Earlier this month our Laos Director Phaeng caught a glimpse of dragon boats on the water — not surprising since the sleepy Southeast Asian country is preparing for one of its largest festivals taking place on the Mekong.
The upcoming Boun Song Hua, or Boat Festival, is celebrated at the end of Buddhist Lent and marks the end of the monks’ three-month-fast and retreat during the rainy season. Tradition dictates that the older generation will make donations and offerings at their local temples. Prayers will be chanted by the monks, and at dusk candlelight processions wind their way around the temples.
For the younger generation this two-day festival means dragon boat races, social gatherings and colourful floats decorated with flowers, incense and candles set adrift down the Mekong river in thanksgiving to the river spirit.
Traditionally racing boats are carved using one single tree. Holding approximately 50 paddlers, the boats belong to a village and are usually kept in a shelter on the temple grounds and come out only once a year for the race. Several days before the race the boats are cleaned and presented with offerings because the boats are considered sacred items.
The Boat Festival itself is an homage to water divinities and the Nagas, who are protector of the country, in addition to being a spectacle worth taking in.
This year the festival will run October 19 & 20, with the largest celebration happening on the Mekong in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
For those who have yet to take in a race on the Mekong, this festival presents the perfect opportunity to enjoy one of the oldest traditions in Southeast Asia.