Inside Vietnam: Cambodia Laos
Vientiane Boat Racing Festival

Vientiane Boat Racing Festival

In late October each year, Vientiane hosts a tremendous boat race on the Mekong River.

The race is held the day after Boun Ok Phansa, the final day of Buddhist Lent. Both are important social and sports events witnessed by huge crowds. One week before the race, Quai Fa Ngum (along Fa Ngum Road) is taken over by stalls selling all kinds of goods, foods and games, and loud music is played all day and late into the night.

On the day of the race itself, Vientiane officials visit all the sanctuaries of the guardian spirits of the city to make offerings, request permission to hold the race, and ask for their protection during the events. Big crowds gather along the banks of the Mekong River to watch and cheer on the boats. Next to the official stand a traditional orchestra plays to accompany each race and accelerate the tempo as the boats close in on the finish line, dramatically adding to the momentum.

Traditional Lao racing boats are carved out of a single tree. The boats belong to a village and are usually kept in a shelter on the temple grounds and come out only once a year for the race. Several days before the race the boats are cleaned and presented with offerings, as they are considered sacred items.

The boats you'll see in the races can hold approximately fifty paddlers each. The morning is devoted to women's crews and the afternoon to men's crews. The starting point is two kilometres upstream and the competition is between two boats at a time. After the final race, all the boats participate in a final, spectacular competition - the winners receiving a trophy, a silver cup and cash.

While the boat racing has become a focus of entertainment, athletics and commerce, the Boat Festival is really an homage to water divinities and the Nagas, which are considered protectors of the country.

When to go:

Vientiane Boat Racing Festival

located in Vientiane

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