Laos Festivals and Events
Bun Pha Vet
It is a temple-centre festival in which the jataka or birth-tale of Prince Vestsantara, the Buddha’s penultimate life, is recited in temples throughout the country and this is considered a particularly auspicious time for ordination as a monk. It falls on different dates throughout the month so that people can exchange invitations with friends and families in different villages to join in their celebrations. This is also a favored time (second to Khao Phansaa) for Lao males to be ordained into the monk hood.
Marha Puha (or Makka Bu-sao)
Held on the night of the full moon, this festival commemorates a speech given by the Buddha to 1,250 enlightened monks who came to hear him without prior summons. In the talk, the Buddha laid down the first monastic regulations and predicted his own death. Chanting and offerings mark the festival, culminating in the candlelit circumambulation of wats (temples) throughout the country (celebrated most fervently in Vientiane and at the Khmer ruins of Wat Phu, near Champasak). The festival is marked by grand parades of candle-bearing worshippers circling their local temples, merit-making, and much religious music and chanting.
Vietnamese Tet and Chinese New Year
This traditional festival is celebrated in Vientiane, Pakse and Savannakhet with parties, and hundreds of strings of non-stop firecrackers, merit making with noisy parties and visits to Vietnamese and Chinese temples by the larger Vietnamese and Chinese communities, who close their businesses for several days during this period.
Organized in Khammouan from Feb 5 to Feb 8, this religious festival is held at Sikhottabong stupa, located about 6 km south of Thakhek. Historically, it was built in the 8th and 10th centuries by King Nanthasene. Then the stupa was restored as its original design in the 1950's.
Wat Phu festival
It is organized annually in Champasak from Feb 5 to Feb 8, in the full moon of the 3rd month of lunar calendar, on the grounds of the enchanting pre-Angkorian. Wat Phu remains in Champasak. Festivities are elephants racing, buffaloes fighting, cocks fighting and performances of Lao traditional music and dance. The trade fair showcasing the products from the southern province of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam is also held.
Boun Khoun Khao
This is a harvest festival that is celebrated at local temples and wats.
Boun Pimai (or Pimai Lao)
Boun Pimai is one of the most important annual festivals (particularly in Luang Prabang) to celebrate Lao New Year in the lasting several days in mid-April (13-15). The first month of the Lao New Year is actually December but festivities are delayed until April when days are longer than nights. By April it’s also hotting up, so having hoses leveled at you and buckets of water dumped on you is more pleasurable. It is a combination of merriment and meditation. Similar to festivals at this time of year in other Southeast Asian countries - particularly Thailand - Boun Pimai is celebrated with parades, circle dance (ramwong), traditional Lao folk singing (mor lam) and enthusiastic water-throwing. The religious aspects of the festival are most apparent in Luang Prabang, where Buddha statues are worshiped with water pouring ceremonies. Temple compounds are further decorated with small sand Stupas, offered as merit towards good fortune and health.
The lunar new year begins in mid-April and practically the entire country comes to a halt and celebrates. Houses are cleaned, people put on new clothes and Buddha images are washed with lustral water. In the wats, offerings of fruit and flowers are made at various altars and votive mounds of sand or stone are fashioned in the courtyards. Later the citizens take to the streets and douse one another with water, which is an appropriate activity as April is usually the hottest month of the year. This festival is particularly picturesque in Luang Prabang, where it includes elephant processions.
1st May - public holiday
Chanting, religious instruction, and candlelit processions highlight this temple festival in celebration of the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha.
Boun Bang Fai (rocket festival)
With its origins in pre-Buddhist rain-invoking ceremonies, this festival now coincides with the Lao Visakha Puja celebrations. Large bamboo rockets are built and decorated by monks and carried in procession before being blasted skywards to invite the rains. The higher a rocket goes, the bigger its builder’s ego gets. Designers of failed rockets are thrown in the mud. Parades, songs, dances and partying everywhere. This dramatic festival lasts 2 days and also celebrated in north east Thailand.
Children's Day (1st June - public holiday)
Khao Phansao (also Khao Watsa, full moon)
This festival marks the beginning of the traditional three month "rains retreat" during which Buddhist monks are expected to station themselves in a single monastery. At other times of year they are allowed to travel from wat to wat or simply to wander in the countryside, but during the rainy season they forego the wandering so as not to damage fields of rice or other crops. It commences at the full moon in July and continues until the full moon in October and all ends with the Kathin ceremony in October when monks receive gifts.. These are the most usual months for ordination and for men to enter the monk hood for short periods before they marry and is marked by numerous ordination ceremonies.
Haw Khao Padap Din
Devoted to remembering and paying respect to the dead, it is marked by the macabre ceremony of exhuming previously buried bodies, cleaning the remains, and then cremating them on the night of the full moon. Relatives then present gifts to the monks who have chanted on behalf of those who have passed away.
Boat Racing festival
This festival is organized in Luang Prabang from Aug 17 to Aug 18, including boat racing on the NamKhane River and a trade fair in Luang Prabang city. At the Khao Salak ceremony day, people visit local temples to make offering to the dead as well to share merits making.
Awk Phansao (Awk Watsa)
This celebrates the end of the three-month rains retreat on the day of the full moon. Monks are at last permitted to leave the temple and are presented with robes, alms bowls and other requisites of the denunciative life. One particularly beautiful aspect is Lai Hua Fai. On the eve of Awk Phansaa people gather at the nearest body of water to release dozens of small banana-leaf boats decorated with candles, incense and small flowers, in a celebration similar to the Thai Loy Krathong.
Bun Nam (water festival)
A second festival held in association with Awk Phansaa is Bun Nam (water festival) in riverside towns such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet, the highly competitive Bun Nam boat races (suang heua) are held during the same time as Awk Phansaa. Smaller communities sometimes hold these races on National Day on 2nd December so that residents aren’t saddled with two costly festivals in two months.
Boat Racing festival
This festival is organized in Oct 2 to Oct 3 in Vientiane. The water festival held during Pansa is spectacular; on the first day at dawn, donations and offerings are made at temples around the city; in the evening, candlelight processions are held around the temples and hundred of colorful floats decorated with flower; incense and candle are set adrift down the Mekong river in thanksgiving to the river spirit; the next day, a popular and exciting boat racing competition is held on the Mekong.
Boun That Luang
Though celebrated at many temples and stupas around the country, this festival is traditionally, colorfully, and most enthusiastically celebrated at That Luang in Vientiane. Fairs, beauty contests, music and fireworks take place throughout the week of the full moon, and end with a candlelight procession (wien thien) around the temple of That Luang.
That Luang Festival ( full moon)
This takes place at That Luang in Vientiane. Hundreds of monks assemble to receive alms and floral votives early in the morning on the first day of the festival. There is a colorful procession between Wat Si Muang and Pha That Luang. The celebration lasts a week and includes fireworks and music, culminating in a candlelit circumambulation (wien thien) of That Luang.
Lao National Day
This celebrates the 1975 victory of the proletariat over the monarchy with parades, speeches, etc. Streets strewn with national flags and banners, processions, parades. Celebration is mandatory, hence poorer communities postpone some of the traditional Awk Phansaa activities–usually practiced roughly a month earlier--until National Day, thus save themselves from considerable expense (much to the detraction of Awk Phansaa)
That Inhang Festival
This festival will be held on the grounds of the splendid That Inhang stupa, located just outside the city of Savannkakhet; an international trade fair will include exhibitions of tourism products from Laos, Thailand and Vietnam and performance of traditional Lao, Thai and Vietnamese music and dance; the fair will also include a sports competition, complete with football, boxing and tennis matches and local traditions like a drumming competition.