The 6 Most Interesting Festivals in Laos
24/01/2018 926 Views 0 Comments Brian Vu
With rich culture and religion, the South East Asia country called Laos has a lot of festivals and celebrations which happen around year. One special trait of Lao festivals is that they are linked with agricultural seasons or historical Buddhist holidays. Below is the list of some of the most important and popular festivals in Laos.
1. Lao New Year (Pi Mai Lao)
Lao New Year, which occurs on 14 – 16 April annually, is the biggest festival of the year in this country. It is partly a religious festival as it is the time Buddha images are cleaned. In addition, the throwing of water is the highlight of the festival because the Laotians believe that they can wash the old spirits away and welcome the New Year by throwing water. If you have chance to take part in this festival, be prepared to get wet whenever you go since water is thrown on every one.
Pi Mai Lao is very spectacular in Luang Prabang as there are many parades and festivities which usually last about a week. In the capital city of Vientiane, one of the main roads of the central area is closed and turned into the walking street full of people celebrating, drinking, dancing, and splashing water to each other.
2. Elephant Festival
This festival is organized in the middle of February in Sayaboury province every year with the purpose of raising awareness of the need for action to protect the Asian elephants. About 100 elephants along with their mahouts from around the area gather to show working techniques and all things about elephantine. Interestingly, you will be drawn attention by many activities like mahout and elephant shows, elephant procession, monks’ blessings, and a traditional elephant Baci ceremony followed by the election of the Elephant of the Year. Moreover, a large market with all kinds of local (or Thai) product is held during this festival.
3. Boat racing festival
The biggest boat racing festival in Lao is held in Vientiane, on the Mekong River. The actual race often takes place on 25th October (the 16th day of 11th month in lunar calendar), with heats begin early in the morning. Over 20 dragon boats and rower/ paddler teams which are categorized into 3 groups: sport for men, traditional for men, and traditional for women line up for the race on the river. All streets leading to the river are lined with stalls selling clothes, food, fruits, and drinks days before the actual festival starts.
On the race day, the town comes alive with noise because the teams get to the river by truck or walking, banging drums and singing. Additionally, the streets and along the Mekong River bank are very crowded with thousands of people cramming to cheer their teams. When the races start, you will hear spectators yelling, cheering, and banging drums along the river. The final round happens in the afternoon and the winner in each category is given prize money and a trophy.
4. That Luang Festival (or Boun That Luang)
That Luang Festival, which is held over three – seven days during the full moon of the twelfth lunar month (November), is the most significant Buddhist festival in Vientiane. The festival begins with the colorful ‘wax castle’ procession which starts in the evening before at Wat Simeuang. People carry not only ‘wax castles’ that are tall creations of yellow “trees”, with wax petals, and are festooned with gold paper and kip note, but also candles, incense, flowers, beat drums and cymbals and sing when walking around the Wat. Then, the next afternoon is the worshippers bringing their glittering creations to That Luang. Once reaching the stupa, they are led by monks and slowly walk around it three times in a clockwise direction.
Furthermore, there are also alms giving procession beginning at 7 am the following morning. A huge crowd assembles at dawn That Luang to give alms to monks who come here from around the country to pay homage to the stupa. Especially, in the afternoon, people will gather on the esplanade for the traditional game of tikhy, also called Lao hockey. Trade fairs, funfairs, and concerts are also held around the esplanade. Normally, there are firework displays to mark the end of the celebration but prior to this is the last candlelight procession.
5. Khao Phansa Festival (Beginning of Buddhist Lent)
Held on 27th July (the 15th day of 8th month in the lunar calendar), the Khao Phansa festival marks the beginning of the three-month Buddhist Lent, the traditional three month ‘rains retreat’ during which monks stop travelling and stay at the temple for prayer and meditation. It is also the time for ordination of men entering a monkhood. During the festival, temples are very busy with people making merit and giving their donation. Alms giving occur in the morning and at the end of merit-making activities, the monks will recite the Buddha’s teaching and tell the temple goers about the history of Lent. Then, later in the evening, monks, novices, and lay people bring candles and walk around the central temple three times.
6. Awk Phansa Festival (End of Buddhist Lent)
Awk Phansa Festival, which often takes place at every temple across the country on 24th October (the 15th day of 11th month in lunar calendar), is one the most significant festivals in Laos.
The activities during the festival are alms giving in the morning, candle lighting in the evening, and the ceremony of Lai Hua Fai or fireboats, in which small “boats” made of selections of banana tree trunks and decorated with flowers and lit candles are floated down the rivers. However, some temples omit the floating of the fireboats since not all villages are situated near the river. In Vientiane and the border town of Nong Khai, Thailand, this is the day the Naga, the mythical water spirit, is believed to send fireballs into the sky from the Mekong so it many people flock to the river banks to try to see these fireballs.
In conclusion, above festivals are just a few of the most important ones in Laos. Let’s stick in mind that government offices are closed during the time of festivals though some shops still open. For those interested in Lao culture, taking part in those festivals is a great way to know more about customs and tradition of the country. If your tour to Laos takes place right on the event celebration, just prepare to join in and get joy!