The Lao PDR has a unique tradition related to its faith. The beautiful festival, Awk Phansa Lai Hua Fai, is held on the day of the full moon of the 11th lunar month.
Boun Awk Phansa is the celebration of the last day of Buddhist lent. It happens annually in October, three lunar months after Khao Phansa on the 15th day of the 11th month of the lunar calendar.
This year Boun Awk Phansa falls on 16th October, and one of the best places to see this festival in Laos is in Vientiane Capital.
Local people get up early in the morning to give alms to the monks at the temples, usually sticky rice and offerings of baskets that consist of robes (pasabong), candles, books, pens, pencils, noodles, cans of fish, umbrellas, fruit, drinking water, tooth-paste, and tooth brushes.
The monks beat their drums, in a ceremony inviting local people to come and bring them food.
After offerings of alms, the laypeople will listen to sermons from senior monks and will pour water from small bottles on the ground, which they have prepared at home in the belief that relatives will receive merits.
This will encourage the spirit guardians to release the spirits so that they may come and access the food.
Then in the evening, candles are lit around the temples and people walk three times around the temples, and the villagers light candles and place them on balconies or fences to form a long line of candles as a decoration. Therefore, people can see beautiful candles lit both from the floating heua fais (boats, usually small in the size decorated with lit candles, containing money, incense sticks, flowers etc.) and from houses.
At the Mekong river bank, the people send the heua fais down the river.
These are said to pay respect to the Buddha and to thank the mother of rivers for providing the water for life. This is believed to bring good luck in the year ahead.
Each “heua fai” or “boat of lights” is neatly decorated and intensive rehearsals are carried out for this spectacular festival.
In some areas, a heua fai contest is organized for more colourfulness and fun. While big heua fais represent larger bodies, such as groups or communities, individual people also prepare their own heua fais of different shapes which are very similar to the banana vessels. Heua fais are normally made by the people themselves out of their faith.
Things have begun to change, though. Hand-made heua fais are now partly replaced by ready-made ones offered for sale in the evening of Awk Phansa Day. People can select the ones they like.
Like many other traditions, things have changed over time, although the underlying culture and beliefs are still handed down from generation to generation.
The races start around 9 am when the heats kick off. Thousands of spectators cram along the river banks and cheer their teams. The streets are lined with food stalls, sideshows where you can win small prizes and stalls selling all manners of ODOP products.
People will gather to buy Lao products from across the nation, eat food Lao style such sweet rice (khaolam), grilled chicken (pingkai), or papaya salad (tammak houng), and watch the boats on the Mekong River from the best vantage points they can find.