Buddhism is central to life in Laos and that is reflected in the number of festivals and events throughout the year that celebrate the fact. Animism plays its part as well and whenever you book a Laos tour package there is an excellent chance that you will be able to see how the Laos people enjoy the occasion. They dress in traditional clothing, even though western style clothes have become more widespread in urban areas.
Laotians celebrate their national identity and their religion:
• Magha Puja Festival is an important event right across South East Asia and those on Indochina travel packages may see the celebrations in neighbouring Cambodia and Thailand as well. It is the opportunity for ordinary people to thank the monks for their service. People gather at temples in the morning bringing with them offerings and food for monks and nuns. Its origins date back to an occasion when 1,250 monks gathered to pay respects to Buddha who was there in person.
• Vietnamese Tet and Chinese New Year are celebrated in the major cities of Vientiane, Pakse and Savannaknet where there are populations of Vietnamese and Chinese. Those taking Indochina tour packages will be able to see similar celebrations elsewhere in South East Asia.
• WatPhu Festival is held each year in Champasak at the full moon of the third month of lunar calendar. Wat Phou is an old Khmer temple at the foot of a mountain, Phou Kao, which is regarded as sacred. It is in the south of Laos. Although there was a Hindu temple on the site in the 5th Century but the current ruins date back to between the 11th and the 13th Century.
• BounPimai celebrates Lao New Year and takes place in the mid – April. The best place to observe it is in Luang Prabang, the ancient capital. This is one of the hottest times of the year and popular for a Laos holiday.
• Boun Bang Fai Festival is the rocket festival that is held in the sixth lunar month. It is a longstanding festival symbolising unity and friendship while at the same time asking for rain. There is music and dance and on the third day homemade rockets are set off from pipes that these days are often made from PVC. Originally, they would have been made of bamboo.
• Khao Phansa Festival begins during the July full moon and lasts for three months. During these three months, monks are not allowed to travel. The origins of this festival were in India and it corresponded with the monsoon season when travelling around was difficult anyway. Buddha had another reason for limiting travel and that was because of the increased risk of harming wildlife, albeit by accident.
• Boat Racing Festival is held right across Laos during September and October. The races are held at weekends with the actual dates varying each year at what is regarded as Buddhist lent.
• Awk Phansa Festival takes place at the end of Khao Phansa and monks are once again permitted to travel.
• Boun That Luang Festival lasts between three and seven days during the full moon in the 12th lunar month, occasionally October, usually November. The venue is either the Golden Stupa or the religious monument, Pha That Luang. It is the largest festival in Laos. There are women’s and men’s races and plenty of people trying to find a good spot on the bank to watch the action.
• The Hmong New Year Celebration takes place wherever there is a significant Hmong population.
• Bun Pha Vet Festival celebrates the life of Buddha, relating the story in temples. It is seen as a good time for ordinating monks.