Emerging after years of isolation, Laos is a country of stunning and natural beauty, friendly people, and a way of life whose charms and relaxed pace are impossible to resist. Laos brings together the best of Southeast Asia in one bite-sized destination.
Most people visit the country as part of a wider trip in the region, often entering from Thailand and following the Mekong further south. However, Laos alone rewards further exploration. Stretching from the forest-clad mountains of the north to the islands of the far south, there’s enough here to keep you occupied for weeks, and still feel as though you’d barely scratched the surface.
Best time to visit is during the ‘Dry Season’, which is November through mid-April. Temperatures typically range from 63°F to around 86°F. April also marks one of the most important dates in the Lao calendar: Pimai Lao – the Lao New Year, April 14 – 16, 2017. This is a time of celebration and endless fun, a time that has become synonymous with holiday, the celebration of Lao identity, the reinforcement of family bonds, and an opportunity to reflect on the year ahead.
Although the Lao New Year is celebrated in joyous spirit throughout the country, ancient traditions and colorful pageantry are best to experience in the northern heritage city of Luang Prabang. The last day of the year, April 13, is traditionally a day of renewal, the main symbol of which is water. Buddha images are washed, temples repainted and homes cleaned from top to bottom. In the afternoon, young people pour water on the hands of their elders and ask for their blessing in the year ahead. Much like a New Year toast in western cultures, this is sometimes followed by a short speech from parents or grandparents. During those speeches, elders give their blessing to their family, as well as highlighting important family events, such as births, deaths, or weddings.
The blessing of relatives, friends and even strangers with water continues throughout the festival. Traditionally, you wish someone ‘Happy New Year’ (‘Sok Dii Pimai’), before pouring water over their head, symbolizing the washing away of sins committed in the past year. These days, water is also shot through water guns or thrown from buckets and pans, creating and enormous water-fight that’s impossible to avoid.
For tourists, most of the highlights of Pimai Lao take place on the second day of festivities (April 14), considered ’the day of no day’ – a day of transition that is neither part of the old or the New Year. Highlights include the thousands of sand stupas on the banks of the Mekong, with their colorful banners and offerings, the procession of Prabang, one of Laos’ most celebrated Buddha images, the spectacular crowning of ‘Nang Sangkhan’ (Miss New Year), as well as display authentic display of traditional Lao music, dance, and costumes.
AirlinePros partner Lao Airlines (QV) is the national carrier of Laos, headquartered in Vientiane. The airline operates domestic, as well as international services to Cambodia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and Korea.