Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The prettiest festival in Laos

Boun Ok Phansa, or the Festival of Lights, would have to be Laos’ most beautiful festivals by far.  Coinciding with the celebration of the end of Buddhist Lent, households, businesses, guesthouses all join with the temples to create illuminated boat displays.  Some temples put incredible effort into decorating not only these magnificent boats but also the Wat (temples).  A procession is held through town on the Full Moon where each temple’s boat is paraded through the town to Wat Xiengthong, where judging occurs and tourists and locals alike gather to get a closer look at the amazing creations. 

Other festivities include firecrackers (one of my personal least favourites!), and the release of both traditional flower wreaths down the river and fire lanterns into the sky.  It is truly a wonderful and joyous sight to behold!  Food, drink and much merriment is the order of the night and it’s a terrific atmosphere when it seems the whole population descends on the peninsula.

Volunteers light candles with Novices at the boat
GVI Volunteers enjoyed an extra special treat on the eve of the main festival, being invited out to Wat Pasaviet (a temple where we teach novice monks five evenings a week), lighting candles and saying prayers over their boat.  Apart from the dastardly firecrackers, which both novices and local kids like to throw wantonly at each others’ legs in jest, it was a sublime evening and well enjoyed by both our novice students and the volunteers and staff.  

One of the winning boats on display at Wat Xiengthong
As with all festivals and Buddhist occasions in Laos all the schools shut down to partake in the festivities for 3 days.  A small disappointment for some volunteers with 2 week durations, but more than made up for by the spectacle and wonder of the week.