Lao: Boat Racing Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of each lunar month, usually in October. This year, it takes place on October 11. The boat festival is typically held in Vientiane, Laos, the day after Buddhist Lent ends. Boat races are a regular feature in the three months of Buddhist Lent between the end of August and the end of October. Most races start around midday and end by sundown. During this time, a huge boat racing festival is held in Laos. Later, there are several similar gatherings around the Mekong River and other waterways, and the final race takes place in Ban Xieng Ngeun, a town just outside Vientiane. The first and last races are by far the largest and most important.
History of Lao: Boat Racing Festival
During this time of year, boat racing festivals are held in numerous cities and villages throughout Laos. Depending on the area, races occur on different days. The day of the week that Boun Ok Phansa, the final day of Buddhist Lent, falls on may also affect when the public holiday is set. Vientiane’s Boun Suang Heua is the largest and most well-attended of all boat racing festivals. Races on Fa Ngum Road along the Mekong River attract participants from all around the nation.
The races typically cover a two-kilometer distance. However, the starting and finishing points shift slightly yearly based on the river’s level.
A traditional racing boat, which can accommodate around 50 rowers, is crafted from a single tree. Revered as holy objects, the boats are cleaned and offered in the days leading up to the races. These boats can be classified into three categories — sports boats for men, traditional boats for men, and traditional boats for women.
Companies and government agencies in Vientiane frequently fund the city’s rowing teams. The women’s races normally happen first and are followed by the men’s. High-ranking officials deliver trophies and cash to the winners in each category, and both the races and award ceremonies are streamed live on Lao’s national television channel. Leading up to the races, the streets fill with enthusiastic fans cheering on their favorite teams. Vendors also crowd the streets selling all kinds of clothing, food, and beverages.
Lao: Boat Racing Festival timeline
The French rule over Laos.
As an associated state within the French Union, Laos enjoys a degree of semi-autonomy.
Laos is granted its complete independence and becomes a constitutional monarchy.
Laos and Thailand construct a "Friendship Bridge" spanning the Mekong River to connect them.
Lao: Boat Racing Festival FAQs
Which season do the races begin in?
Villages along the river have a long-standing custom of beginning preparations for the annual boat racing festival at the end of the rice-planting season, which coincides with the end of the wet season.
What types of boats are typically used?
Dragon boats, lengthy boats constructed solely for competing in races, are launched into rivers after being brought down from their homes.
How long do the participants train?
Rowing crews begin their preseason training several weeks or even months before the actual boat racing season begins.
Lao: Boat Racing Festival Activities
Celebrate with the locals
An open-air bar and dance floor are temporarily erected at the temple the night before the race, or even two nights before it starts depending on the situation. You can purchase BeerLao, Lao-Lao, or whisky at the bar, where a live band performs throughout the evening. Teenagers, men and women from neighboring villages, and crew members party hard into the night.
If you can, visit Laos and see all it offers. Spend the entire festival enjoying the Boat Racing Festival in person.
Morning services are held in various temples across the country. In the evening, hundreds of colorful floats decorated with flowers, incense, and candles sail down the river past the country’s temples in candlelight processions. Lao people have performed this colorful rite for hundreds of years to honor the Buddha and thank the river’s mother for supplying life-sustaining water.
5 Facts About The Boat Races
There are morning races
The morning races start around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. local time.
It’s neck and neck
Each heat typically features two boats racing down the river.
Up to 10 boats can race
When a single race is happening in a day in adjacent places, six to 10 boats can join the festival.
They’re all about the experience
The winners only get minor rewards because the races are more about having a good time than winning money.
The party keeps going
The festival continues well into the early morning after the last afternoon race.
Why We Love Lao: Boat Racing Festival
It shows hospitality
In general, all of the rowing teams receive complimentary meals, refreshments, and lodging. Host households are responsible for this, as they’re thrilled about participating in the festival.
It’s a community effort
In addition to supplying food and drinks, the host town must construct makeshift camps for invited guests and rowing crews to spend the night before the race. The shelters are made from simple materials, such as bamboo or tents.
It preserves tradition
Traditional Lao cuisine and beverages are prepared in all homes in the host village, which is teeming with culture. Visitors are served beverages and noodles, usually Khao Poon, as soon as possible. Only close family and friends in Vientiane are likely to engage in this behavior.
Lao: Boat Racing Festival dates