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.
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.
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.
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.
Where to stay to join the festival?
Here are some recommended hotels in Vientiane that you can stay to join That Luang Festival
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.
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.
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)
That Luang Festival photos
Here is the video about That Luang Festival for your reference
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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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Prefer listening to reading? Check the PodCast of this article as below:
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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.
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