The traditional Lao dancers left the stage to a round of applause as the clock ticked inexorably towards midnight. Moments later the whine of an electric guitar signaled the next act and the young crowd erupted into another dance. Outside the cultural hall here in Lao capital Vientiane thousands of revelers had gathered to see in the New Year. Amid the din of rock music many danced in a manner similar to traditional folk styles, admittedly somewhat more frenetically than the previous performance. "New Year is about coming together with friends and having fun, " said Khanthavong Sonespaseuth, a local student who along with his friends was eagerly anticipating 2014. "I think it's important that people can be together to see a New Year together. It's a good time to make good friendship between people," he said. Despite the growing popularity of celebrations in the capital and around the country, the traditional Lao New Year celebration of Pii Mai or Songkran held in April holds a much more special place in the hearts and minds of Lao people. During the festival water is used to wash homes, images of Buddha, monks and people on the streets as blessings for long life and peace. Mounds of sand are brought to temple grounds and decorated as a way of earning merit. Animals are set free and images of Bhudda decorated in the celebrations which last for several days. "This New Year is really much more celebrated by young people," said Kiao Inthavong, a storeowner who was trading on New Years Eve. "Older people might spend time with friends and share food together but mostly we worry about the younger people getting into trouble," he said. "Much more important to Lao people is Songkran because it's the traditional time," he added. In recent years Laos has seen astronomical growth with the government aiming for an annual GDP growth rate of 8 percent in an effort to graduate from UN least developed country status by 2020. With the rapid change of the country's socio-economic landscape comes a new generation brimming with enthusiasm and willing to develop a unique identity for themselves encompassing both the old and the new. As the clock displayed the last seconds of the old year, a wave of excitement swept through the audience. The crowd began to count down in unison. "Saam, sawng, neung, sabaidee pbeemai!" Fireworks and streamers filled the sky and the gathered crowd clinked their glasses to wish each other good fortune and happiness in the New Year. "I wish that in the New Year we will continue to be happy," Sonespaseuth said minutes after midnight. "I look forward to the events of this year as you know the Lao New Year which is very important to the Lao people," he said. "I think young people in Laos have a duty to observe the traditions of our culture. At the same time we can also come together to welcome this New Year and have a good time," he said. His friends proposed a toast in agreement as the music resumed with a boom and the crowd erupted once again into dance.