Once you have arrived there will be plenty to keep you busy, but depending on the time of year, here are a few events taking place…
Dry Season (October – April)
Bun Pha Wet
Falling on different dates – people exchange invitations with friends and families in different villages to join in their celebrations – this festival is a commemoration of the Jataka, the life story of Lord Buddha as Prince Vestsantara. The story is recited in temples throughout the country and this is considered a particularly auspicious time for ordination as a monk.
Held on the night of the full moon, this festival commemorates the original teachings of Lord Buddha given to over a thousand monks who came spontaneously to hear him speak. The festival is marked by grand parades of candle-bearing worshippers circling their local temples, merit making, and much religious music and chanting.
Vietnamese Tet & Chinese New Year
Celebrated in Vientiane, Pakse and Savannakhet by the larger Vietnamese and Chinese communities who close their businesses for several days during this period, this festival combines visits to temples and merit making with noisy parties, and hundreds of strings of firecrackers.
Boun Khoun Khao
A harvest festival celebrated at local temples
Lasting several days in mid-April, this is the celebration of the Laos New Year and is a combination of merriment and meditation. Similar to festivals at this time of year in other Southeast Asian countries – particularly Thailand – Boun Pimai is celebrated with parades, dancing, singing and enthusiastic water throwing. The religious aspects of the festival are most apparent in Luang Prabang, where Buddha images are worshiped with water pouring ceremonies. Temple compounds are further decorated with small sand Stupas, offered as merit towards good fortune and health
Awk Phansaa (Awk Watsa)
Marking the end of the three-month Buddhist Lent on the day of the full moon. Monks are at last permitted to leave the temple and are presented with gifts. One particularly beautiful aspect is Lai Hua Fai. On the eve of Awk Phansaa people gather at the nearest body of water to release dozens of small banana-leaf boats decorated with candles, incense and small flowers, in a celebration similar to Thailand’s Loy Krathong Festival.
Bun Nam (water festival)
In riverside towns such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet, the highly competitive Bun Nam boat races (reua suang) are held during the same time as Awk Phansaa. Smaller communities sometimes hold these races on National Day on 2nd December
Boun That Luang
Though celebrated at many temples around the country, this festival is traditionally centred at That Luang in Vientiane. Fairs, beauty contests, music and fireworks take place throughout the week of the full moon, and end with a candlelight procession (wien thien) around the temple of That Luang.
Lao National Day (2nd December – public holiday)
Streets strewn with national flags and banners, processions, parades, and speeches are the highlights of this celebration for the victory of the proletariat in 1975.
Wet Season (May – September)
Chanting, religious instruction, and candlelit processions highlight this temple festival in celebration of the birth, enlightenment and death of the Lord Buddha.
Boun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival)
With its origins in pre-Buddhist rain-invoking ceremonies, this festival now coincides with the Laos Visakha Puja celebrations. Parades, songs, dances and partying all lead to an explosive climax as huge, ornate, homemade bamboo rockets are blessed and fired into the skies to invite the rains. Rocket-makers earn both merit and honour if their creations fly high. This dramatic festival is also celebrated in Northeast Thailand
Marking the beginning of the three-month Buddhist Lent, which commences at the full moon in July and continues until the full moon in October, this is considered a particularly auspicious time for Lao men to enter the monkhood and is marked by numerous ordination ceremonies.
Haw Khao Padap Din
Devoted to remembering and paying respect to the dead, it is marked by the macabre ceremony of exhuming previously buried bodies, cleaning the remains, and then cremating them on the night of the full moon. Relatives then present gifts to the monks who have chanted on behalf of those who have passed away.