BOUN SUANG HEUA, BOAT RACING FESTIVAL
Boun Ok Phansa is the last day of the Buddhist lent. It occurs on the 15th day of the 11th month of the lunar calendar. In the morning, donation and offering are made at temples around the country. In the evening, candlelight processions are held around the temples while hundreds of colourful floats decorated with flowers, incense and candles are set adrift down the rivers giving thanks to the river spirit (lai huea fai and loi ka thong). There are said to pay respect to the Buddha and to thank the mother of river for providing water for our lives as well as for blessing and to float bad luck of the past year away enabling the good luck to flow in. this colourful ritual has been carried on by Lao people for thousands of year.
In Luang Prabang, Boun Suang Heua, or the Boat Racing Festival is held on Khao Padapdin, the Day of the Commemoration of the Dead. In Vientiane Capital it is held the day after the End of Buddhist Lent. Both are important social and sports events witnessed by huge crowds. One week before the race, Fa Ngum Quai (along Fa Ngum Road) is taken over by stalls selling all kinds of goods and foods or games, and loud music is played all day and late into the night. On the day of the race, Vientiane City of finials visit all the sanctuaries of the Guardian Spirits of the City to make offerings. Request permission to hold the race and ask for their protection during the events. Big crowds gather along the banks of the Mekong River to watch and cheer on the boats. Next to the official stand a traditional orchestra plays to accompany each race and accelerate the tempo as the boats closes in on the finish line, dramatically adding to the momentum.
Traditional racing boats are carved using one single tree. 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.
These boats can hold approximately fifty paddlers. The morning is devoted to women’s crews and the afternoon to men’s crews. The starting point is two kilometers upstream and the competition is between two boats at a time. The loser is eliminated. After the final race, all the boats participate in a final competition/show, which is rather spectacular. The winners receive a trophy, a silver cup and cash.
While the boat racing has become a focus of entertainment, athletics and commerce, the Boat Festival is really an homage to water divinities and the Nagas, who are protector of the country.
Venue: Sayabouly Province
This marks the end of the monks' three-month-fast and retreat during the rainy season. At dawn, donation and offerings are made at the temples. Prayers are chanted by the monks, and at dusk candlelight procession wind around the temples. Concurrently, hundreds of decorated candlelit-floats, made of paper, are set adrift in the rivers. These carry offerings and incense, transforming the river into a fragrant snake of sparkling water.