Events & Festivals Laos Travel Tours Hotels, Vietnam Asia Pacific Travel, Tour Operator in Laos, Package tour in Laos and Vietnam, Cambodia
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Events and Festivals
The Gregorian calendar is the official calendar for the country, but Laos also follows the lunar calendar. The Lao calendar is a mixture of Sino-Vietnamese and Thai-Khmer calendars. It is based on the movement of the sun and moon and is different to the Buddhist calendar used in Thailand. New Year is in December, but is celebrated in April when the auspices are more favourable. As in China, each year is named after an animal. Weeks are structured on the waxing and waning of the moon and days are named accordingly.
The traditional Lao calendar, like the calendars of China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, is a solar-lunar mix. The year itself is reckoned by solar phases, while the months are divided according to lunar phases (unlike the Western calendar in which months as well as years are decided by the sun). The Buddhist Era calendar usually figures year one as 543 BC, which means that you must subtract 543 from the Lao calendar year to arrive at the Christian calendar familiar in the West (e.g., 1997 AD is 2540 BE according to the Lao Buddhist calendar).
Festivals in Laos are mostly linked to agricultural seasons or historical Buddhist holidays.
Bun Pha Wet (December or January) is a temple-centre festival in which the jataka or birth-tale of Prince Vessantara, the Buddha’s penultimate life, is recited. This is also a favoured time (second to Khao Phansaa) for Lao males to be ordained into monk hood. The scheduling of Bun Pha Wet is staggered so that it is held on different days in different villages. This is so that relatives and friends living in different villages can invite one another to their respective celebrations.
Boun Khoun Khao This is a harvest festival celebrated in most in villages and thanks is given to the spirit of the land.
Magha Puja (Makkha Bu-saa, full moon) 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). (LP)
Vietnamese Tet & Chinese New Year is celebrated in Vientiane, Pakse and Savannakhet with parties, deafening non-stop fireworks and visits to Vietnamese and Chinese temples. Chinese and Vietnamese-run businesses usually close for three days.
Sikhottabong Festival This religious festival is held at Sikhottabong stupa, located about 6 km south of Thakhek.
Wat Phu Festival (Champasak) is annually held 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 include elephant racing, buffalo fighting, cock fighting and performances of Lao traditional music and dance. The trade fair also showcases products from the southern province of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Don’t forget your wallet and your camera.
Boun Khao Chi This ceremony held at wats in the morning, when a special "bread made of sticky rice" is offered.
Boun Khoun Khao A local harvest festival celebrated around local wats. (The time of year that this is celebrated depends on the phases of the moon, thus it is listed more than once.)
Boun Pha Vet At this ceremony an offering of donations is given and one's future is read from a piece of paper drawn, during the three day-three night festival.
Boun Pi Mai is a public holiday typically lasting for three days. This is to celebrate Lao New Year. The first month of the Lao New Year is actually in December but festivities are delayed until April when days are longer and there is more time to party. The festival also serves to invite the rains. Pimai is one of the most important annual festivals, particularly in Luang Prabang. Statues of the Buddha (in the "calling for rain" posture) are ceremonially doused in water, which is poured along an intricately decorated trench (hang song nam pha). The small stupas of sand, decorated with streamers, in wat compounds are symbolic requests for health and happiness over the next year. It is celebrated with traditional Lao folk singing (mor lam) and the circle dance (ramwong). Similar festivals are celebrated in Thailand, Cambodia and Burma.
Labor Day held on the 1st May is a public holiday.
Visakha Puja Celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha and is celebrated in local wats.
Bun Bang Fai (Rocket festival) is a Buddhist rain-making festival. The festival lasts 2 days and is a worthwhile experience. This can be one of the wildest festivals in the country (other than the New Year festivities), with plenty of music and dance, processions and general merrymaking, culminating in the firing of bamboo rockets into the sky. In some places male participants blacken their bodies with lamp soot, while women wear sunglasses and carry carved wooden phalli to imitate men. The firing of the rockets is supposed to prompt the heavens to initiate the rainy season and bring much-needed water to the rice fields.
Children’s Day is generally celebrated at the beginning of either June or July is a public holiday.
Khao Phansaa (June or July) Marks the beginning of the three-month Buddhist Lent, which commences at the full moon in June or July and continues until the full moon in October, this is considered a particularly auspicious time for Lao men to enter the monk-hood and is marked by numerous ordination ceremonies.
Khao Phansaa (also Khao Watsa, full moon) is 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. This is also the traditional time of year for men to enter the monk hood temporarily, hence many ordinations take place.
Haw Khao Padap Din (full moon) is a sombre festival in which the living pay respect to the dead. Many cremations take place, bones being exhumed for the purpose, during this time and gifts are presented to the Sangha so that monks will chant on behalf of the deceased.
Boun Kao Padabdinh is the time when offerings are made to the dead.
Boun Ok Phansaa is the end of Buddhist Lent and the faithful take offerings to the temple. It is held during the 9th lunar month in Luang Prabang and the 11th lunar month in Vientiane and marks the end of the rainy season. Boat races take place on the Mekong River with crews of 50 or more men and women. On the night before the race small decorated rafts are set afloat on the river. This is another worthwhile festival that deserves a photo.
Boat Racing Festivals
Kammouan This festival will be held in Sebangfai District, and will include exciting boat races on the Sebangfai River, a trade fair of agricultural products and local handicrafts, and traditional Lao music and dance performances; at the same time, citizens will make offerings to the dead in order to share merit with them.
Luang Prabang This festival includes boat races on the Mekong River and a trade fair in Luang Prabang City; during the Khao Salak festival, citizens visit local temples to make offerings to the dead in order to share merit with them.
Champassak Held in association with Ok Pansa, which marks the end of the monks’ three-month fast and retreat during the rainy season; a long-boat racing competition is held in order to worship the river spirits
Vientiane The water festival held during Ok 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 hundreds of colourful floats decorated with flowers, incense and candles are set adrift down the Mekong River in thanksgiving to the river spirits; the next day, a popular and exciting boat racing competition is held on the Mekong.
Khammouan A Boat Racing is held on the Sebangfai river during this month as well as a trade fair of agricultural products, local handicrafts, traditional Lao music and dance performance. During the festival citizens donate offerings to the dead in to share merits.
Awk Phansaa (Awk Watsa, full moon) celebrates the end of the three-month rains retreat. Monks are allowed to leave the monasteries to travel and are presented with robes, alms bowls and other requisites of life. On the eve of Awk Phansaa many people fashion small banana-leaf boats carrying candles, incense and other offerings, and float them in rivers, a custom know as Lai Hua Fai, similar to Loy Krathong in Thailand.
Bun Nam (water festival) A second festival held in association with Awk Phansaa is Bun Nam (water festival). Boat races (suang heua) are commonly held in towns located on rivers, such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet; in smaller towns these races are often postponed until National Day (2 December) so that residents aren’t saddled with two costly festivals in two months.
That Luang Festival & Trade Fair (October or November) Vientiane This religious festival is held in and around That Luang Stupa, the national symbol of Laos, where hundreds of monks gather to accept alms and floral arrangements from the people; the festival includes a grand fireworks display at night and a trade fair, showcasing Lao products, takes place during the day.
Boun That Luang is celebrated in all Laos’ thats (stupas) although most enthusiastically and colourfully in Vientiane. As well as religious rituals, most celebrations include local fairs, processions, beauty pageants and other festivities worth seeing.
That Luang Festival (full moon) 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 colourful procession between Wat Si Muang and Pha That Luang. The celebration lasts a week and includes fireworks and music, culminating in a candlelit circumnavigation of That Luang.
Hmong New Year is celebrated in areas where the Hmong tribes live and is a colourful affair.
Lao National Day is celebrated on the 2nd of the month and is a public holiday. Lao national and communist hammer-and-sickle flags are flown all over the country. Celebration is mandatory, hence poorer communities postpone some of the traditional Awk Phansaa activities–usually practised roughly a month earlier, until National Day.
That Inhang Festival (Savannakhet) This festival is held on the grounds of the splendid That Inhang stupa, located just outside the city of Savannkakhet; an international trade fair including exhibitions of tourism, products from Laos, Thailand and Vietnam and performances of traditional Lao, Thai and Vietnamese music and dance are held. The fair also includes a sports competition, complete with football, boxing and tennis matches and local traditions like drumming competitions.
Lao Public Holidays
New Year 1st January
Army National Day January
Makhabusa Day February
Women International Day March
Lao Popular Revolutionary Party Day March
Lao Buddhist New Year 13-16 April
Labor International Day May
Visakhabusa Day May
International Children’s Day June or July
Khao Phansa Day July
Constitution Day August
Khao Padab Din Day August
Power Seizing Day August
Khao Salak Day September
Oak Phansa Day October
Boat Racing Festival Day October
Teachers National Day October
That Luang Festival Day October
National Day December