Lao people like to have a party and celebrate. There are many parties all year round (weddings, village parties etc. etc.) but some parties are also official:
In the year 2020 the following days will be public holidays in Laos:
1 January – New Year’s Day
20 January – Army Day
9 March – International Women’s Day
14-15-16 April – Lao New Year
1 May – Labour Day
1 June – Children’s Day
2 December – Lao National Day
During public holidays all governmental offices are closed and many private businesses will also shut their doors. Lao New Year (Pi Mai) is the most important celebration and before, during and after the ‘official days’ parties are also held everywhere. Some people start already around the 10th of April and continue to around the 20th of the same month… Expect the country to be more chaotic, parties (and a lot of noise), drunk people (including many drunk people on the roads) and beer to be everywhere. Traveling is still possible but things are not like normal, prices might be higher for some services and don’t expect everything to go as planned. Our advice would be to base yourself somewhere in the country, read a bit about Lao culture and look around and enjoy.
Some information about Lao New Year (Pi Mai Lao):
The festival is held before the onset of the rainy season to recognize the importance of water in people’s lives. It has also become synonymous with holiday, the celebration of Lao identity, the reinforcement of family bonds and an opportunity to reflect on the year ahead. It is also a purification festival during which the Buddhist images in the household and the temples are ritually cleaned with sacred water.
The first day is the last day of the old year. Houses and villages are properly cleaned on the first day. Perfume, water and flowers are also prepared for the Lao New Year. Buddhist images are taken out of the temples to be cleaned with scented water by devotees, and placed on special temporary altars within the compounds of wats (temples). Devotees gather the scented water falling of the images to take home and use it to pour on friends and relatives, as an act of cleansing and purification before entering the New Year. The second day of the festival is the “day of no day”, a day that falls in neither the old year nor the New Year. The last day of the festival marks the start of the New Year. In the evening, the images are returned to their proper shrines within the temples. Throughout the three days of the festival, a lot of meaningful and joyful activities are held nationwide, mainly basic or Soo Kwan (tying cotton strings around people’s wrists), water splashing, sand stupa building and a beauty pageant.
Text about Lao New Year with thanks to the website Tourism Laos.
Chinese/ Vietnamese New Year
Because Laos is a country with many different ethnic groups (see more about it here) there are also many other special days for groups of people in Laos. In the Lao cities and bigger towns many ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese celebrate their New Year and you will notice a lot of activity around this day (25 January 2020) in cities like Vientiane, Pakse, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Thakhek, among others. Many shops and other businesses in Laos are owned by Chinese-Lao and Vietnamese-Lao and during Chinese New Year (and around the official day) most of them will not operate.
Chinese New Year in the coming years:
2021: 12 February
2022: 1 February
2023: 22 January
2024: 10 February
2025: 29 January
Hmong New Year
Hmong New Year is another celebration, held by the ethnic Hmong people (mainly in the north of Laos) in December and January. Many celebrations and rituals can be seen around this time of the year in areas with many Hmong people.
Village parties and temple festivals
Many villages and towns in Laos have annual festivals. Most of the times the date is set not long before it happens and the parties involve a lot of drinking, dancing and fun. People will celebrate it at homes (people go around from house to house to meet an drink together) and many times there is also a small festival ground (usually around the temples).