Luang Prabang, the former royal capital and a present-day UNESCO World Heritage site, is probably the best place to celebrate the Boun Pi Mai (Lao New Year Festival), the most important event on the Buddhist calendar in Laos.
The celebration of Pi Mai comes from an old tradition of two nationalities: Khmer and Mon Burmese. The new year celebrates the biggest astrological event of the year, when the sun enters the constellation of Aries. This was influenced by the Hindu Calendar, based on the sidereal year (the movement of the sun relative to the stars).
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 it's axis over a 25,000 year period. Nowadays, the sun enters Aries around 18th April.
Sangkhan Luang (last day of the old year)
Sangkhan Luang, the first day of Boun Pi Mai, is considered the last day of the old year.
This is a day of renewal, which is symbolised by pouring water. People will clean their houses and villages, prepare the water and flowers for the celebrations on the following days, wash Buddha statues and images, and paint temples.
Once the tasks are complete, elders give a brief speech to their families, and young people pour water on their heads to receive their blessings for the coming year.
Sangkhan Nao (day of no day)
The second day, the Sangkhan Nao or "day of no day" is neither part of the old year nor of the coming year. It is a time for rest, which means all work is forbidden. Only fun activities should take place such as visiting relatives and friends, taking a day trip or the customary throwing of water on friends and passersby.
Sangkhan Kheun Pi Mai (Lao New Year)
Known as Sangkhan Kheun Pi Mai, the third day is the official start of the Lao New Year. Locals dress in their finest silk clothes and make offerings at the temple. Young people prepare scented water with flowers and visit their grandparents, parents, and elders. They rinse the elders’ hands with the water and ask for their blessings and forgiveness for any wrong‐doings in the past year.
Sôk di pi mai, souksan van pi mai or sabaidi pi mai, which can be translated into English as "Happy New Year".