and performances.

Cambodia and several other Southeast Asian nations count this new year as 2556 BE (Buddhist Era). But of course many Cambodian people must also use the “Western” (Gregorian) calendar, with the year 2012, because of international business connections. I suppose keeping track of two calendars might be like keeping track of time in several time zones, as do many people with faraway family or business connections.

In Laos, New Year (Pii Mai) is also celebrated for several days. Today is the day to return the statues of Buddha to the temples after being ritually cleaned yesterday.

Well, that sounds very proper, almost boring, but I guess New Year Lao-style is anything but boring! 
In Vientiane, the capital city, at least, there is one huge water fight that goes all weekend long and encompasses the entire city. People are sprayed and sloshed with water and splashed with water balloons—even tourists and outsiders!—and Lao revelers even spray each other with talcum powder. 

There are casual do-it-yourself parades of decorated cars, trucks and “tuk-tuks” driving by, blaring music and shooting water guns at the crowds, who throw water right back! People in costumes fling water balloons at the crowd and get doused right back. 

Everything is closed down—even most restaurants—but hotels and “guest houses” will feed visitors. Tourists are warned to wear their oldest clothes—the coloring in the talcum powder might not come out! They're also advised to get a dive bag or other waterproof bag for cameras, phones, or anything else that might be damaged from getting wet—because the entire city is one big splash zone!

To see how casual the revelry is, check out the top video and the slide show near the bottom of this article. Or check out this British tourist trying to stay dry.

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