The Golden Stupa or Pha That Luang is the national symbol and most important religious monument in Laos and Vientiane’s most important Buddhist festival is Boun That Luang or That Luang Festival. Traditionally, the festival is held over three-seven days during the full moon of the twelfth lunar month (November). Nowadays, the festival also includes a trade fair which starts a few days prior to the actual festival days.

What is Pha That Luang?

First of all, we will learn a little bit about the place that hosts the festival. Pha That Luang (lit. 'Great Stupa') is a gold-covered large Buddhist stupa in the centre of the city of Vientiane, Laos. Since its initial establishment, suggested to be in the 3rd century, the stupa has undergone several reconstructions as recently as the 1930s due to foreign invasions of the area. It is generally regarded as the most important national monument in Laos and a national symbol.

Here is the detail about Pha That Luang

What is That Luang Festival?

The That Luang Festival is a celebration of both the stupa’s religious and historical significance, as well as a celebration of the nation itself.

For three days during the twelfth lunar month, Laotians from all corners of Laos descend on Vientiane to celebrate the Festival of the Golden Stupa (Boun That Luang).

Like many Buddhist holidays in Laos, it’s a time for worship, celebration, spending time with family, and dressing in your festival best.

Each of the three days is marked by different activities and observances, which are discussed in further detail below.

The Legend of That Luang Festival

The first stupa was established in the third century and is a sacred site as the tip is believed to house a relic of Buddha. It has been rebuilt several times over the centuries. The current incarnation dates from 1566.
It is the most important religious building in the country and a national symbol that features on the country's emblem.

Dating back to the 16th century, the That Luang Buddhist festival is held over three-seven days during the full moon of the twelfth lunar month (November).

Before dawn, thousands join in a ceremonial offering and group prayer, followed by a procession. For days afterward, a combined trade fair and carnival offers handicrafts, flowers, games, concerts, and dance shows.

The festival is one of the most popular national holidays in Lao and attracts pilgrims from all over the country and from other countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is also the date of an international trade fair promoting tourism in the region.

Festive activities

The festival starts a few days before the main events with public trade fair including plenty of shops, traditional games, or exhibits.

Traditionally, the main events will last for 3 days with some main activities below:

Day 1-2: Wax Castle Procession

Day 1: Si Muang Procession

The festival starts with a colorful candlelight ‘wax castle' (phasat) procession which starts in the evening before at Wat Simeuang, where groups gather and walk three times around the main hall of worship in honor of the Vientiane city pillar, which is located at this temple. As the home of the city’s founding pillar, the Wat is considered one of the most important in Vientiane. According to legend, when the pillar was laid, a pregnant woman, Nang Si inspired by supernatural forces, threw herself to death under the pillar as it was being dropped into position. Nang Si is now seen as the guardian of the city and every year homage is paid to her and Lord Buddha during the festival. As well as the castles, they carry candles, incense and flowers, beat drums and cymbals and sing as they walk around the Wat.

The “wax castles” are not really castles, but tall creations of yellow “trees”, with wax petals and which are festooned with gold paper and kip notes.

Day 2: That Luang Procession

The procession continues the next afternoon when thousands of people gather to bring their glittering creations to pay homage at That Luang. People wear their best clothes for this procession and there is also a parade of men and women dressed in various Lao ethnic costumes who dance and play traditional music and songs as they approach the stupa.

On reaching the stupa, the worshippers slowly walk around it three times in a clockwise direction, led by monks from Wat That Luang chanting the ancient words of Buddha.

The whole country looks forward to this most important of Lao festivals, and people come from far and near to revere and celebrate That Luang.

Many Lao living abroad come back to visit their families in Laos during That Luang festival period. I'd also recommend anyone who plans to visit the country to come this time of year. For those interested in Lao culture, it is a good opportunity to observe the culture through Lao festivals.The weather is also nice and cool (no rain), the city, especially Vientiane, is more lively. However, as this is peak time for tourists, hotels are often booked up. It is a good idea to book your hotel in advance. 

The so-called wax castles have been a part of Lao lifestyle for many years, and bringing one to Pha That Laung on this occasion is believed to bring considerable merit.

Day 3: Almsgiving Procession

The following morning a huge crowd assembles at dawn That Luang to give alms to hundreds of monks who come here from around the country, and to pay homage to the stupa. The celebrations known as taak baat begin at 7am in the grounds of the That Luang, but crowds begin arriving at the stupa before 5am to secure the best positions inside the cloister, to pray and prepare their offerings. Both inside and outside the cloister, That Luang’s esplanade is full of monks who assemble to receive their offerings.

During the alms giving ritual inside the cloister and on the esplanade outside, everyone sits quietly and listens to the prayers. Some people pour water on the ground to ask Ngamae Thorani (a female earth goddess) to tell the spirits of their relatives to come and receive their offerings, while others release birds from cages to make merit. Everyone tries to go inside the stupa when the formal part of the ceremony has ended to give alms to the monks, to light candles and incense and pray for good luck.

A traditional picnic follows, when people eat boiled chicken, rice and noodles and catch up with friends and families.

Traditional games: Tikhy or Lao Hockey Game Particular to That Luang festival

In the afternoon of the last day (day 3), everyone will gather on the esplanade for the traditional game of tikhy, which is played with a ball and long curved sticks, resembling a game of hockey. The game used to be played by two opposing groups, one symbolising the people and the other the establishment. Nowadays, it is considered a more light-hearted sporting event between two teams of the Vientiane municipality. Nevertheless, the procession to accompany the ball (louk khy) from the stupa to the grounds and back.

The festival draws to a close under a full moon, when people from all over Laos will crowd around the Pha That Luang (stupa) for one last candlelight procession, bearing posies of flowers, incense and candles. Normally these days there are also firework displays to mark the end of the celebration. Also during That Luang festival there are trade fairs and concerts and funfairs held around the esplanade.

Where is That Luang Festival?

That Luang Festival is held each year in Vientiane, Laos, in two locations over three days: Wat Si Muang the first evening, and Pha That Luang (Grand Stupa) the next two days.

Check the below Google Maps for your reference.

When is That Luang Festival?

The festival follows Lao lunar calendar, so that the date will change every year. Below is the festival date until 2024 for your reference.

Year Date Day
2020 31 October Saturday
2021 26 November Friday
2022 8 November Tuesday
2023 27 November Monday
2024 1 November Friday

Where to stay to join the festival?

Here are some recommended hotels in Vientiane that you can stay to join That Luang Festival

  1. That Luang d’Or Hotel (Mid-range option): Le Thatluang D’oR Boutique Hotel is located within the golden 16th-century Pha That Luang, which is a national symbol in Vientiane, Laos' national capital where you find mixes of French-colonial architecture with Buddhist temples. Its great location makes it easy to join the festival by walking.
  2. Barn1920s Hostel (Budget option): This retro hostel in a historic building is one of the best places in town to meet other travelers AND grab a great cup of coffee. This choice is suitable for the low-budget travelers or backpackers. The hotel locates in the city old quarter, so it is easy to access to most of the highlights of Vientiane.
  3. Ansara Hotel (Luxury Option): This charming property resides on a quiet lane right in the center of the historical capital of Vientiane, providing easy access to the city’s most popular sights and attractions. The hotel is within close distance to numerous clubs, restaurants, and bars, ensuring a vibrant nightlife for visitors. The hotel features a gentle blend of Lao traditional and Asian contemporary decor. The hand-woven, silk headboards and cushions, wooden furnishing, rosewood parquet floor, and striking black and white photographs of Lao’s fascinating culture and sceneries, all contribute to the exquisite elegance found in each guestroom. Staying here requires a short transfer to That Luang Stupa (about 10 minutes)

Le That Luang d'Or Hotel

That Luang Festival photos

 

Here is the video about That Luang Festival for your reference

Similar Festivals in Asia

Loy Krathong & Yi Peng Festival (Thailand)

Loy Krathong

Also known as Thailand’s light festival, Loy Krathong (or Loi Krathong) is a three-day festival that takes place on the evening of the full moon in the 12th month of the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In Chiang Mai, it’s also celebrated concurrently with Yi Peng or Yi Peng Festival.

During Loy Krathong, locals will gather around lakes, rivers and canals to release beautiful lotus-shaped rafts that are decorated with candles, incense and flowers. The word krathong refers to the decorated raft while the word loy means to float.

While there are different tales about the origins of Loy Krathong, many celebrate this ritual now to pay their respects to the Goddess of Water and to ask for forgiveness for causing pollution.

Krathongs were traditionally made with organic materials like banana leaves, banana tree bark, spider lily plants and bread but you can find different variations now using styrofoam, glossy paper, and plastic. Avoid adding on to the pollution by getting the ones made using natural materials!

Here is the detail about Loy Krathong Festival

Yi Peng

In North Thailand, the Loy Krathong festival coincides with Yi Peng or Yi Peng festival and they’re often celebrated together. During Yi Peng, locals will release paper lanterns into the sky to welcome a brighter future. Many will recognise it as the Tangled-like lantern festival!

The sky lanterns, also known as khom loi, are made using thin rice paper, bamboo and fuel cells. Many make a wish before releasing their lanterns and it’s been said that if it stays lit until it’s out of sight, your wishes will come true!

Here is the detail about Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai

Hoi An Lantern Festival (Vietnam)

In the Hoi An Old Town, you just don’t want to miss the Hoi An Lantern Festival. Lantern Festival is one of the most unique attractions of Hoi An and in fact all throughout Vietnam. It is one of the main reasons thousands of both domestic and international visitors flock every year, for a chance to witness such a beautiful scene that cannot be experienced elsewhere.

Lanterns are lit every night in Hoi An regardless of whether it is the Lantern Festival or not. Candles are placed and burned at the bottom of the colorful paper lanterns, creating a glowing atmosphere in the twinkling moonlight.

The Hoi An Lantern Festival will be held once every month. The lantern festival has become popular enough that even if your visit isn’t on the full moon date, you can still participate in the Hoi An traditional full moon festival most nights of the week. There are many things to do in Hoi An beside the festival, but if possible, you should arrange a time to see Hoi An Lantern Festival which has been long regarded as one of the best things to do whilst visiting Hoi An!

Here is the detail about Hoi An Lantern Festival

Boun Lai Heua Fai (Laos)

Boun Lai Heua Fai is the answer of Luang Prabang for That Luang Festival in Vientiane.

Every October, the little UNESCO town of Luang Prabang lights up for the festival of light, Lai Heua Fai, in celebration of Boun Awk Phansa, the end of Buddhist Lent. The city becomes impossibly beautiful, illuminated by wax candles melting to pagodas and crepe paper lanterns hanging from temple roofs and the windows of local homes.

Here is the detail about Boun Lai Heua Fai

Thadingyut and Tazaungdaing Festival (Myanmar)

Thadingyut Festival (Myanmar)

Thadingyut takes place for three days during the full moon of the seventh month of the Burmese calendar (usually near the beginning of October), and marks the end of Buddhist lent. It’s a time for families to come together and celebrate Buddha’s descent to earth after visiting his mother in heaven.

Cities throughout the country are especially aglow during Thadingyut. Fireworks haphazardly shot into the night crisscrossed with colorful strings of dangling lights, making this second most popular national holiday wildly delightful. Locals and travelers alike are beckoned to explore radiant streets and illuminated pagodas, all lit up to resemble a welcoming pathway for Buddha’s return to the mortal world.

Consider it luck if the power goes out in Yangon on the actual evening of the full moon of Thadingyut. The occasion becomes even more spectacular when blinking electric lights get replaced with more traditional glowing lines of candles in windows, up rooftops, on verandas, and even along the ground.

Thadingyut serves as a time for respect to be intentionally shown to elders in the family, and to those with highly valued positions in Burmese society such as teachers and bosses as well. In exchange for paying respect and asking for forgiveness, it’s customary to receive pocket money.

Here is the detail about Thadingyut festival

Tazaungdaing festival (Myanmar)

The full-moon night of Tazaungmon, which occurs in the eighth month of the Burmese calendar (usually near the start of November), represents the ending of the rainy season in Myanmar and the beginning of a time to offer new robes and donations at monasteries. It also stems from an act involving Buddha’s mother, in which she spent all night weaving yellow robes for him to wear as he entered into his renunciation of worldly matters.

If you’re sticking around Yangon for the Tazaungdaing Festival, an annual robe-weaving competition held at the Shwedagon Pagoda is worth getting tangled up in. But, if witnessing one of Myanmar’s craziest and likely most dangerous gatherings sounds more appealing, head to Taunggyi in Shan State for its famous candle-lit hot air balloon competition.

Thrill-seekers should be cautious when attending the “fire balloon” festival in Taunggyi, as watching flaming balloons hover and shooting off fireworks over large crowds of people isn’t necessarily the safest thing to do.

As if witnessing the launching of “fire balloons” or neighborhood firecrackers doesn’t already seem thrilling enough, the chance to experience a human-powered Ferris Wheel may be had at Taunggyi’s celebration, or even at one of Yangon’s street fairs.

Here is the detail about Tazaungdaing festival

Bon Om Touk (Cambodia)

Bon Om Touk is a celebration of the end of the rainy season on the full moon of the Buddhist month of Kadeuk. The full moon is considered to bring good luck that can lead to an abundant harvest. On the Western calendar, Bon Om Touk falls either in October or early in November.

The heavy monsoon rains cause the Mekong River to reverse course and backflow into the very large Tonle Sap Lake far upstream. This causes the lake to overflow its normal bounds, which provides plenty of water for Bon Om Touk’s main event, the annual Pirogue longboat race. Once the Mekong and the Tonle Sap River, which connects the Mekong to Tonle Sap Lake, again start flowing toward the sea, you know it is almost time for Bon Om Touk.

Here is the detail about Bon Om Touk Festival

Diwali Festival (India)

Diwali, or Dipawali, is India's biggest and most important holiday of the year. The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness. This festival is as important to Hindus as the Christmas holiday is to Christians.

Over the centuries, Diwali has become a national festival that's also enjoyed by non-Hindu communities. For instance, in Jainism, Diwali marks the nirvana, or spiritual awakening, of Lord Mahavira on October 15, 527 B.C.; in Sikhism, it honors the day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Sikh Guru, was freed from imprisonment. Buddhists in India celebrate Diwali as well.

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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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