When the three months of Buddhist Lent come to an end in October, it is the perfect time to visit temples and celebrate the end of the rainy season. In Laos, this is called Boun Awk Phansa (Sometimes translated as Boun Ok Phansa or Boun Ock Phansa) and various religious and local traditions can be observed during this time. Moreover, there are plenty of festive activities are organized throughout the country with floating flower boats, candles, fireworks, lavishly decorated wats and an old-time carnival … all make for a magical Boun Awk Phansa festival in Laos. 

***********

Prefer listening to reading? Check the PodCast of this article as below:

What is Boun Awk Phansa?

Boun Awk Phansa is the celebration of the last day of Buddhist lent. It happens annually in October, three lunar months after Khao Phansa on the 15th day of the 11th month of the lunar calendar.

When Boun Awk Phansa arrives, people line up at temples early in the morning and offer gifts to the monks. There are also candlelight processions around temples, and small decorative boats filled with flowers, lit candles, and incense are set out on the Mekong River. The whole river seems to light up.

What is Boun Khao Phansa?

Boun Khao Phansa in Laos is the start of the three-month period sometimes referred to as “Buddhist Lent”. Boun Khao Phansa starts on the full moon of the eighth month and runs till the full moon of the eleventh month of the Buddhist Calendar.

During this time period, Buddhist monks stay at a pagoda and focus on meditation and strict observance of their religion. They are especially forbidden from sleeping anywhere else but in their pagoda at night.

On Boun Khao Phansa, people of villages throughout Laos bring food offerings in bowls to the pagoda-bound monks – a practice called “tak bat”. Tak bat means “morning offering”, and indeed, these offerings are brought in the morning hours.

There are other rituals performed by the people and monks on Boun Khao Phansa, such as the blessing of “holy water” which is then poured out onto the earth, candlelight processions around Buddhist temples, and neighbourhood “drumming competitions”.

Here is more detail about Boun Khao Phansa

What is Buddhist Lent?

That said, Awk Phansa marks the end of the Buddhist lent, which originates from Buddhism period called Vassa.

The Vassa is the three-month annual retreat observed by Theravada practitioners. Taking place during the wet season, Vassa lasts for three lunar months, usually from July (the Burmese month of Waso) to October (the Burmese month of Thadingyut). 

In English, Vassa is often glossed as Rains Retreat or Buddhist Lent, the latter by analogy to the Christian Lent (which Vassa predates by at least five centuries).

For the duration of Vassa, monastics remain in one place, typically a monastery or temple grounds. In some monasteries, monks dedicate the Vassa to intensive meditation. Some Buddhist lay people choose to observe Vassa by adopting more ascetic practices, such as giving up meat, alcohol, or smoking. While Vassa is sometimes casually called "Buddhist Lent", others object to this terminology. Commonly, the number of years a monk has spent in monastic life is expressed by counting the number of vassas (or rains) since ordination.

Most Mahayana Buddhists do not observe Vassa, though Vietnamese Thiền and Korean Seon monastics observe an equivalent retreat of three months of intensive practice in one location, a practice also observed in Tibetan Buddhism. 

Vassa begins on the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month, which is the day after Asalha Puja or Asalha Uposatha ("Dhamma day"). It ends on Pavarana, when all monastics come before the sangha and atone for any offense that might have been committed during Vassa.

Vassa is followed by Kathina, a festival in which the laity expresses gratitude to monks. Lay Buddhists bring donations to temples, especially new robes for the monks. 

The Vassa tradition predates the time of Gautama Buddha. It was a long-standing custom for mendicant ascetics in India not to travel during the rainy season as they may unintentionally harm crops, insects or even themselves during their travels. Many Buddhist ascetics live in regions which lack a rainy season. Consequently, there are places where Vassa may not be typically observed.

Here is more detail about Buddhist Lent

Activities during Boun Awk Phansa

When Boun Awk Phansa arrives, people line up at temples early in the morning and offer gifts to the monks. There are also candlelight processions around temples, and small decorative boats filled with flowers, lit candles, and incense are set out on the Mekong River. The whole river seems to light up.

And people also make beautiful paper lanterns and light them up at night in one location. Thus, the sky and the river are set aglow.

Finally, this is also the time of the final boat racing festival in Xieng Nguean (near Luang Prabang) and in Vientiane since the rains will soon stop and the water levels of the Mekong and other rivers recede.

Traditionally, Boun Awk Phansa is a time to honour the “river spirit” of the Mekong. It is thought that sickness, bad luck, and everything negative can be sent away into the river.

Below are the 3 most famous festivals celebrated during Boun Awk Phansa.

Boun Lai Heua Fai – The Festival of light

On the full moon day at dawn, donations and offerings are made at temples around the country; in the evening, candlelight processions are held around the temples and it is the celebration of "Lai Heua Fai" or "Loi Kra Thong", when everyone sends small lighted ‘boats’ made of banana stems or banana leaves decorated with candles and flowers down the rivers.

These are said to pay respect to the Buddha and to thank the mother of rivers for providing water for our lives. Some believe that the lai heua fai procession is an act to pay respect to Nagas that lives in the rivers, while others send the lighted boats down the river to ask for blessing and to float bad luck of the past year away enabling the good luck to flow in. Most towns with a river bank nearby will engage in this lovely ceremony. In bigger towns there are also processions of lighted boats, and the ceremony is more popular especially among young romantic couples. Villagers who live far from rivers set up model boats (made of banana stems) decorated with flowers and candlelight, while others simply light up some candles in front of their houses and do their little prayer wishing for good luck. These colorful rituals have been carried on by Lao people for thousands of years.

Here is the detail about Boun Lai Heua Fai in Luang Prabang

The Naga Fireballs

In addition, the evening of the Awk Phansa day is the day the celebrated Naga fireballs are supposed to appear. The Naga fireballs are a phenomenon peculiar to the Mekong. The Naga is a mythical water dragon believed to live in the Mekong and on the night of 15th day of 11th month in the Lao lunar calendar at the end of Buddhist Lent, he is supposed to shoot up pink-red fireballs to signify the occasion. Some believe, while others doubt they are real.  

Still today there is a festival surrounding this time and certain areas of both the Thai and Lao sides of the river are packed out with willing sightseers, who also take the time to enjoy the multitude of food and drink stands which spring up to cater for them during their wait.

This extraordinary phenomenon occurs in the area of the Mekong River stretching over 20km between Pak-Ngeum district, about 80km south of the Lao capital Vientiane, and Phonephisai district in Nong Khai province, Thailand.  In Laos you can hire a private taxi or truck to take you and from the site, but be prepared for traffic jams and crowds.

Boun Suang Heua – Boat Racing Festival

The day of the boat racing festival in Vientiane is spectacular. This year (2018), the Awk Phansa festival day (the day the Buddhist lent ends) falls on the 24th October and the Vientiane boat racing day is on the 25th.

The town comes alive with noise and festivity as the teams make their way to the river either by truck or walking, banging drums and singing. The races start around 9am when the heats kick off. Thousands of spectators cram along the river banks and cheer their teams. The streets are lined with food stalls, sideshows where you can win small prizes and stalls selling all manner of clothes and other items.

The final happens around mid-afternoon, by which time everyone is normally quite merry.

Here is the detail about Boun Suang Heua – Boat Racing Festival in Laos

When is Boun Awk Phansa?

Like other festival in Laos, Boun Awk Phansa follows the lunar calendar of Laos, so the date in Gregorian calendar changes every year.

To help you better plan your journey, here is the date until 2024 for your reference.

Year Date Day
2020 1 Oct Thu
2021 20 Oct Wed
2022 10 Oct Mon
2023 28 Oct Sat
2024 17 Oct Thu

Boun Awk Phansa photos

 

image
24-hour response
guaranteed!
REQUEST A FREE QUOTE

My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!

Comments
SIMILAR BLOG ARTICLES

The Rocket Festival (Boun Bang Fai) is a merit-making ceremony traditionally practiced by ethnic Lao people near the beginning of the wet season in numerous villages and municipalities, in the regions of Northeastern Thailand and Laos. Celebrations typically include preliminary music and dance performances, competitive processions of floats, dancers and musicians on the second day, and culminating on the third day in competitive firings of home-made rockets. Local participants and sponsors use the occasion to enhance their social prestige, as is customary in traditional Buddhist folk festivals throughout Southeast Asia.

The festival in Thailand also includes special programs and specific local patterns like Bung Fai (Parade dance) and a Beautiful Bung Fai float such as Yasothon the third weekend of May, and continues Suwannaphum District, Roi Et on the first weekend of June, Phanom Phrai District Roi Et during the full moon of the seventh month in Lunar year's calendar each year. The Bung Fai festival is not only found in Isan or Northeasthern Thailand and North Thailand and Laos, but also in Amphoe Sukhirin, Narathiwat.

...more

Buddhist Lent Day (Thailand Wan Khao Phansa, Laos Boun Khao Phansa) is the start of the three-month period during the rainy season when monks are required to remain in a particular place such as a monastery or temple grounds. Here, they will meditate, pray, study, and teach other young monks. In the past, monks were not even allowed to leave the temple, but today, most monks just refrain from traveling during this period. You will still see them out during the day.

It is said that monks started remaining immobile in a temple during this time because they wanted to avoid killing insects and harming farmland. Apparently, traveling monks were crossing through fields, thus destroying the crops of villagers and farmers. After catching wind of this, Buddha decided that in order to avoid damaging crops, hurting insects, or harming themselves during the rainy season, monks should remain in their temples during these three months.

Tired of reading, listen to our podcast below:

...more

Initiated in 2006 by an NGO working for years with the elephants, this annual meeting of Laos Elephant Festival became one of the big festivals of Laos, followed by thousands of Laotians who move to attend a number of exercises, parades, and elections of the most emblematic animal of Laos. Fifty elephants are walking around for 3 days in the streets of the small provincial town. A large market takes place for the occasion with all kind of local (or Thai) products.

Home to the country’s largest pachyderm population, Xayabouly Province is the natural choice to host this growing event that also aims to raise awareness about the need to protect the endangered Asian elephant, which has played such a vital role in Lao people’s livelihoods, culture and heritage.

...more

The highlight of the year in Wat Phu Champasak is the three-day Buddhist festival, held on Magha Puja day on the full moon of the third lunar month, usually in February. The ceremonies culminate on the full-moon day with an early-morning offering of alms to monks, followed that evening by a candlelit wéean téean (circumambulation) of the lower shrines.

Throughout the three days of the festival Lao visitors climb around the hillside, stopping to pray and leave offerings of flowers and incense. The festival is more commercial than it once was, and for much of the time has an atmosphere somewhere between a kids' carnival and music festival. Events include kick-boxing matches, boat races, cockfights, comedy shows and plenty of music and dancing, as bands from as far away as Vientiane arrive. After dark the beer and lòw-lów (Lao whisky) flow freely and the atmosphere gets pretty rowdy.

...more

Boat races are common all throughout Buddhist Lent, a full three-month period generally running from late August to the end of October. The exact dates vary each year, but most races are held on the weekend, start around noon, and end by sunset.

About mid-way through Buddhist Lent, the first major boat racing festival is held in Luang Prabang. Many others will be held later on along the Mekong River and other waterways. Then, the final race is in Vientiane. The first and last races are by far the largest and most important.

The Boat Racing Festival is also a time of other, accompanying festivities. There are bamboo rockets shot off to announce the beginning of a race, local markets that spring up and thrive, and other entertainment that goes on.

Since it is the rainy season, the waters are high and good for boating, the farmers are not overburdened with work, and tourist season is at a low point. This set of circumstances, and the fact that people have been waiting all year for this, creates a lot of excitement about the boat racing events.

In the scope of this article, we will learn about the Laos traditional boat racing festival and the festive atmosphere in Luang Prabang and Vientiane.

...more

The Hmong New Year celebration is a cultural tradition that takes place annually in select areas where large Hmong communities exist and in a modified form where smaller communities come together. During the New Year's celebration, Hmong dress in traditional clothing and enjoy Hmong traditional foods, dance, music, bull fights, and other forms of entertainment. Hmong New Year celebrations have Hmong ethnic traditions and culture and may also serve to educate those who have an interest in Hmong tradition. Hmong New Year celebrations frequently occur in November and December (traditionally at the end of the harvest season when all work is done), serving as a Thanksgiving holiday for the Hmong people.

...more
NOT READY YET?

We believe you have the right to arm yourselves with as much information as possible before making any decision.

Check below the detailed information for our different destinations, our plans by travel theme or time frame to learn more before moving forward...

places to visit in Laos
Luang Prabang
bee-white Luang Prabang

The ancient capital of Lane Xang Kingdom

Vang Vieng
bee-white Vang Vieng

Vientiane
bee-white Vientiane

The ancient capital of Lane Xang Kingdom

4000 Islands
bee-white 4000 Islands

Phonsavan
bee-white Phonsavan

Nong Khiaw
bee-white Nong Khiaw

Laos PLANS BY TRAVEL THEME
Family Vacation
bee-white Family Vacation

The combination of fun and educational activities

Cycling & Biking
bee-white Cycling & Biking

Explore every corners of the destination on two wheels

Must-see
bee-white Must-see

Check out all the must-see places and things to do & see

Luxury Holiday
bee-white Luxury Holiday

Unique experience combined with top-notch services

Honeymoon Vacation
bee-white Honeymoon Vacation

Easy excursions combined with unique experience making the long-lasting romantic memories

Trek & Hike
bee-white Trek & Hike

Explore the least visited destinations and unknown experience on foot

Cruise
bee-white Cruise

The combination of some must-see experience and the cruise tour along the mighty rivers

Unseen
bee-white Unseen

Reveal off-the-beatentrack routes, least explored destinations, and unknown tribe groups

Wellness & Leisure
bee-white Wellness & Leisure

Easy excursion combined with week-long beach break

Laos PLANS BY TIME FRAME
white-icon About 1 week
yellow-icon About 1 week
white-icon About 2 weeks
yellow-icon About 2 weeks
white-icon About 3 weeks
yellow-icon About 3 weeks
white-icon About 4 weeks
yellow-icon About 4 weeks
image
Already got a plan? REQUEST A FREE QUOTE
Laos TRAVEL TIPS & GUIDE

Either are you wondering about best time to visit, visa policy, or how to get the cheapest flight, we have your back!
WHAT MORE? Choose the country you plan to visit, then search for your nationality below to see our special travel tips & advice for your country. CONTACT US if you cannot find yours.

Tourist Visa Policy
bee-white Tourist Visa Policy
Best Time to Visit
bee-white Best Time to Visit
Budget & Currency
bee-white Budget & Currency
Getting Around
bee-white Getting Around
Getting Flight There
bee-white Getting Flight There
Buying & Bargaining
bee-white Buying & Bargaining
Useful addresses
bee-white Useful addresses
Internet & Phone
bee-white Internet & Phone
Packing List
bee-white Packing List
Tipping Customs
bee-white Tipping Customs
Safety & Precautions
bee-white Safety & Precautions
Local Etiquette
bee-white Local Etiquette
Travel Insurance
bee-white Travel Insurance
Vaccinations
bee-white Vaccinations
CHECK OUT OTHER DESTINATIONS
Vietnam
bee-white Vietnam
A land of staggering natural beauty and cultural complexities, of dynamic megacities and hill-tribe villages, Vietnam is both exotic and compelling.
Thailand
bee-white Thailand
Friendly and food-obsessed, hedonistic and historic, cultured and curious, Thailand tempts visitors with a smile as golden as the country's glittering temples and tropical beaches.
Cambodia
bee-white Cambodia
There's a magic about this charming yet confounding kingdom that casts a spell on visitors. In Cambodia, ancient and modern worlds collide to create an authentic adventure.
Myanmar
bee-white Myanmar
It's a new era for this extraordinary and complex land, where the landscape is scattered with gilded pagodas and the traditional ways of Asia endure.
loading
back top