Gilded temples, Kuang Si Falls, Mount Phousi at sunset…. tick, tick, tick. While we’re all for seeing the sights, timing your trip to Laos with a festival or event gives you the opportunity to meet local people, get involved with traditional activities and even take inspiration for your hobbies at home. These are five of our favourites.
Festival and events dates tend to change each year. Drop us a line for more information.
1. Lai Heua Fai (Fire Boat Festival)
Hoi An lantern festival eat your heart out! Laos’ Fire Boat festival, celebrating the end of Buddhist lent, could give Vietnam’s most popular event a run for its money.
In the UNESCO town of Luang Prabang, local villagers proudly parade enormous paper boats to 16th century Wat Xieng Thong temple to be judged, before taking them down to the Mekong River where they are lit with candles and set sail in a blaze.
During a picturesque evening ritual, Lao people also light hundreds of lanterns; some to adorn the temples, and others to float atop the water and send downstream. While you’re unlikely to craft a paper boat masterpiece during your stay, it’s easy to get involved in the celebrations. Join the locals in making your own “boat of light”; simply fill an empty banana trunk with a combination of flowers, incense or food and a candle and send it on its way to meet the others.
2. Lao Food Festival
Whether it’s tucking into street food, sitting down for a home-cooked meal with a local family, or taking part in a cookery course, Laos has an experience (and a dish) for every type of foodie.
Learn about the local food scene and try and bit of everything at this three-day food festival in Vientiane; the brainchild of the Lao Businesswomen’s Association keen to promote the country’s diverse cuisine.
Word of warning: you might need to loosen your belt a notch as you leave. To culturally immerse yourself you need to give every dish a go, obviously.
3. Blue Chair Film Festival
Film buffs should spare a few hours for the Blue Chair Film Festival (Formerly Luang Prabang Film Festival); an event that draws together the best of Southeast Asian film makers with free screenings across the town. Films are shown from ten different countries in the region, with English and Lao subtitles.
4. Luang Prabang Half Marathon
Raise money for children, go sightseeing with a difference, and work off some of that street food – everyone’s a winner at the Luang Prabang half marathon.
Whether you choose a sprint to top your personal best, or you’re more of a walk-at-a-slightly-quicker-pace-than-usual sort of half marathon participant, you won’t forget passing the Royal Palace, Haw Pha Bang gardens, Wat Visounalat and Mekong river to the cheers of crowds in a hurry.
5. Lao New Year (Pi Mai Lao)
New Year (Pi Mai) celebrations in Laos make our 31st December fireworks and Auld Lang Syne renditions seem on the sedate side. If you’re visiting during New Year in April, pack a mac regardless of the forecast. These street celebrations mean one thing: water.
With water symbolising renewal in Buddhism, the New Year is welcomed with buckets, hoses, and water pistols. Whether you’re staying in a remote village or the centre of a city, chances are you’ll be the victim of an enthusiastic dousing.
Pi Mai is officially a three-day public holiday, but many people take the whole week off. Some attractions will be closed at this time and it’s worth booking accommodation in advance.
Feeling inspired to visit Laos? Check out our favourite routes here.