Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Visit to Laos - Part 3 Boat Festival (Festival of light)

Our visit to Laos was timed to coincide with the Festival of Light and the Boat Festival.

This festival is held over two days and takes place on the full moon at the end of the rainy season.

Vientiane is host to many visitors; most from towns and villages in the countryside and some from overseas like us. It was so busy it was very difficult to cross the roads on foot during the afternoons and evenings!
For a week before the festival people pour into the city and there are hundreds of colourful stalls set up along the river. They sell everything from shoes, clothes, food and drink and games to play. There is lots of loud music and huge crowds, especially at night.

Some describe it as celebrating the end of Buddhist Lent because it is the first day the monks come out of their temples after 3 months of seclusion. (Lent is probably the closest description in terms of a Christian outlook because people often give up meat and alcohol for the 3 months.)

Very early on the first day there are ceremonies held at pagodas and offerings are made.

In the evening of this day my DH and I were lucky enough to be taken to the  local temple of a cousin of my DH for another ceremony. It began with chanting by the monks, the novices and all present. The monks knelt on a platform and below everyone else sat dressed in white. We didn't have white to wear, but joined in the back.

Next the head monk spoke giving advice to all the novice monks present. While this was happening the sun was setting and the full moon rose. Every now and then we could hear fire works going off in the distance.

Next everyone was given a bouquet of flowers with candles in incense. The candles were lit and everyone walked around the temple clockwise,  3 times. Near the front of the temple was a long boat-like structure where everyone placed their flowers and lit more candles.

Sorry about the bad photos, but it kind of gives you an idea of what it looked like.

After the ceremony one of the lady monks (yes, there are some ladies there. They have shaved heads like the men, but they wear white, rather than the saffron robes) spoke to us explaining some of what the evening was about (Unfortunately I don't understand Lao, so I have to rely on everyone else's memory....and a little bit of Googling!)

She told us it didn't matter what colour we wore on the outside; it didn't need to be white, it is what is inside our hearts that counts.

The festival is said to pay respect to nagas which are serpent like creatures that are believed to protect the Vientiane and Laos. There are depictions of nagas around many buildings.

Next we drove back towards the city and the Mekong river. Along the way we could see many homes and businesses with similar, though mostly smaller, boats at the front.  Ceremonies where candles were lit and placed in a boat, just along a fence or gate, had taken place all over the city. We stopped to buy our own "boats" from one of the many stalls along the road.

Our "boats" looked like this. They are made from banana tree trunk decorated with banana leaves, flowers and candles with incense. Others were smaller and some more elaborate and boat shaped.

We took these boats down to the Mekong river and joined hundreds of people by the riverside. We descended stairs to the water's edge and lit the candles on the boat. Unfortunately it was windy and all the candles blew out. Young men took everyone's boats and waded out into the river to put the boats in the water.

It is believed that the boats will float away any bad luck and bring good luck.

All the while there are fireworks and some people launched candle lanterns into the air too.

It was an amazing day and I feel very lucky to have been able to experience it all.

The next day boat races were held on the river. Because we were leaving that day we didn't get a chance to see any of the races live, but I did see some broadcast on TV from another town along the Mekong.  The boats race 2 at a time and there are women's teams and men's teams. It looked very exciting with some close finishes!

I have one more post about our holiday. This one will be all sewing and quilting! :)

Lastly a peek at what I have been stitching for the last few days.

Just the start! I have joined with Sheryl of The Temecula Quilt Company for her Countdown to Christmas Project. I still need to make about 10 more 2 inch stars and lots and lots more 4 patches.
Lots of fun!


  1. it looks like you had an interesting time in Laos. Very colorful.
    I had looked at the Temecula Q C but decided I had too many things going on - 2 inch stars wow -

  2. Fantastic trip. Thanks so much for sharing your travels.

  3. Wow - it looks like a fascinating time to be in Laos. You're so lucky you have a translator LOL. Love your cute little blocks too!

  4. They seem to have such bright and colourful festivals in Asia. I can remember seeing those "boats" in Singapore and Malaysia but didn't know what they were for, now I do.