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Don’t Miss Vientiane’s Boat Races, End Of Lent Festivities

Source: Vientiane Times

Tourists visiting the capital of Laos this month shouldn’t miss the Vientiane Boat Racing Festival and other traditional and religious activities marking the end of Buddhist Lent.

The Vientiane Boat Racing Festival is the largest annual water competition and follows immediately after the end of Lent. This year, the races take place on October 24-25.

The celebrations last year lasted for three days but this year’s event is special as the festivities in Vientiane will take place over four days, from October 22 to 25. The unofficial celebrations got underway last week.

A total of 35 boats representing Vientiane and the provinces will participate in the races on the Mekong River, including nine traditional boats crewed by men, five traditional boats crewed by women, and 21 modified boats with all-male crews. The races include separate categories for men and women.

The boat crews compete for prizes, including cash prizes of more than 250 million kip and trophies. There are also awards for the most attractive boat and the best cheering groups.
The races take place opposite Vat Chan in the city centre, alongside Chao Anouvong Park.

The Vientiane Boat Racing Festival, or Boun Xuang Heua Tha Vat Chan as it is known in Lao, is a longstanding tradition. The boats crews prepare themselves by paddling on the river for many days each week before competing on the biggest national stage.

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People from across the country and foreign visitors are eagerly looking forward to the races. Large crowds gather for the colourful event, and people turn out to cheer on the boat crews, do some shopping, and meet up with friends.

There is something for everyone to do and many kinds of products are on sale. Upon entering the festival grounds, you are confronted with a large street fair featuring hundreds of stalls lining Fangum Road, at Chao Anouvong Park, and by the river. These stalls sell traditional and local products, branded goods, and overseas products that attract thousands of shoppers throughout the day.

People can also visit booths that represent Vientiane and the provinces and display handmade products. Entertainment includes muay Lao boxing, traditional games, a children’s playground, and a main stage for performances each night by groups of artists representing the nine districts of Vientiane and various organisations.

There are stalls selling food, especially traditional snacks such as khao lam (sticky rice roasted in bamboo tubes), ping kai (grilled chicken) and papaya salad.

This year’s festival is on a larger scale because it is part of Visit Laos Year 2018 activities.

The Vientiane Boat Racing Festival follows the End of Buddhist Lent Festival, or Boun Ork Phansa, which falls on the full moon day of the 11th lunar month.

This festival features lively events both during the day time and at night, mainly at temples and the Mekong, with the river taking centre stage. Visitors can enjoy a range of musical entertainment, fireworks, the sight of graceful lighted boats on the river, and the floating of offerings downstream to appease the spirits.

Mr Phounkham, a resident of Chanthabouly district, said he takes part in the celebrations every year and is happy that there are so many activities to enjoy, which enable him to meet lots of people.

“I think this year’s festival will be more interesting than usual because there are many special activities marking Visit Laos Year, as well as lots of goods on sale. It’s a good time to enjoy the best of Lao traditions,” Mr Phounkham said.

“I urge everyone, including foreign visitors, to take part in this festival and to experience as much as possible because there are so many activities and all of them are very interesting and exciting.”
“We should preserve these traditions and continue to hold the festival every year because it’s a good way to promote our beautiful culture and fine traditions which have been around since ancient times.”