October 03, 2017

If you're in Laos this week, two colourful festivals await

By:  Visith Teppalath, Vientiane Times, October 4, 2017

Boat Racing Festival in Vientiane
Photo Credit:  Phoonsab

Anyone visiting Laos this week is urged not to miss the Vientiane Boat Racing Festival and the traditional and religious activities nationwide that mark the end of Buddhist Lent.

The Vientiane Boat Racing Festival is the biggest boat race in the country. It takes place every year at the end of Buddhist Lent. This year the festivals occur on October 5 and 6.

The official End of Lent celebrations are marked across three days, from October 4 to 6, but the unofficial celebrations started at the beginning of this week.

The boat races take place on the Mekong River opposite Vat Chan with a street fair set up in the adjacent Chao Anouvong Park and Fa Ngum Road in Chanthabouly district.

The Vientiane Boat Racing Festival, or Boun Xuangheua Tha Vat Chan, is the biggest event of its kind in Laos and people from all over the country are eagerly looking forward to it, while foreign visitors also enjoy the activities.

This is a very colourful and meaningful time of celebration and also an exciting time for cheering spectators, as well as a great opportunity for shopping, meeting people, and making friends.

Everyone enjoys the week because there are many things to do and various kinds of products are on display.

The lively celebrations progress each day. Upon entering the festival area, you will see a large street fair featuring hundreds of stalls set up on both sides of Fa Ngum Road and along the riverside.

There are numerous traditional and local products, brand name goods, and international products attracting thousands of people all day long.

Other stalls sell handmade goods from Vientiane and the provinces, alongside muay Lao boxing, traditional games, a huge playground, and stages for performances by various groups of artists representing the nine districts of Vientiane and local organisations, who entertain the public each night.

There are also stalls selling food, especially traditional snacks such as khao lam (sticky rice inside bamboo tubes), ping kai (grilled chicken), papaya salad and a whole lot more.

This year there will be more traditional and religious activities because the festival aims to promote Visit Laos Year 2018, as well as Lao culture and tourism internationally.

Taking part in the races will be 18 sports boats, six modified boats and 11 traditional boats, plus others crewed by teams from Vientiane and Xayaboury province.

The races include both male and female categories and take place over two days from October 5 to 6.

The festival coincides with the End of Buddhist Lent, known as Boun Ork Phansa, which falls on the full moon day of the 11th lunar month.

This year, Lent started at the beginning of July and will end on Thursday October 5.

Ms. Somepaseuth, a resident of Chanthabouly district, who went along to the festival on Tuesday, said she always attended and was pleased there were so many activities because she could meet so many people.

"This is the first day I've come to the festival this year and everything is interesting. I've brought my children with me and they are enjoying it again this year. My children really enjoy the activities, especially the shopping and playground," she said.

"I can't describe it very well but I would urge everyone, including foreign visitors, to come along to the festival because there are so many activities and everything is very interesting and quite exciting."

"Of course, I will come again tomorrow and again next year because it's a good way to continue, preserve and promote our beautiful culture and fine traditions."

The End of Buddhist Lent Festival is celebrated by people nationwide and is marked by various activities that centre on temples. There will be almsgiving and food offerings in the morning, the presentation of more offerings to monks and novices during the day, and candlelight processions in the evening.

The most colourful events take place in the evening, such as Lai Heua Fai and Loy Ka Thong .

The floating of small handmade boats decorated with candl es on rivers is particularly popular and usually takes place after candlelight processions at temples.

The main purpose is to mark the end of Lent and give thanks to the river spirits and guardians.

Some people also see this as a way of worshipping Buddha. In places like Vientiane and Luang Prabang, competitions are held and a reward is offered for the most beautiful boat. Temples also make and light up their own model boats with candles, which people like to visit.

In addition to floating lighted boats on the river, people also undertake the traditional loy ka thong, opening small parcels of offerings.

This activity is believed to float away illness and bad luck with the offerings as they travel downstream. Then people wish for good luck, health, happiness and success. This is particularly popular with young couples.

Lao people and foreigners living in Laos very much enjoy this fine tradition and are eagerly looking forward to this day.

In Vientiane, the Mekong riverbank is the place to be, with large numbers of people expected to walk down to the water's edge.

There are many large boats representing districts, organisations, and companies afloat on the river, resplendent as they preserve Lao culture for future generations and perpetuate the country's fine traditions.

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