I have been lucky to come to Laos in October at the time of “Awk Phansa”, the end of the three-month Buddhist lent. Somewhere between mid and end of October, on full-moon, there is celebrations all over the country, with people sending candles and little boats down the river (if available) and lanterns to the sky. This festival is meant to pay respect to the Lord Buddha and to make good wishes for the year that comes, and of course it is also a big social event, comparable to Hindu Diwali, Christian Christmas (for the lights) or Easter (breaking the fast).
In bigger cities along the Mekong, people are building Fire Boats, which are sent to the river within a ceremony. Luang Prabang is the city where “Lai Heua Fai”, the Festival of Lights or Fire Boat Festival is the biggest. “You should be here on the 25th of October!” my Luang Prabang host said when asking me about my further travel plans. So after visiting Vang Vieng, I came back for the for the festival, and it should be totally worth it.
In the street where usually the Night Market takes place, the boats were placed on carry frames and people lined up around them, waiting for the parade to start. I walked along some of the fire boats, seeing people lighting and maintaining the countless candles in every boat. The whole atmosphere felt very energetic and peaceful at the same time. I have seen around 20 or 30 boats — apparently, the total number was 51 and made the parade stretch out to over a kilometer.
Luang Prabang is the historic centre of Laos and also its tourist hotspot, and usually, it can be tiresome to walk around the centre, constantly being asked whether you want to buy anything or get a ride to anywhere. This night, where everyone was focused on the ceremony, was different.
The temples were beautifully decorated and covered with lanterns and candles. The biggest one seemed a bit hectic due to all the spectators along with the Buddhists, so I went to the next one, which was almost empty. Some child monks were preparing themselves for playing the gong and some bells for the start of the parade. As they started playing, it didn’t take long for the first boats to arrive, brought to the spot where the boats were watered and joined the countless candles which were already on the river. From there, the celebration and the music continued and the crowd was walking down the street along the “Mother River”. Sitting down and eventually watering a candle boat myself, it looked very peaceful to watch the boats and the candles floating by.