Blessed beauties: Laos new year pageant pits 'King's daughters' as rivals

Miss Laos New Year or "Nang Sang Khan" pageant winner Mila Douangximay (2nd L) along with the other chosen contestants, each symbolizing King Kabinlaphom's seven daughters, taking part in the annual Laos New Year or "Pi Mai" celebrations at the Wat Xiengthong Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang. — AFP

Luang Prabang, Laos — Wearing gold-embroidered silk outfits, faces thick with makeup, a line-up of seven Laotian beauty queens greet a sea of cheering supporters at the annual new year beauty contest in Luang Prabang.

But this is no regular pageant: the contestants are stand-ins for the seven blessed daughters of Laos' legendary King Kabinlaphom competing for top honors at the country's most famous beauty contest.

"Everyone wants to be Miss Laos New Year," said spectator Kini, who was cheering on her sister, Mila Douangmixay.

"If she wins she will be famous for a whole year! It's very special for Laos girls," Kini told AFP, standing in the massive crowd of cheering fans holding placards featuring numbers in support of their preferred competitors.

Entering the contest is no easy feat.

Contestants must be under 18 and are chosen by a local committee that first selects up to 30 girls.

Numbers are then whittled down to seven contestants -- all symbolizing the King's daughters -- by a panel of judges and voting fans who size up the contestants on stage. — AFP