Laos boat festival to attract big numbers

1st May 2013

Large crowds are expected to attend this year's Boat Race Festival in Laos, as the country pays homage to water divinities and the Nagas.

Known locally as 'Boun Suang Hua', the festival will take place in Luang Prabang on 19 August and in Vientiane the day after the End of Buddhist Lent.

Both are important social and sports events in the Laos calendar. Over the years, the boat racing aspect has become a focus of entertainment, athletics and commerce.

In the city of Vientiane the build-up begins a week prior to the race, as Fa Ngum Quai is taken over by stalls selling all kinds of goods, foods and games, while 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.

Hundreds of people line the banks of the Mekong River as the boats, which are carved using one single tree, race two kilometres downstream.

Approximately 50 paddlers can fit in each boat. The morning is devoted to women's crews, while the afternoon features men's crews.

Two boats race at a time, with the winner advancing to the next round. This continues until an overall winner is found. After the final race, all the boats participate in a spectacular final show to wow the crowds.

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