Lao Festivals

Laos has many fascinating festivals, most of them steeped in Buddhism. Book hotels well in advance if you're planning on visiting during festival time, particularly in the big cities.

Bun Bang Fai: The Rocket Festival is held in the middle of May. Rockets are fired and prayers are said in the paddy fields to bring rain in time for the planting of the rice seedlings.

Bun Khao Padab Din: This special rice ceremony takes place in August; the exact date depends on the harvest schedule. People make offerings at temples to keep alive the memory of spirits who have no relatives.

Bun Khao Salak: This rice ceremony whose date also depends on the harvest schedule happens in September. For this one, people visit temples to make offerings for their ancestors. Boat races are held on the Mekong, especially in Luang Prabang and Khammuan Province.

Bun Ok Pansa: The day of the full moon in October marks the end of Buddhist Lent, and is celebrated with donations to local temples. Candlelight processions are held, and colorful floats are set adrift on the Mekong River. The following day, boat races are held in Vientiane, Savannakhet, and Pakse.

Bun Pimai: Lao New Year takes place from April 13 to 15. At this water festival similar to Thailand's Songkran, all the important Buddha images are cleaned with scented water (and the public gets wet in the bargain). The festivities are particularly lively in Luang Prabang, where the holiday is celebrated for nearly a week.

Bun Visakhabucha (Buddha Day): On the day of the full moon in May, candlelight processions are held in temples to mark the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha.

That Ing Hang Festival: This takes place in Savannakhet in December, and lasts several days on the grounds of the ancient Wat That Inhang, just outside the city. Events include sports contests, performances of traditional Lao music and dance, and a spectacular drumming competition.

That Luang Festival: This weeklong event in Vientiane in November ends with a grand fireworks display. Hundreds of monks gather to accept alms. The festival runs concurrently with an international trade fair showcasing the products of Laos and other countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS).

Wat Phu Festival: Also known as Makhabucha Day, this festival is held during the day of the first full moon in February at Wat Phu, near Champasak. Elephant races, buffalo fights, cockfights, and traditional Lao music-and-dance performances make for a very full schedule.

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