Where adrenaline, festivity, and culture collide
The sun glints off the swollen Mekong River as colorful boats race down its waters. The festive aroma of fresh flowers, incense, and grilled food whirls through the air alongside the uproarious percussion of drums, the chants of rowers, and the applause of the crowd. This is what you can experience at the boat racing festival in Vientiane, one of the most exciting and colorful events in the Lao calendar.
This dazzling and exhilarating spectacle marks the end of the Buddhist Lent and the start of the dry season. Held around the full moon in October (this year on October 30th), the Mekong is full of water and the weather is sunny and warm. The festival draws thousands of enthusiastic fans and competitors from all corners of the country, who flock to the riverbank to watch the adrenaline-filled races and soak up the festive vibe.
The boat racing festival is more than just a sports contest, it is also a sacred and cultural tradition. The boats are adorned with colorful flowers, flags, and banners, and each one symbolizes a village, a temple, or an organization. The rowers wear coordinated outfits and chant rhythmic songs to motivate each other and display their team spirit. Men’s, women’s, and mixed teams compete for prizes, trophies, and bragging rights of winning Laos’ most prestigious boat race.
The festival also features other activities, such as a large riverside street market, concerts, food stalls, and a carnival. The concerts feature local and regional artists, who perform traditional and modern music. The food stalls offer a variety of mouthwatering dishes, such as grilled fish, papaya salad, and coconut desserts. But the most popular dishes that festival-goers look forward to are grilled chicken and khao lam, a sticky rice dessert steamed in tubes of bamboo.
In the evening, after the races have finished, fireworks light up the night sky and create a spectacular finale for the festival. The boat racing festival in Vientiane is a wonderful way to experience the rich and vibrant culture of Laos and join the locals in celebrating their national pride and unity.
Tips for attending the Boat Racing Festival in Vientiane
Don’t go too early: Races don’t begin until the afternoon, so you can take time to explore the excitement and food in the market before and after.
Bring a hat and sunscreen: The weather in Vientiane can be hot and sunny, so it is important to bring a hat and sunscreen to protect yourself from the elements. There is no shade on the riverbank.
Wear comfortable shoes: Roads are closed to traffic, so you will be doing a lot of walking at the festival, so it is important to wear comfortable shoes.
Bring a camera: The Boat Racing Festival is a beautiful event, so you will want to bring a camera to capture these memories.
Lao Airlines has daily flights to Vientiane from cities in Laos and throughout the region.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Phoonsab Thevongsa