Pii Mai Lao celebration – There was talk around the island of a large festival by the waterfall the following afternoon after we arrived in the 4000 Islands. Exactly which waterfall was left unsaid, but eager to mix with the locals and observe their holiday celebrations, we decided to try our luck.
Many hand gesture filled conversations, awkward looks of confusion, and attempted small talk later, we were armed with a handy sketch of the presumed route. I think the guy that drew it had already consumed a bit too much Tiger wiskey or Lao beer. Who could blame the guy though? An entire bottle of the retched stuff costs only 70 US cents! (Also, in their defense, nobody in Laos is every in a hurry or looks like they need to be somewhere. Many times, we walk into a store or cafe and have to gently shake the owner awake in order to get service.)
In search of the party – Once again, we rented some rickety Asian bikes, tucked our trusty map into our packs, and set off to find X marks the spot. After arriving on the edge of town and turning right (even though the map indicated that we were to turn left which would have led straight into the river water), we spent the next hour trying to bike over rocks the size of small heads. Many spills and curses later, we arrived at the waterfall – – the wrong waterfall. Since everyone was at the “other” waterfall, we had the swimming lagoon to ourselves and were free to roam around. It turned out to be a nice afternoon apart from the bike ride and another ripped open foot.
I took my first shower by flashlight that evening. Later, we found it too hot to sleep and with no light to read, so we wandered into town and found the only bar with lights. The elderly owner kept running behind the bar to wind up the generator while we sat and sampled his wife’s spring rolls. We then had a very long and detailed conversation about how to get to the proper waterfall the following afternoon where there was to be an even larger New Year celebration. The little man was so excited to be helping us that we could only nod and pretend like we understood every word of his directions. We promised to stop by in the morning before tromping back through the brush to our steamy bungalows for some attempted sleep.
And so it begins – We awoke in high spirits, gathered the Swedish boys from the bungalows next door, and hired a man to ferry us across the island. By ferry, I mean the smallest, most unsafe boat you can imagine…where you have to sit perfectly still for fear of tipping over. I think one of the men was frantically bailing water out of the back too! Arriving on the mainland, we were a bit unsure of where to go next until we saw half of the town’s population piled into pickup trucks and heading up the hill. They were all shouting at us to join them and, thus, began our celebration of Pii Mia Lao.
OH. MY. GOODNESS. It was fantastic!!! We were the only westerners among over 400 Lao locals who were dancing and having a wonderul time. A tradition during Pii Mia is to throw water and cover people entirely in powder and um…red lipstick. We were properly introduced immediately and were thoroughly saturated with water and powder after the first 15 minutes.
The locals were so incredibly friendly. We were constantly being pulled in all directions to be introduced to new groups of people and sample their food and drinks. Nobody spoke English, but they didn’t hesitate to walk up to me with half a mug of warm beer and then drag me out onto the dance floor. Jen and I tried to teach them how to spin and twirl in circles, although I think we looked pretty silly to most of the crowd. We also got about 8 marriage proposals as well before the wild, crazy, memorable afternoon was brought to an end. I am not proud to admit it, but I don’t fully remember traveling home. I have a faint recollection of a truck, a boat, and a long walk up a sandy hill. All in all, it was such an incredible experience and only makes me appreciate and truly love the Laos people even more.