In Laos, the custom is called "Lai Heua Fai" (Drifting Boats of Fire).   The little boats are usually made from banana leaves and decorated with flowers. Boats can also be made from bamboo or other natural products.   In Thailand and for a year or two in Laos people used Styrofoam boats, but the government banned them.  

At night about eight o'clock, hundreds of people go to the banks of the nearest river to set their boats adrift.   First, a candle is placed in the center of the boat and lit.   Then as the boat is placed in the water, wishes are made that all bad luck will go away and good luck will come in the future.  

Boun Sooung Heua

Boun Sooung Heua , The Boat Racing Festival, comes in September or October, toward the end of the rainy season.   The first of the races run on the Mekong River is at Luang Prabang, the former royal capital now a World Heritage Site.   Then in the following weeks, other races are held at various places downstream.   A wat or other organization sponsors each boat.   Rivalry is intense.   High spirits are even more intense.

Crews of young men walking to their boats with their paddles over their shoulders sing chants.   One of the more gifted boatmen leads the chants, improvising as he goes along.   The others enthusiastically pick up the words and repeat after him.   Verses of the chant would be considered ribald by many Westerners, but are inoffensive to most Lao people.   The chants have their best audience when the racers sit idly in their boats before the race begins, holding their paddles upright or perhaps they stand up and dance as they sing, while they are towed upriver to the starting line by "long-tailed" motor boats, so called because of the long propeller shafts.   The crowd on the bank hears the chants and enjoys the show.

There are also women's teams and foreigners are invited to join.

The end of Buddhist Lent is held on the 15 th day of the waxing moon. Many important ceremonies mark this day.

•  Parvorana -
•  Ok Phansa -Tak Baath - Offering of rice & food
•  Vien Thien - Candlelit procession
•  Lai Heua Fai - Boats of Fire
•  Boun Song Heua - Boat races - October 11
•  Kathin   - Offering of robes to monks - performed between Ok Phansa and Boun That Luang

2. Ok Phansa is celebrated with the same rituals as are in other Buddhist ceremonies: Acceptance of the Five Precepts

•  You shall not kill
•  You shall not steal or cheat
•  You shall not commit adultery
•  You shall not lie
•  You shall not consume alcohol or drugs

Tak baath - The offering of food & rice to the monks

Yaat nam - Washing to transfer the merits from the   offering to the dead

Thesana - Reading from the Buddha's lives and teachings

3.   Vien Thien - Before 8pm people gather in the temple for a prayer and, led by the monks and novices, circumambulate the sim in a clockwise direction three times holding flowers, candles and incense sticks.

When this is finished, everyone illuminates the heua khok , a bamboo model of a racing boat built on the ground ( khok ).   Lit candles are placed everywhere in the temple grounds, on stupas, and along the fences.   Private homes are illuminated in the same way in homage to Buddha.

4.   Lai Heua Fai - Small boats decorated with flowers, lit candles and offerings are launched onto the Mekong River.   Disease, shortcomings and bad luck are said to float away with them and wishes are made for the future.   Along FaNgoum Street, it is very crowded and you might not be able to get down to the river.   For a small fee, a young lad will be happy to put your boat in the water for you.   The boats should be organic, not Styrofoam or plastic.   Watch out for firecrackers!   This is an ancient tradition, lovely to see and participate in.


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VIS & Bruce Knox 2005 - This site was most recently updated on June 8 , 2006 by Bruce Knox