Why Laos festival should float your boat

17th Jul 2013

The pageantry of the traditional English University Boat Race has nothing on the one coming up in Laos this autumn.

Luang Prabang stages one of the biggest water festivals and events in this south-east Asian country's entertainment calendar.

What makes the September 19 Boat Race Festival unique is that it is staged on Hor Khao Padap Din, the Day of the Commemoration of the Dead.

But this doesn't mean a funereal atmosphere - quite the reverse.

Those holidaymakers on city breaks to Luang Prabang will gather with locals on race day along the banks of the Mekong River in a frenzied ambience to watch and cheer on the boats.

A long-established orchestra plays to accompany each race and quicken the tempo as the boats - carved from a single tree and holding 50 paddlers - descend on the finish line, theatrically adding to the momentum.

These boats belong to a village and are normally stored in a shelter on the temple grounds and come out just once a year for the festival.

The morning is allocated to women's crews and the afternoon to men's teams.

The starting line is two kilometres (2,187 yards) upstream.

Preparations start well before the race itself.

A week earlier Fa Ngum Quai is overrun by stalls selling several goods and foods or games, and loud music is played all day and late into the night.

The boats are cleaned many days before the race and presented with offerings as they are considered sacred items.


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