We decided to stay at Khammany Inn Hostel after hearing about it from other backpackers I’ve met on my journey. I’m so glad I took their advice as it was Tròn and the staff which made the seven nights there feel like home.
As soon as we stepped off the bus from Nong Khiaw water was thrown over us. I t was noticeable that New Year celebrations were well under way even though it was 5 days until the New Year. Pii Mai is Laos’s New Year, similar to Songkran in Thailand and others celebrated throughout Asia between the 14th and 16th April.
Traditionally a three day festival, but lasting over a week in Luang Prabang, Pii Mai is essentially one huge water fight and an amazing experience, a million times better than Christmas and New Year in the western world. Everyone must celebrate it once in their lives!
Arriving on the 12th we had a day to explore the area before official celebrations began which was spent visiting Kuang Si falls. Kuang Si falls is a public park about 30km outside of town boasting a lovely waterfall, tropical lagoons, picnic benches and its very own Free The Bears bear sanctuary.
After seeing the black bears at the sanctuary, we headed for a short but steep climb to the top of the waterfall before taking a refreshing dip in one of the many crystal clear lagoons below. Although stunning, the place was packed full of Laos families enjoying a day out before the New Year. It was great to see everyone in such good spirits.
Luang Prabang is a fantastic town, so much so I’m considering returning to teach or volunteer. The French architecture is second to none and the night market is pretty good too. Every night we ate at the 10,000kip (just over a dollar) buffet which wasn’t the best quality but provided a quick and easy meal, perfect for groups of backpackers. Another popular hangout is Utopia, an excellent setting for a cocktail but pricey compared to Lao Lao Garden.
There is a 11:30pm curfew in Luang Prabang so all the backpackers head to the bowling alley out of town which is a fun night out. On our first night we took a peak at what was going on at the local beauty contest which was held to decide on the new year’s Miss Laos. Most local people head to bed before midnight as many get up at 4:30 for the monks and prays in one of the many temples across town. On our second day we woke up at half five to catch the procession but unfortunately was far too late and missed it.
The next few days were a blur. I can honestly say I have never had so much fun in all my life than celebrating Pii Mai. Local families took us in providing free food and as much Beer Laos as we could drink and we partied outside different homes for three days straight. The whole town took to the streets each day to throw water, food colouring and white food power all over one another as a way to cleanse each other in preparation for the New Year.
A continuous row of trucks blasting out music and filled with young people armed with water lined the streets with us on the side battling it out with our pistols and often jumping onto the trucks and ending up in houses of local families out of town. Young and old everyone was having a good time and my jaw ached so much from smiling! I learnt so much about Laos culture during the celebrations and it was this that made me fall in love with the people and their country.
The staff at Khammany Inn were just as welcoming and provided whiskey to drink on the first day of the New Year before nearly the whole hostel headed out. The next day was spent in bed ill which wasn’t surprising due to three days of beer, no sleep, dancing and cold dirty water being thrown in your face. The air con wasn’t working in the 14 bed dorm either so it was impossible to stop sweating buckets let alone sleep.
We decided to extend our stay an extra night in order to recover and to do some of things I had planned to do before New Year but unfortunately I never did quite recover from the celebrations and spent a second day in bed, this time in an air conditioned private room Jaimie and I treated ourselves to.
I also splurged on a pizza from Pizza Luang Prabang even though I adore Laos food but sometimes rice isn’t enough to cure the affects of Beer Laos (which is also very nice I must say).
We didn’t want to leave but myself and Jaimie had booked a flight to Myanmar so needed to make our way over to Bangkok. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone at Khammany Inn and leave such a fantastic place so we boosted our spirits with another trip to Joma, a western-style coffee shop where we had the most incredible pumpkin cream cheese muffin and cinnamon bun, both warmed up for us and accompanied with delicious peanut butter ice cream. What an end to a fantastic week!
Living life, loving travel,