Happy New Year 2551, part 2

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VV parade 19VANG VIENG, LAO PDR–Five elephants carrying local (male) dignitaries led the Lao New Year parade through central Vang Vieng to Wat That yesterday afternoon.

Brought up specially from Savannakhet, the elephants were billeted across the river from The Elephant Crossing Hotel, where we watched them bathe from the riverfront bar at breakfast on Friday morning. Tash ran to the end of the verandah for a closer look, exclaiming ‘How exciting!’ Later she told her Dad (whose turn it was to sleep in) all about it along the lines of ‘Haydie take a shower!’

VV parade 7 beauty queensThe elephants were followed by the Miss Vang Vieng float of beauties, the winner Miss Ban Huay Sanao riding a half-man, half-bird creature, the six runners-up clustered around her. The float was actually a truck fully covered in cloth except for a tiny window for the driver, the girls riding in the tray.

Also up the front of the parade were the Buddhist monks, followed by representatives of groups like the district Lao Women’s Union and Lao Youth Union, and the general citizenry, including a rag-tag bunch of elders banging drums and gongs.

Tash and I walked with my Lao ‘brother’ Khamphat and his family who arrived from Vientiane earlier in the day, while Andrew took wonderful photos and Rachel ferried her kids, Monica and Milan, in the car. Tash was a star attraction in her royal blue and gold twin-set (sinh-like skirt and matching vest), and enjoyed being showered with water by passersby, part of the Pii Mai Lao (Lao New Year) tradition.

VV parade 25 Tash Roo & elephantThe parade poured into the grounds of Wat Si Vieng Song (Wat That), where we watched the dignitaries descend from the elephants — one group falling off, undignified though thankfully unhurt — and milled around while a baci (blessing ceremony) took place in the sala.

Pii Mai is also the time of year when the temple’s Buddha images are taken out into the courtyard and washed with scented water. Devotees pour the water through a pipe shaped like a naga (water serpent), which flows over the Buddha statue seated in a little cage. People catch the water as it drips from the statue, using it to bless themselves and their children, or keeping it in bowls and bottles for ‘recycling’ at the next temple. Tash got her head wet, which she didn’t enjoy half as much as the ice-cream Khamphat’s mother-in-law gave her.

VV parade 42 washing BuddhaThe temple hall was mainly filled with older people and children. After a blessing by the monks, a local man read an origin story in Pali, an ancient holy language. We couldn’t pick up much detail, but there was something about a man with seven heads and seven daughters, which might account for the seven beauties chosen to ride the float. Each of the girls had her own pha khuan for the baci, a pyramid woven banana leaves, decorated with flowers and candles and draped in the strings that are tied around wrists as part of the blessing ceremony — designed to tie down your wandering ‘soul parts’ so you start the new year with all your faculties intact.

We walked back from Wat That to Khamphat’s car, getting splashed by the young locals and tourists who lined the streets with hoses, buckets and pump action water-pistols, complete with water tanks on their backs. Getting doused is great in the heat, although a brewing storm also meant cooler weather for the parade.

Khamphat’s one-year-old son Oune fell asleep on my shoulder, but his three-year-old daughter Nat, four-year-old Monica and the two-year-olds, Milan and Tash, partied on for a few hours more while their parents ate excellent Lao food, drank cold bia Lao, and generally got the New Year off to a great start.

To view the Lao New Year parade as a slideshow, click here.

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One Response to “Happy New Year 2551, part 2”

  1. fran Says:

    happy new year you 3, from the new Hobartians- i’m loving your travels, (and your weather!) xxx fran

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