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.

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The legend of Buddhist Lent

Buddhist Lent, originating from the Vassa in Buddhism, 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 to October.

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" – see below). 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.

Asalha Puja Day

Asalha Puja (also known as Asadha Puja or Asanha Bucha in Thailand,) is a Theravada Buddhist festival which typically takes place in July, on the full moon of the month of Āsādha. It is celebrated in Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos, Myanmar and in countries with Theravada Buddhist populations. In Indonesia, the festival is centered at Mendut Temple and Borobudur Temple, Central Java.

Asalha Puja, also known as Dhamma Day, is one of Theravada Buddhism's most important festivals, celebrating as it does the Buddha's first sermon in which he set out to his five former associates the doctrine that had come to him following his enlightenment. This first pivotal sermon, often referred to as “setting into motion the wheel of dhamma,” is the teaching which is encapsulated for Buddhists in the four noble truths: there is suffering (dukkha); suffering is caused by craving (tanha); there is a state (nibbana) beyond suffering and craving; and finally, the way to nirvana is via the eightfold path. All the various schools and traditions of Buddhism revolve around the central doctrine of the four noble truths.

This first sermon is not only the first structured discourse given by the Buddha after his enlightenment, it also contains the essence of all his subsequent teaching. At the end of the talk, one of the five participants recounted his understanding of what had been said and asked to be received as a disciple, a request the Buddha granted, thus establishing the first order of monks.

The day is observed by donating offerings to temples and listening to sermons.

Buddhist Lent in Laos: Boun Khao Phansa

In Laos, Buddhist Lent period is called Boun Khao Phansa.

During Khao Phansa period monks should not venture out or spend the night in any other places except in cases of extreme emergency and, even then, their time away must not exceed seven consecutive nights. 
The Buddha prohibited monks to travel this period because it is rainy season and hard for monks to travel in wet season and it is period of plant fertilizing. There is a story of monks travel in this period and damaged local’s plantation, so this event reached to the Buddha therefore, the Buddha did not allow monks to wonder to other places during the rainy season. 

They must find a proper place or temple to stay and this is a time for contemplation and meditation. The monk meditates more, studies more and teaches more. 

For Buddhist, Phansa is also customarily the season for temporary ordinations. Young men enter the monkhood for spiritual training, to gain merit for themselves and their parents, it is believed that a man who has been a monk will lead their parents to the heaven because monk is a sign of purify and happiness. 

For this reason, most of them are preferring to become a monk in this season. They must spend most of their time to learn and practicing and train themselves under guidance a venerable. 

Different places have different tradition and custom, according to my tradition, a boy should volunteer to stay at the temple to learn Dhamma, chant with the monks, and help work at the temple such as: clean monastery area, wash dishes, and serve monk. 

What to do & see for tourist during Boun Khao Phansa in Laos?

Join the alms giving in the morning

Early the morning of the day of Khao Phansa festival, people prepare donations of food (particularly khaotom, rice, banana or pork wrapped in banana leaves) and necessities like soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes and towels for the monks. Most temples are very busy during this time with people making merit and giving their donations.

At the end of these merit-making activities the monks will recite the teachings of Buddha and tell the history of Lent to temple goers. Later in the evening monks, novices and laypeople bring flowers and candles and walk around the central temple three times.

Join the boat racing festival in Luang Prabang

During the middle of Buddhist Lent of full moon of September, some province in Laos especially in Luangprabang is celebration of Boat Racing festival. The celebration starts afternoon at 1pm to 5pm. 
First round of the racing is women which dressed black and white to open the competition. After that the game begins to compete. 

The people stand alongside the River to cheer their fan of boat and there is also music near River. Everyone enjoyed and spent money for drinks. 

The festival is hosted every year in Luangprabang. It was taking place of “Nam Khan River” to race the boat which the period of higher River but in dry season the River is lower.

Boat Racing Festival in Luang Prabang

Buddhist Lent in Thailand: Wan Khao Phansa

Buddhist Lent in Thailand is called Wan Khao Phansa (or Buddhist Lent Day)

Many people visit temples across Thailand to offer large candles to monks. Thai people do this for one of two reasons, the first being that monks once used candles to study after dark. The second reason is that people believed that offering a candle would, in return, make their own future a bright one of strength and longevity. During this time, people will also offer large yellow robes to the monks.

These three months are also a popular time for Thai boys and men to become ordained as monks. Though many will not go on to live as monks, they go through this process to fulfill the expectations of their family.
Like many other holidays in Thailand, no alcohol is served or sold during Wan Khao Phansa. Some Thais, in order to show their commitment to Buddhism, will give up drinking entirely during this three-month period. Others will also abstain from tobacco or eating meat.

What to do during Wan Khao Phansa in Thailand

During the Buddhist Lent period, Thai people will offer gifts, in the form of alms, to the local monks. These are usually candles, garments and bathing robes. In fact, candles feature during many celebrations, especially during the candle making ceremonies that take place. Local artists and talented people share their artistic skills through intricate carvings in wax that are then presented to temples and the monks inside.

Below is a rundown of what is usually on during Khao Phansa and where to join.

Ubon Ratchathani International Wax Candle Festival and Candle Procession

Venue: Ubon Ratchathani City Areas

The International Wax Candle Festival and Wax Candle Procession takes place in Thung Si Mueang Park, Ubon Ratchathani.

Teams come from all over the world to compete and the detail on the wax artworks is staggering, with some being colossal in scale.

It is a great place to explore unique local cultures as the locals wear traditional dress and show off their age-old folk dances.

Nakhon Ratchasima Candle Procession

Venue: Thao Suranari Monument

At the Thao Suranari Monument in Mueang Korat, there will be a wax candle contest, a candle parade, and merit-making activities.

Held annually to promote the local art and culture, the festival will also feature a number of cultural activities including Khon, a traditional masked dance performance.

Nakhon Phanom Candle Festival

Venue: Wat Phra That Phanom

The Lao-influenced culture of Nakhon Phanom gives a different twist to the Khao Phansa celebrations. The festival centres on the iconic local pagoda of Wat Phra That Phanom and there is always a procession of exquisitely carved candles to enjoy as well as the Miss Candle Beauty contest where local beauties hope to be named winner.

Ayutthaya Aquatic Phansa Festival

Venue: Lad Chado market, Ayutthaya

The ancient capital of Ayutthaya hosts very memorable Khao Phansa celebrations, as the candles are taken to the local temples in more than 200 colourful boats that float down the city's ancient Lad Chado canal. Visitors can also enjoy a taste of rural life, beauty pageants, and local games.

Suphanburi Khao Phansa Candle Procession

Venue: Wat Pa Laylai Woraviharn, Tambon Rua Yai, Mueang Suphan Buri

Students from local art colleges compete to put on the most impressive candle displays. There are huge sculptures depicting creatures and heroes from Thai myth and these are proudly paraded around town.

Visitors also enjoy exhibitions about the ways of life of the local tribal people and colourful displays of folk dancing.

Saraburi Khao Phansa Festival

Venue: Wat Phra Putthabat Ratchaworamahaviharn, Saraburi

During Khao Phansa in Saraburi, people visit the local shrine of the Buddha's Footprint where yellow and white flowers are offered to monks (Tak Bat Dok Mai) as a way of making merit. This has become a big event and now thousands of people join to give alms to the monks as they ascend the steep stairs of the shrine.

Nan Candle Festival

Venue: Bunyuen Royal Temple, Wiang Sa district, Nan

Visitors can join local people as they offer food to the monks in the morning. Later in the day, they can join the almsgiving of candles to the temple and take part in other merit-making activities that offer insight into the culture of Thai Buddhism.

What does Buddhist Lent mean for tourists?

So, what can you do during Buddhist Lent in Thailand & Laos? 

Well, the major thing to remember is to be respectful. The Thai & Laotian people are a deeply conservative nation who respect religion above all else. If you choose not to respect these traditions, they will consider it an affront and you’ll be dealt with incredibly severely. 

Our suggestion, always be respectful around temples and monks, in fact everyone. Most bars will open as usual, unless directed by the government not to. In that case, take the day off, god knows your liver will appreciate the rest!

When is Buddhist Lent?

Here is the date of Buddhist Lent Day until 2024

Year Date Day
2021 24 Jul Sat
2022 13 Jul Wed
2023 3 Jul Mon
2024 20 Jul Sat
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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!

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