It's Day 2 of Lao Pi Mai and the streets are alive with people, music and water. Normally non-confrontational and reserved around strangers, Lao people in Vientiane are certainly letting their hair down.
There's an important dress code at Pi Mai, consisting of the brightest Hawaiian shirt or dress you can find. Don't worry if your wardrobe is lacking in this department; pop up shops have lined the streets for the last week before Pi Mai. A glaringly bright, flowery, polyester blend number is all yours for only 50,000 kip ($6).
Pi Mai is also an opportunity to colour your hair in fluro shades of pink, orange, green or blue, and to style it with a shaver. Also to show a bit of skin; if you've been hard at the gym of late, now's your reward.
The water spraying action is largely centred around the temples because people come and go through there all day long. And there are plenty of temples in Vientiane.
While it's fun driving around while people throw water at the car, or even better, squirting water guns out the window at other people, especially unsuspecting falang, it's much more fun getting out on the streets . So, I put my camera into a plastic bag, donned a bright yellow Pi Mai shirt and set forth.
The most fun to be had is between the street water throwers and the pickup truck water throwers. The street guys also double as way stations for people wanting to fill up their water guns.
Walking around in all this watery chaos, you'd think I would have been drenched to the skin as well. But it's nice to know there's some kind of etiquette involved. I only had a few buckets poured on me from the street, and the odd spray from the road. Laotians don't normally touch strangers but a few people stopped me to pour a bucket of warmish water down the front or back of my shirt, shouting "Sok di Pi Mai!" (Good luck new year), to which I answered "Kop chai deu!" (thank you very much).
One group made me drink a glass of beer Lao, perhaps because they were all drinking it. Another fellow, smelling strongly of cheap cigarettes and beer, drew lipstick lovehearts on my cheeks in a particularly lurid shade of pink.
The best part of Pi Mai and experiencing this out on the streets with everybody else is, of course, the atmosphere. Everyone, from the kids in swimming pools to the water throwers and the motorcyclists getting soaked, is having a great time. And why not? It's a brand new year.
Lao Pi Mai is from 14-16 April every year and follows the Theravada Buddhist calendar. This year celebrates the Buddhist year 2559.