Lao New Year is a popular English name for a traditional celebration known in Laos as "Pi Mai" or "Songkran" (in Lao language). Lao New Year widely celebrated festival in Laos. Lao people across the world celebrate the festival with family and friends, with the biggest events taking place in Laos itself.

Traditions are closely linked to the Buddhist concept of merit-making. Merits provide a beneficial and protective force and are earned in return for good deeds and virtue, these concepts, therefore, feature heavily throughout the festival.

When is the New Year Celebrated in Laos?

The festival date is based on the traditional solar new year, that was observed in parts of India and Asia. It falls on either April 13th or April 14th.

In recent years, the official festival dates are fixed during three days from 14 to 16 April, although celebrations can last more than a week in towns such as Luang Prabang. 

The Lao new year is marked by the sun entering the sign of Aries the Ram. This particular event was traditionally closely related to the Vernal Equinox. In ancient times, the dates of the sun entering Aries and the Vernal Equinox would have been even closer, but they have shifted due to an effect called procession, where the Earth wobbles on its axis over a 25,000 year period.

How is Lao New Year Celebrated?

New Year celebrations in Lao last for three days, though the traditions and customs are similar to Songkran, Thai New Year. This is the most important festival of the year in Laos.

Tourists in any part of Lao on these days can take part in the annual celebrations. Visitors can enjoy traditional music and dances including the molam and lamvông.

The three days of Lao New Year (Pi Mai Lao)

Day 1

The first day of celebration is the last day of the old year. Perfume, water and flowers are prepared for the Lao New Year.

In temples all over the country, Buddha images are taken down from their permanent places and placed on special temporary easy-to-access places within the Wat (temple) compounds so villagers can pour perfumed water on them.

They then collect the water that runs off the Buddha images and take it home to pour on family members, friends and relatives. This is believed to bless, clean and purify the receivers before entering the Lao New Year.

Day 2

The second day of the Lao New Year festival is the "day of no day", a day that falls in neither the old year nor the new year. Houses and villages are properly cleaned on the second day.

Traditionally elders will advise young people to avoid taking nap on the second day as it’s believed that in doing so one will get sick in the coming year.

They encourage young people to clean their places and go out to pour water on other elders in the village and wish them well, and finally have fun and get wet themselves. This is a way to clean and send bad things away with the old year.

Day 3

The last day of the festival marks the start of the new year. This day many families will hold a Baci ceremony at their houses to welcome Lao New Year as well as to wish their elders good health and long life.

Some might respectfully ask for forgiveness from their elders for things that they did in the past year that might have hurt their feelings unintentionally. And at the same time they give the elders gifts.

In late afternoon or evening of the last day, in the temples, the Buddha images are moved back to their permanent homes.

On that same evening devotees go to the temples to listen to the monks chanting as an act to ask for forgiveness from the monks as well as from the Buddha images for what they did (pouring water on them) in this past few days that might have accidentally touched them (monks and Buddha are not to be touched).

After that, a Vien Tien, a candlelight procession, takes place around the temples and that is the end of the Lao New Year celebration.

Lao New Year Legend

Long, long ago, there was a rich man who married a very kind and beautiful woman in a small town in a far away land. Although they had been husband and wife for about four years, his wife did not bear him a child. So, one beautiful day, the rich man held a sacred ceremony, begging for a child from a big, tall tree called, “Toll Hi.” At the toll Hi tree lived a “Tavarbood.” “Tavarbood” is a male angel who lives at the bottom of heaven. After hearing the request, Tavarbood brought it to “Phra-Ya-In.” Phra-Ya-In is also a deity, but has higher nobility and title and lives at a higher level of heaven.

As a result, Phra-Ya-In granted one deity named, “Tham-Ma-Barn” (Buddha in a previous Yuka), to incarnate as a son to the couple. Then the wife of the rich man had a baby boy name, “Tham-Ma-Barn.” Since childhood, Tham-Ma-Barn had received special training and education, which allowed him to know and do everything. Tham-Ma-Barn could answer any question when asked. He was clever and knowledgeable. Tham-Ma-Barn was a great teacher and conducted many ceremonies for the people.

Hearing about the extraordinary reputation of Tham-Ma-Barn, “Ca-Bin-Ra-Pom,” who was a deity and lived at the highest level of Heaven, came down to the world to test Tham-Ma-Barn’s knowledge and wisdom. Before Ca-Bin-Ra-Pom asked Tham-Ma-Barn any questions, he asked Tham-Ma-Barn o agree on his proposal. Ca-Bin-Ra-Pom suggested, “I will ask you three questions. If you cannot answer them, I will cut off your head as sacrifice to the teaching of Buddha. On the other hand, if you can answer all three questions, I will cut off my head out of my respect for your knowledge.

Tham-Ma-Barn agreed on the suggestion and the three questions given to him were; One, where is the virtue of a person in the morning? Two, where is the virtue of a person at noon? Three, where is the virtue of a person in the evening?

Ca-Bin-Ra-Pom gave Tham-Ma-Barn seven days to supply him with answer. Day one, day two, day three, day four, and day five went by quickly and Tham-Ma-barn did not find answer to even one question of Ca-Bin-Ra-Pom. When six days arrived, Tham-Ma-Barn still could not find the answers. He was so tired of thinking and searching for the right answers. He was so exhausted that when he came upon a big tree in the forest, he took a rest at its foot. As he closed his eyes, he heard two excited voices from afar above branch of the tree. At the time, two eagles on the branch, husband and wife were discussing the contest of Ca-Bin_Ra-Pom and Tham-Ma-Barn. Tham-Ma-Barn, who was resting quietly at the bottom of the tree, still had his eyes closed, but he continued to listen in on the two eagle’s conversation.

The husband eagles told his wife that Tham-Ma-Barn would lose the bet for sure, because the questions were very had and no one on this world knew the answer except the questioner and him. The wife eagle was curious to know the answers to the questions and she begged her husband to tell her. Without any hesitation, the husband explained the answers to his wife and Tham-Ma-Barn now knew the answers and went home happily.

On the following day, the seventh day, Tham-Ma-Barn and Ca-Bin-Ra-Pom came face-to-face and Ca-BinRa-Pom asked for the answer. Tham-Ma-Barn answered, “In the morning, the person’s virtue is on the face, because when a person wakes up he or she washes his/her face.” At noon, the virtue of a person is on the chest and the body, because he/she puts water on the chest and takes a bath. In the evening, the virtue of a person is on the feet, because he/she washes his/her feet before going to bed.”

Ca-Bin-Ra-Pom was very surprised that Tham-Ma-Barn answered all the questions correctly, but he gracefully acknowledged his defeat by agreeing to cut of his own head, as he had promised. Because Ca-Bin-a-Pom’s head was so holy that if it dropped onto the ground, it would cause fire and burn down the whole world; if his head rose into the air, the land would become arid and parched and people would die’ if his head fell into the ocean, the ocean would dry up. Therefore, before cutting off his head, he asked his seven daughters to gather around to receive his instruction. “My daughters,” he stated, “After I cut off my head, take my head and parade it around the earth axis 60 times, and then take it to “Kay_Rad” Mountain. Each year, one of you has to take turns to parade my head around the earth axis and bathe it with holy and perfumed water to show your respect, loyalty, and thankfulness to your father in order to give rain and prosperity to the earth.” When Ca-Bin-Ra-Pom finished speaking, he cut off his own head and the seven princesses conducted the procession of their father’s head as instructed, and then they went back to heaven.

This is the birth of the Lao New Year celebration and the parade of Nang-Sang-Khan. The seven daughters of Ca-Bin-Ra-Pom were born on each of the seven days, so each year the daughter whose birthday falls on the first day of the New Year will hold her father’s head and lead the grand parade.

You may find this legend similar as the one in Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar

Lao New Year Tradition


Water is used for washing homes, Buddha images, monks, and soaking friends and passers-by. Students first respectfully pour water on their elders, then monks for blessings of long life and peace, and last of all they throw water at each other. 

The water is perfumed with flowers or natural perfumes. Some people prefer flowers in the water to give a pleasant smell, as well as adding cologne/perfume. 

Over the years another tradition has developed with Lao New Year: people will smear or throw cream (shaving cream or whipped cream) or white powder on each other during the celebrations.


Sand is brought to the temple grounds and is made into stupas or mounds, then decorated before being given to the monks as a way of making merit. There are two ways to make the sand stupas. One way is to go to the beach, and the other way is to bring sand to the vat, or temple. Sand stupas are decorated with flags, flowers, white lines, and splashed with perfumed water. Sand stupas symbolize the mountain, Phoukhao Kailat, where King Kabinlaphrôm's head was kept by his seven daughters.


Another way to make merit at this time is to set animals free. The Lao believe that animals need to be free. The most commonly freed animals are tortoises, fish, crabs, birds, eels and other small animals.


Flowers are gathered to decorate Buddha images. In the afternoons people collect fresh flowers. Senior monks take the younger monks to a garden filled with flowers, where they pick flowers and bring back to the wat to wash. 

People who didn't participate in the flower picking bring baskets to wash the flowers so the flowers can shine with the Buddha statues. In the evening lao people usually go to the temple to worship the Buddhas.

Beauty pageant

There is an annual beauty pageant in Luang Prabang to crown Miss Pi Mai Lao (Miss Lao New Year). There are many beauty pageants in Laos, but the old capital Luang Prabang is known for its Nangsangkhan pageant. There are seven contestants, each one symbolizing one of King Kabinlaphrôm's seven daughters.

Music and dance

During Lao New Year, there are many spectacles including traditional Lao music and social dancing, molam, and lamvông (circle dancing). During the daytime many people go to the temple to worship, hoping to have a healthier and happier life in the new year. During the evening, people of all ages go to the temple for entertainment.

Getting Soaked in Boun Pi Mai

During the New Year, water plays a big part in the festivities—Lao bathe Buddha images in their local temples, pouring jasmine-scented water and flower petals on the sculptures. The faithful also build sand stupas and decorate these with flowers and string.

Monks provide the water and blessings for those flocking to each temple, along with white bai sri strings which are tied around devotees' wrists.

People also get soaked during Bun Pi Mai—respectfully pouring water on monks and elders, and less reverently on each other. Foreigners are not exempt from this treatment—if you're in Laos during the holiday, expect to be soaked by passing teenagers, using buckets of water, hoses, or high-pressure water guns.

Locals sometimes throw flour as well as water, so you’ll feel both wet and doughy at the end of the holiday.

If you are visiting Buddhist temples, there are various things to know in terms of etiquette; also check out the Tak Bat almsgiving ceremony in Luang Prabang.

Celebrating Boun Pi Mai in Luang Prabang

While Boun Pi Mai is celebrated throughout Laos, tourists at Vientiane or Luang Prabang see the holiday at its most intense. In Vientiane, families make the rounds of the different temples to bathe the Buddha statues, especially at Wat Phra Kaew, the city's oldest temple.

Luang Prabang, the former royal capital and a present-day UNESCO World Heritage site, is probably the best place to celebrate Bun Pi Mai in Laos. The festivities can last seven days, held in different places around the city.

An elaborate Hae Vor procession kicks off Sangkhan Luang. Leaders of the town’s most notable Buddhist temples ride in gilded, pagoda-shaped palanquins (vehicles without wheels), flanked by monks and other devotees, as watchers sprinkle water on the parade passing by.

The winner of that year’s Nang Sangkhan (Miss New Year) beauty pageant also joins the procession, borne aloft an animal-shaped float, bearing a four-faced effigy head.

Traditions for Nang Sangkhan come from the myth of Phaya Kabinlaphom, a four-faced demigod who foresaw his demise by decapitation—he decreed that his seven daughters would take turns riding an animal to the cave where his head would be kept and sprinkled with fragrant water.

Colorfully-garbed elephants guided by mahouts in full costume kick off the first day of the New Year festivities. The procession (Chang hieng koei) winds its way from Wat Mai to Wat Xiengthong.

Beyond the usual Luang Prabang Night Market, the town hosts several fairs throughout the Bun Pi Mai holiday. Look for a textile fair at Phanom craft village, a Lolat Market Fair on the streets of the UNESCO World Heritage town, and a temple fair on the grounds of That Luang that also include traditional performances.

At the Hat Muang Khoun sandbar located in Chomphet District across the river from Luang Prabang, locals build sand stupas called toppathatsay to make merit, decorate them with flowers and hand-painted flags, and sprinkle river water on each other. Locals believe these sand stupas prevent evil spirits from passing over from the previous year into the new one.

The Wat Mai temple has a gilded statue of the Buddha known as the Pha Bang (also spelled Prabang—it's the actual namesake of the city) installed after a procession from the Royal Palace Museum, and bathed under a temporary pavilion through sluice pipes carved into the shape of legendary water serpents.

Ceremonial waters are first poured by personifications of the Lao ancestors, two red-faced toothy heads called Grandfather and Grandmother Nyeu, and a lion-faced mascot named Sing Kaew Sing Kham.

Locals will also have the chance to pour water on the Pha Bang to make merit for the coming year. The New Year comes to its official end when the Pha Bang is brought back to the museum three days later.

Tips for Enjoying Bun Pi Mai in Luang Prabang

  • Boun Pi Mai is part of peak tourist season in Laos, so if you want to be in Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng at that time, book at least two months in advance to get the dates you want.
  • Consider it unavoidable: nearly everyone will get wet during Bun Pi Mai. At the same time, there are certain locals you shouldn't throw water at—monks, elders, and maybe the occasional well-dressed woman on her way to an important New Year event.
  • Stay merry, and use the traditional New Year greetings liberally - either sok di pi mai or sabaidi pi mai, both of which approximate “Happy New Year.”

Lao New Year Date

Here is the Lao New Year dates until 2024 for your reference.

Year Date Day
2022 14 Apr to 16 Apr Thu to Sat
2023 14 Apr to 16 Apr Fri to Sun
2024 13 Apr to 16 Apr Sat to Tue
2025 13 Apr to 16 Apr Sun to Wed

Stay safe during Lao new year

Lao New Year was a really friendly, lively festival to be a part of, but due to the water and talcum powder throwing, and alcohol intake it can also be dangerous on the roads.

There’s an increase in road traffic accidents caused by people swerving or being surprised by water attacks when on their motors or cycles. The combination of water and talcum powder also makes the road surface slippery resulting in skidding and crashes, especially when mixed with speeding and drink driving.

Personally, I would avoid riding a bicycle or motorcycle during Lao New Year. After being squirted directly in the face when riding my bicycle on the first day of the festival and nearly coming off it I decided the bike would remain safely at home for the rest of the celebrations. You also need to stay alert when walking around town as normal road rules don’t apply…keep your wits about you.

There’s little violent crime during Lao New Year but one other thing to be aware of is the increase in opportunistic pickpockets and bag snatchers, especially in the crowded areas. 

There’s probably not much chance of it happening but to be on the safe side I’d recommend the following: don’t take a bag out with you, don’t carry large amounts of money and don’t walk around with your camera or phone out.

I actually just stashed my money in my bra and kept my iPhone in the waistband of my jeans. If you take these precautions you should be fine.

One other thing to remember is that Lao New Year falls at the hottest time of the year, so be sure to drink lots of water and wear sunscreen when out and about.

Other similar new year celebration in Asia

Thailand New Year (Songkran)

Songkran Festival is the Thai New Year’s Festival which takes place every April. It is also Thailand’s biggest and most famous water festival in Thailand. It marks the start of the traditional Thai New Year.

Songkran is derived from a Sanskrit word saṃkrānti which literally translates to “astrological passage” and means ‘passing’, ‘approaching’, ‘change’, or ‘transformation’. The official holiday runs from the 13th up to the 15th of April but the festivities may last a week or more.

The traditional way of celebrating the water festival involves Thai people splashing water on their elders, family members, close friends, and neighbors as a way of looking for good fortune. They also visit temples and pay homage to the images of Buddha.

Check more detail about Songkran – Thailand New Year

Cambodia New Year

Cambodian New Year, Choul Chnam Thmey, literally "Enter New Year", is the name of the Cambodian holiday that celebrates the traditional Lunar New Year. The holiday lasts for three days beginning on New Year's Day, which usually falls on April 13th or 14th, which is the end of the harvesting season, when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor before the rainy season begins. 

The highlight of the festive activities is also the water festival along the main streets of the big cities and all over the countries.

Check more detail about Choul Chnam Thmey – Cambodia Khmer New Year

Myanmar New Year (Thingyan)

Thingyan, which means "transit [of the Sun from Pisces to Aries]" is the Burmese New Year Festival that usually occurs in middle of April. It is a Buddhist festival celebrated over a period of four to five days, culminating in the New Year.

The dates of the Thingyan Festival are calculated according to the Burmese calendar. The dates of the festival are observed as public holidays throughout Myanmar and are part of the summer holidays at the end of the school year. 

Water-throwing or dousing one another from any shape or form of vessel or device that delivers water is the distinguishing feature of this festival and may be done on the first four days of the festival.

Check more detail about Thingyan – Myanmar New Year

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The Rocket Festival (Boun Bang Fai) is a merit-making ceremony traditionally practiced by ethnic Lao people near the beginning of the wet season in numerous villages and municipalities, in the regions of Northeastern Thailand and Laos. Celebrations typically include preliminary music and dance performances, competitive processions of floats, dancers and musicians on the second day, and culminating on the third day in competitive firings of home-made rockets. Local participants and sponsors use the occasion to enhance their social prestige, as is customary in traditional Buddhist folk festivals throughout Southeast Asia.

The festival in Thailand also includes special programs and specific local patterns like Bung Fai (Parade dance) and a Beautiful Bung Fai float such as Yasothon the third weekend of May, and continues Suwannaphum District, Roi Et on the first weekend of June, Phanom Phrai District Roi Et during the full moon of the seventh month in Lunar year's calendar each year. The Bung Fai festival is not only found in Isan or Northeasthern Thailand and North Thailand and Laos, but also in Amphoe Sukhirin, Narathiwat.


Buddhist Lent Day (Thailand Wan Khao Phansa, Laos Boun Khao Phansa) is the start of the three-month period during the rainy season when monks are required to remain in a particular place such as a monastery or temple grounds. Here, they will meditate, pray, study, and teach other young monks. In the past, monks were not even allowed to leave the temple, but today, most monks just refrain from traveling during this period. You will still see them out during the day.

It is said that monks started remaining immobile in a temple during this time because they wanted to avoid killing insects and harming farmland. Apparently, traveling monks were crossing through fields, thus destroying the crops of villagers and farmers. After catching wind of this, Buddha decided that in order to avoid damaging crops, hurting insects, or harming themselves during the rainy season, monks should remain in their temples during these three months.

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Initiated in 2006 by an NGO working for years with the elephants, this annual meeting of Laos Elephant Festival became one of the big festivals of Laos, followed by thousands of Laotians who move to attend a number of exercises, parades, and elections of the most emblematic animal of Laos. Fifty elephants are walking around for 3 days in the streets of the small provincial town. A large market takes place for the occasion with all kind of local (or Thai) products.

Home to the country’s largest pachyderm population, Xayabouly Province is the natural choice to host this growing event that also aims to raise awareness about the need to protect the endangered Asian elephant, which has played such a vital role in Lao people’s livelihoods, culture and heritage.

In 2023, the date has just been confirmed to be held during a week from 13th until 20th February. If you plan to visit the festival, contact us now to secure your seat.


The highlight of the year in Wat Phu Champasak is the three-day Buddhist festival, held on Magha Puja day on the full moon of the third lunar month, usually in February. The ceremonies culminate on the full-moon day with an early-morning offering of alms to monks, followed that evening by a candlelit wéean téean (circumambulation) of the lower shrines.

Throughout the three days of the festival Lao visitors climb around the hillside, stopping to pray and leave offerings of flowers and incense. The festival is more commercial than it once was, and for much of the time has an atmosphere somewhere between a kids' carnival and music festival. Events include kick-boxing matches, boat races, cockfights, comedy shows and plenty of music and dancing, as bands from as far away as Vientiane arrive. After dark the beer and lòw-lów (Lao whisky) flow freely and the atmosphere gets pretty rowdy.


When the three months of Buddhist Lent come to an end in October, it is the perfect time to visit temples and celebrate the end of the rainy season. In Laos, this is called Boun Awk Phansa (Sometimes translated as Boun Ok Phansa or Boun Ock Phansa) and various religious and local traditions can be observed during this time. Moreover, there are plenty of festive activities are organized throughout the country with floating flower boats, candles, fireworks, lavishly decorated wats and an old-time carnival … all make for a magical Boun Awk Phansa festival in Laos. 


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Boat races are common all throughout Buddhist Lent, a full three-month period generally running from late August to the end of October. The exact dates vary each year, but most races are held on the weekend, start around noon, and end by sunset.

About mid-way through Buddhist Lent, the first major boat racing festival is held in Luang Prabang. Many others will be held later on along the Mekong River and other waterways. Then, the final race is in Vientiane. The first and last races are by far the largest and most important.

The Boat Racing Festival is also a time of other, accompanying festivities. There are bamboo rockets shot off to announce the beginning of a race, local markets that spring up and thrive, and other entertainment that goes on.

Since it is the rainy season, the waters are high and good for boating, the farmers are not overburdened with work, and tourist season is at a low point. This set of circumstances, and the fact that people have been waiting all year for this, creates a lot of excitement about the boat racing events.

In the scope of this article, we will learn about the Laos traditional boat racing festival and the festive atmosphere in Luang Prabang and Vientiane.


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