During the three-month period of Buddhist Lent, monsoon rains have swollen the rivers, allowing mythical water serpents, known as Nagas, to swim into the irrigated paddies. As the Lao wait for their rice to grow, they organize longboat races between neighboring villages in an attempt to lure the playful guardian Nagas back into the rivers before they recede. The villagers compete for bragging rights and prizes as crowds cheer on with great merriment.
In Luang Prabang, the tournament is held halfway through Buddhist Lent (in 2019 it will be on August 29th) on the Khan River as onlookers crowd both banks. At the finish line, Miss New Year and Lao dignitaries watch the races from a grand pavilion and award prizes to the winning teams.