in

Captivating Celebrations in Laos You Shouldn’t Miss

Steeped in tradition and blessed with nature, Laos exudes a more relaxed vibe than its Indochina neighbours. And yet once in a while, the country is alive with joy and energy, as timeless festivals are being celebrated.

Image: urfl © 123RF.com

Here are some festivals in Laos worth checking out:

Pi Mai (Lao New Year)

When: First day of the lunar calendar (typically mid April)

A celebration of the new year in the lunar calendar, the festivities are accompanied by ancient traditions including temple visits, alms offering, as well as water dousing which symbolises purification. People are dressed in their best outfits, praying for abundance in the new year, visiting relatives and enjoying good home-cooked meals. And after that, comes the anticipated water fights! Water doused in the bucketfuls, hosed down from the roadside, and shot from water guns in various sizes make it a great time to visit Laos. Similar celebrations are also practised in neighbouring countries, where it is known as Songkran in Thailand, Choul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia, and Thingyan in Myanmar.

A post shared by Conma (@conma_trongcaica) on

Boun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival)

When: On the sixth month of the lunar calendar (typically May or June)

One of the most boisterous festivals in the country, the event’s main stars are the bamboo rockets lavishly decorated with ribbons and cloth. The festival’s origins pre-date Buddhism in the country, derived from an ancient fertility festival that has since evolved to become a prayer for the rain (which also symbolises fertility). Celebrations last between two to three days, starting with temple visits, music and dance performances, culminating on the third day where hand-made rockets are fired off in the sky to bring in the annual monsoon.

Boun Ork Phansa (End of Buddhist Lent)

When: On the eleventh month of the lunar calendar (typically September or October)

The festival marks the end of Vassa (also referred to as the Buddhist Lent), a three-month period for meditation and contemplation for Buddhist monks during the wet season. Best place to experience the celebrations is in the capital city Vientiane. Catch the merriment of the street bazaar and fairground that are usually set up along the riverbanks, and watch out for a peculiar natural phenomenon that usually coincides with the festivities. The locals refer to it as bang fai phaya nak, which means the fireballs of the naga (dragon). It occurs only during full moon in October and May, whereby balls of reddish glowing gas erupt from the surface of the waters in Mekong River and rise up to a hundred metres before fading out. Definitely a sight to behold!

Lai Huea Fai (Boats of Light Festival)

When: On the eleventh month of the lunar calendar (typically September or October)

Accompanying Ork Phansa is the Lai Heau Fai, where locals gather along the riverbanks in Laos to release hundreds of handmade paper boats with lighted candles. The candles venerate the historical Buddha, whilst the act of floating little rafts downstream signifies the letting go of anger, greed, as well as immoral thoughts and intentions. Best to head to Luang Prabang for this, as the celebrations are accompanied by Boun Suang Heua, a boat racing festival. Boats are constructed in the form of a dragon, carted along town towards Vat Xiang Thong, one of the most venerated temples in Luang Prabang, where awards are given to the most beautiful boat. The boats are then released into the waters of Mekong River.

A post shared by Heiner Klein (@hbk_explorer) on

That Luang Festival (Festival of the Stupa)

When: On the twelfth month of the lunar calendar (typically November)

Call it by its Lao name Namatsakan Phra That Luang, or English monikers Festival of the Stupa or the Ceremony of the Holy Great Stupa, That Luang Festival is one of the largest, most illustrious events in the country. Held around the stunning gold-plated That Luang Stupa in Vientiane, an icon of the country, the festivities are even declared as a three-day national holiday! On day one, offerings are made in the form of ‘money trees’ which are handmade using bamboo, paper, and decorated with flowers and bank notes. Day two continues with the procession of wax candles around the stupa, and during day three, people come in their best outfits before the crack of dawn, each bringing silver bowls filled with gifts as offerings. Crowds gathered around the area to circumambulate, chant verses, and simply sit on the ground to meditate. In the afternoon, games and a procession take place, whilst the evening ends with candlelight procession and offerings of “flowers of fire” are made to the Buddha.

GETTING THERE: AirAsia flies to Luang Prabang from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. For lowest fares and flight info, visit airasia.com.

What do you think?

10 Reasons To Visit Stunning Koh Tao

What to Do in Boracay After Island Hopping