The majority of Laos festivals are based in the Buddhist faith that dominates the country and hold an important religious significance for Lao people, thus festival dates may be flexible as they are tied to the lunar calendar.
Festivals in Laos are largely linked to agricultural seasons or historical Buddhist holidays and the general word for festival in Lao is “BOUN.”
In general Lao people like to party and they enjoy festivals as long as possible. Some of the festivals – like the new year – unofficially start a few days earlier and go on for about a week.
Editor Note: You may want to know about The best time to visit Laos
Top 10 Festivals & Holidays in Laos
There are a total of 15 Public Holidays in Laos ranging from harvest festivities, rain-making ceremonies to religious observations. Within the scope of this article, you will learn about the top 10 festivals. Here we go, get ready to party
Boun Phavet - January
Boun Pha Vet is a commemoration of the Jataka, the life tale of Prince Vestsantara, the Buddha’s penultimate life.
The story of Lord Buddha as Prince Vestsantara is recited in temples throughout the country.
This is considered a particularly auspicious time for ordination as a monk.
There is no fixed date for the festival.
Every village set their own dates, but they coordinate with surrounding villages to avoid collision as families and friends in different villages exchange invitation to join in celebration.
Wat Phou Festival - February
Venue: Muang Champassak, Champasak Province, Laos
Along with the Champasak Cultural Landscape, the 5th century Khmer ruins of Wat Phou is the second inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List of Laos.
In late January or early February the faithful flock from Laos, Cambodia and Thailand to the temple Wat Phou, meaning ‘mountain temple.’
Boun Wat Phou festivities include boat racing, cock fighting, dancing and, of course, drinking.
Blended into the surrounding nature, the remains of Wat Phou are dotted all over the mountain face.
Oriented toward the east, the ruins have two large reservoirs on either side of a long column-lined road, leading toward the mountains.
Past the palace ruins, up a steep staircase, you’ll find the sanctuary with a modern Buddhist shrine and a natural spring considered to be sacred.
Check the below video to have the idea about the festival
Elephant Festival - February
Venue: Muang Xayabouly, Xayabouly Province, Laos
Initiated in 2006 by an NGO working for years with the elephants, this annual meeting became one of the big festivals of Laos, followed by thousands of Laotians who move to attend a number of exercises, parades, and elections of the most emblematic animal of Laos.
Fifty elephants are walking around for 3 days in the streets of the small provincial town. A large market takes place for the occasion with all kind of local products.
Though being the living icon with important symbolic connotations and historical associations, elephants in Laos are now under threat.
Firstly, due to the loss of its forest habitat, the elephant is endangered in the wild.
Secondly, the economic and technological change has limited the number of elephants needed in traditional occupations; the continued well-being of the region’s large number of domesticated elephants is also of concern, as is the future of mahouts and their families.
In response to these concerns, the Elephant Festival has been organised to raise awareness of the need for action to protect the elephant as part of the vital cultural and natural heritage of Laos and the countries of the region.
Sayaboury Province welcomes you back to pay tribute to its elephants and enjoy great cultural activities and entertainment.
Check the below video to have the idea of the festival
Boun Pimay - Laos New Year - April
Venue: Nationwide (Best in the big cities: Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Thakhek, Savannakhet, Pakse)
Lao New Year, also called Boun Pi Mai (Pimay), is celebrated in Laos from April 14-16.
This festival is officially three days long, but it usually lasts a full week and includes huge water fights, where people get doused with water and flour in the streets by strangers. Carry an umbrella and join in the fun.
Parades in cities, especially Luang Prabang and Vientiane (to a lesser extent), have people dressed in traditional masks retelling the history and folklore of Laos and Buddhism.
Temples and homes are cleaned for the New Year, and the faithful make offerings. Beauty pageants, Baci ceremonies and traditional music and dance round out the festivities.
Check the video below and be ready to get wet:
Boun Bangfai - Rocket Festival - May or June
Boun Bang Fai (Bangfai) or Rocket Festival, marks the sixth month of the lunar calendar. During the festival, rockets are fired into the air to ask the god of rain to help nature a good harvest free from drought, floods or pests.
The festival is a call for rain and a celebration of fertility.
In the afternoon, people gather in the fields on the outskirts of villages and towns to launch self-made firework rockets.
Different communities compete for the best decorated and the highest travelling rocket.
Men disguised as women perform vaudeville acts using wooden phalli in order to anger the gods.
As revenge, the gods are expected to send thunderstorms.
Check the below video to have more idea of the festival
Boun Khau Phansaa (Beginning of Buddhist Lent) - July
Boun Khau Phansa (Khao Phansa) in Laos is the start of the three-month period sometimes referred to as “Buddhist Lent”.
Boun Khao Phansa starts on the full moon of the eighth month and runs till the full moon of the eleventh month of the Buddhist Calendar.
During this time period, Buddhist monks stay at a pagoda and focus on meditation and strict observance of their religion.
They are especially forbidden from sleeping anywhere else but in their pagoda at night.
On Boun Khao Phansa, people of villages throughout Laos bring food offerings in bowls to the pagoda-bound monks – a practice called “tak bat”.
Tak bat means “morning offering”, and indeed, these offerings are brought in the morning hours.
There are other rituals performed by the people and monks on Boun Khao Phansa, such as the blessing of “holy water” which is then poured out onto the earth, candlelight processions around Buddhist temples, and neighborhood “drumming competitions”.
Watch the below video to understand more about this important festival
Boun Haw Khau Padap Din & Haw Khau Salak (2 Festivals for the death) - August
During Buddhist Lent, only two celebrations are observed. They are both to remember the dead.
Boun Haw Khau Padap Din
Haw khao padap din is celebrated on the 15th day of the waning moon in the 9 th month (Lao calendar).
Haw means to wrap in small packs. For celebrations people prepare a large pot of cooked sticky rice mixed with sweetened coconut milk.
Then they take a small handful of the mixture, wrap it around a lengthwise slice of cooking banana, kuaj tom, and wrap it in a banana leaf.
The pack, called khao tom , is then steamed until the banana is cooked. Khao means rice and tom means boil, but, in fact, the pack is steamed.
The banana turns pinkish. Sometimes mashed yellow beans or coconut mixed with sugar is wrapped in the rice instead.
Each household cooks a great number of khao tom which they give to relatives and friends. Some are reserved for takbat , the morning offering to monks. Khao tom can also be bought at the market.
The boun is to show respect not only to one’s own ancestors, but also to the dead with no relatives to remember them.
It is also the time to show respect to maethaulanii, the earth god. Literally, padap means decorate and din means dirt (earth).
Early in the morning at 4 or 5am people place the khao tom, other food, betel for chewing and cigarettes, all wrapped in banana leaves or lotus leaves, in the temple grounds at the foot of trees, before that (stupas holding the ashes of the deceased relatives), or in the corner of the temple walls.
Before going to the temple, haw khao are put in the four corners outside one’s house, the stairs, the spirit house, the rice storehouse, and on the gate. The haw khao are put on the ground so that the spirits can reach them.
While it is still dark the spirits can come and get the offerings.
In the morning at 7 or 8 o’clock, people go to the temple to takbat , accept the Five Precepts and listen to the reading of the Buddhist writings in Pali.
In the evening, monks and lay persons attend a candlelit procession around the temple. People usually go to the temple in their neighborhood.
Video about Boun Haw Khao Padap Din
Boun Haw Khau Salak
Haw khao salak celebrates the deceased. It takes place 15 days after haw khao padap din, on the full moon of the 10th month of the Lao calendar.
For this celebration, offerings to the dead are passed to monks during the morning ceremony at the temple, just after takbat.
A basket is filled with food and daily amenities such as soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, toilet paper, cigarettes, etc. along with the names of the dead persons the family wishes to honor.
The monk or novice who receives the basket, then draws, salak, the names from the basket.
He calls to each dead person and transfers the things through prayers.
Afterwards, the items are shared among the monks and novices. After their needs are met, the remaining items are stored for future use, contributed to a local school or hospital, or distributed to needy people.
It depends on the head monk’s decision at each temple.
After the salak, the ceremony continues with the acceptance of the Five Precepts, and the chanting in Pali from Buddhist texts.
In the evening at 7 or 8 o’clock, is vien thien, a candlelit procession.
First, the head monk at the temple chants from the Buddhist texts.
Then lay people walk in a clockwise direction three times around the sim. It is important to keep your right side towards a sim or that.
Afterwards the candles, incense and flowers are placed near the side of the sim.
At haw khao padap din and/or haw khao salak, some families prepare a special tray or basket with bowls of the deceased’s favorite foods.
This is called pha khao thip. The food is eaten by the monk receiving the tray who transmits the giver’s merit to the honored dead.
Video about Boun Haw Khao Salak
Boun Ook Phansaa (End of Buddhist Lent) - October
Boun Ook Phansa, the end of “Buddhist Lent”, is a national public holiday in Laos.
It takes place sometime in October, near the end of the rainy season, and coincides with various other festive events including Boun Suang Heua (Boat Racing Festival) and Boun Lhai Heua Fai (Festival of the Boats of Light)
Three months prior to Boun Ook Phansa, as the rainy season begins, Buddhist monks in Laos “hide themselves” in their temples to study the teachings of Buddha and meditate (Boun Khao Phansa).
This is also a time of fasting, and a time when there are few if any weddings and parties in Laos.
When Boun Ok Phansa arrives, people line up at temples early in the morning and offer gifts to the monks.
There are also candlelight processions around temples, and small decorative boats filled with flowers, lit candles, and incense are set out on the Mekong River.
The whole river seems to light up.
And people also make beautiful paper lanterns and light them up at night in one location. Thus, the sky and the river are set aglow.
Finally, this is also the time of the final boat racing festival in Xieng Ngeun since the rains will soon stop and the water levels of the Mekong and other rivers recede.
Traditionally, Boun Ok Phansa is a time to honour the “river spirit” of the Mekong.
It is thought that sickness, bad luck, and everything negative can be sent away into the river.
Watch below video to learn about the mark of the end of Buddhist lent, and the beginning of festive season in Laos
Boun Suang Heua - Boat Racing Festival
Boun Suang Heua or Boat Racing Festival occurs in different time of the year depending on the provincial decision
In Luang Prabang, the festival is held on Khao Padapdin, the Day of the Commemoration of the Dead.
In Vientiane Capital, it is held the day after the End of Buddhist Lent. Both are important social and sports events witnessed by huge crowds.
One week before the race, Fa Ngum Quai (along Fa Ngum Road) is taken over by stalls selling all kinds of goods and foods or games, and loud music is played all day and late into the night.
On the day of the race, Vientiane City of finials visit all the sanctuaries of the Guardian Spirits of the City to make offerings. Request permission to hold the race and ask for their protection during the events.
Big crowds gather along the banks of the Mekong River to watch and cheer on the boats.
Next to the official stand a traditional orchestra plays to accompany each race and accelerate the tempo as the boats closes in on the finish line, dramatically adding to the momentum.
Traditional racing boats are carved using one single tree. The boats belong to a village and are usually kept in a shelter on the temple grounds and come out only once a year for the race.
Several days before the race the boats are cleaned and presented with offerings because the boats are considered sacred items.
These boats can hold approximately fifty paddlers. The morning is devoted to women’s crews and the afternoon to men’s crews.
The starting point is two kilometers upstream and the competition is between two boats at a time. The loser is eliminated.
After the final race, all the boats participate in a final competition/show, which is rather spectacular.
The winners receive a trophy, a silver cup and cash.
While the boat racing has become a focus of entertainment, athletics and commerce, the Boat Festival is really an homage to water divinities and the Nagas, who are protector of the country.
Venue: Sayabouly Province
This marks the end of the monks’ three-month-fast and retreat during the rainy season.
At dawn, donation and offerings are made at the temples. Prayers are chanted by the monks, and at dusk candlelight procession wind around the temples.
Concurrently, hundreds of decorated candlelit-floats, made of paper, are set adrift in the rivers.
These carry offerings and incense, transforming the river into a fragrant snake of sparkling water.
Venue: Muang Khua District, Phongsaly Province
Muang Khua Boat Racing is the biggest and the most significant boat racing festival in Phongsaly Province, on Nam Ou Rier.
Boat Racing festival is held every year, start from the 15th day in the 11th month in lunar calendar.
The actual race is held on the 16th day, with heats starting early in the morning.
Over 10 boats for the race on the Nam Ou river.
The entrants come from many village around Muang Khua district to complete in the significant festival.
Video below is about the Boat Racing Festival in Luang Prabang
Boun Lhai Heua Fai - Festival of the Boats of Light
Venue: Luang Prabang & Vientiane Capital
Lhai Heua Fai means “floating boats of light downstream”. This festival is celebrated on the night of the End of Lent.
It is held all over Laos, especially where there is a river. The festival in Vientiane attracts big crowds of devotee and tourists but the one in Luang Prabang is even more spectacular.
Every family makes a small round container, using banana leaves on a section of banana trunk. They put flowers, incense sticks, candles, betel nuts and other condiments for chewing and sometimes food and money.
At the bank of the river, they light the candles, say prayers and send the boat of light floating away.
The spectacle of thousands of boats of light with their twinkling candles on the Mekong River is most moving.
This rite has several aims. One is in homage to the river, especially the Mekong River, which literally means Mother of All Things.
It is also to ask the river and all divinities inhabiting it for forgiveness for disrespect or misuse of its water.
It is also a way to send away all negativity such as sickness, bad luck, shortcoming and failure.
Lhai Heua Fai is also aimed at sending offerings to the dead. But most of all, it is a homage to the Lord Buddha.
Temples and villages build their boats of light, which are much bigger and more elaborately decorated.
Two types of boats of light are built for that night: the normal Heua Fai, which is to be floated down the river, and Heua Fai Khowk, which will stay on the temple ground.
Both are made of bamboo and coloured paper and can be several meters long.
In Luang Prabang, each temple and each village send a boat to join the procession on the main street leading to Wat Xieng Thong.
Once at this beautiful 16thcentury temple, the boats are lined up and a jury awards prizes to the most beautiful boats.
After that, one by one, the boats are brought down the staircases of Wat Xieng Thong, reminiscent of a scene from the film Fitzcaraldo when people carry a boat from the mountain down to the river.
Then they are delicatedly put on the water and floated down the Mekong River among thousands of small individual banana leaf skiffs in a breathtaking sea of lights.
Watch Boun Lhai Heua Fai in Luang Prabang in the below video
That Luang Festival - November
Venue: That Luang square, Ban Nongbone Vientiane, Vientiane Prefecture, Laos
This religious festival is held in and around That Luang Stupa, the national symbol of Laos. It is a three-day religious festival celebrated at full moon in November.
It begins with a pre-dawn gathering of thousands of pilgrims from Laos and Thailand at That Luang who listen to prayers and sermons chanted by hundreds of monks all representing Lao wats.
The festival ends with a huge fireworks display.
The That Luang religious festival last three days.
It starts with the wax castle procession at Wat Si Meuang and end with a procession around the stupa.
Thousands of monks and ten of thousands of pilgrims come from all over the country and even from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to attend the festival.
One week before the religious festival, a huge international trade fair features goods and exhibitions from all over the world.
The religious festival starts with the procession at Wat Si Meuang to worship the City’s foundation pillar and pay homage to Nya Mae Si Meuang or Lady Si Meuang, a pregnant woman, inspired by the divinities, jumped into the hold in which the city pillar was about to be planted and was thus crushed to death.
She has become, since, the protector of Vientiane and inhabitants devote a special cult to her.
The procession gather Phasat Pheung (wax castles) of banana trunks and decorated with flowers made of wax.
The Phasat, which re commissioned by families or villages in and procession around Vientiane, are carried three times around the Sin and then offered to the temple.
This procession is very spontaneous and colourful and ends with fireworks, which symbolizes an offering of flowers of light to Lord Buddha.
The next day, at 01:00PM, a bigger and more elaborate procession brings more wax castles through the Eastern Gate of the That Luang cloister.
The wax castles are carried three times around the Grand Stupa and offered to the shrine.
On the last day of the festival, as early as 05:00AM, thousands of devotees gather in the cloister and around it, on the esplanade for the Takbat, the morning offering to the monks.
After the ceremony, each family gather at stalls to eat Khao Poun, the national rice noodle soup and Tom Kai, chicken soup.
Early in the afternoon, there is the ritual game of Tee Khee, a polo game traditionally played in the Kingdom of Vientiane and believed to be exported to Burma and later to England.
In the past, the game was between a team of officials and a team of villagers.
Below video is about Boun That Luang Festival in Vientiane
Hmong New Year - December
Historically, the Hmong New Year celebration was created to give thanks to ancestors and spirits as well as to welcome in a new beginning.
During the Hmong New Year celebration, the Hmong ball tossing game Pov Pob is a common activity for adolescents.
Boys and girls form two separate lines in pairs that are directly facing one another.
Girls can ball toss with other girls or boys, but boys cannot ball toss with other boys. It is also taboo to toss the ball to someone of the same clan.
The pairs toss a cloth ball back and forth, until one member drops the ball. If a player drops or misses the ball, an ornament or item is given to the opposite player in the pair.
Ornaments are recovered by singing love songs to the opposite player.
The Hmong New Year celebration—specifically based on both religious and cultural beliefs—is an “in-house” ritual that takes place annually in every Hmong household.
The celebration is to acknowledge the completion of the rice-harvesting season—thus, the beginning of a new year—so that a new life can begin as the cycle of life continues.
During this celebration, every “wandering” soul of every family member is called back to unite with the family again and the young will honor the old or the in-laws—a ritual of asking for blessings from elders of the house and clan as well as the in-laws of other clans.
Also, during the Hmong New Year celebration, house spirits as well as the spirit of wealth are honored.
In addition, if a shaman is in the house, the healing spirits of She-Yee are also honoured and released to wander the land until they are called back right after new year.
Hmong New Year lasts only for three days—with 10 dishes of food each day, for a total of 30 dishes—thus the Hmong saying “eat 30.”
Which one is the best?
Now, we come to the most difficult question: which festival is the best and must-visit one? Well, there is no exact answer for this as it will depend on what you expect.
If you are looking for fun & partying, we recommend Boun Pimay (Laos New Year – about mid April). If you are looking for culture & tradition, we recommend to come during October and November where you can join Ook Phansa (End of Buddhist Lent), Boun Suang Heua (Boat Racing Festival), and Boun Lhai Heua Fai (Festival of the Boats of Light). Want more colors? Joining Hmong New Year during December should be your choice.
There is one important point you should know is that most of the festivals in Laos are based on the Lao Calendar; and the official date, sometimes, is decided just 1 or 2 weeks before the festival. To have the good plan, do not hesitate to contact the local travel agent to make sure there is no misleading information.
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Editor note: Before making any decision, you may want to know about The best time to visit Laos