Laos is the land of festivals as you will be surprised with the number of all national and regional festivals in the country. Laotian Festivals are usually based on Theravada Buddhism. Following are the most impressive traditional festivals in Laos calendar:
Pi Mai New Year Festival (14-16 April)
Pi Mai is traditional New Year of Laotian people, which falls into Mid April. This festival is celebrated with a number of customs and traditions that involve several materials.
Water is used for washing homes, Buddha images, monks, and soaking friends and passers-by. Students first respectfully pour water on their elders, then monks for blessings of long life and peace, and last of all they throw water at each other.
Sand is brought to the temple grounds and is made into stupas or mounds, then decorated before being given to the monks as a way of making merit.
Another way to make merit at this time is to set animals free. The Lao believe that even animals need to be free. The most commonly freed animals are tortoises, fish, crabs, birds, eels, and other small animals.
Flowers are gathered to decorate Buddha images. In the afternoons people collect fresh flowers. Senior monks take the younger monks to a garden filled with flowers, where they pick flowers and bring back to the wat to wash
Pi Mai is best observed in Luang Prabang with fantastic elephant procession.
Marha Puha (Mid February)
This festival is held on the full moon night of February to commemorate Buddha’s speech that drew thousands of enlightened monks coming to hear without summon in advance. It is marked by impressive parade of candle carrying worshippers, chanting and making offerings in all temples and wats across the country.
Boun Bang Fai (rocket festival – May)
One part of the Vixakha Bouxa festival is called Boun Bang Fay, or Rocket Festival. As this is during the hottest and driest season of the year, large homemade rockets are launched into the sky in an attempt to convince the celestial beings to send down rain. Traditionally, Buddhist monks made the rockets out of hollow bamboo tubes filled with gunpowder (among other things). Nowadays, lay people make the bang fai more like fireworks and hold competitions for the highest, fastest and most colorful rockets. The event takes on both sides of the Mekhong River border between Thailand and the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, and sometimes teams from the neighbouring countries will compete against each other. Tourists travel long distances to witness this now popular event.
With its origins in pre-Buddhist rain-invoking ceremonies, this festival now coincides with the Lao Visakha Puja celebrations. Large bamboo rockets are built and decorated by monks and carried in procession before being blasted skywards to invite the rains. The higher a rocket goes, the bigger its builder’s ego gets. Designers of failed rockets are thrown in the mud. Parades, songs, dances and partying everywherel. This dramatic festival lasts 2 days and also celebrated in north east Thailand.
Boat Racing festival (August)
Organized in Luang Prabang from Aug 17 to Aug 18, this festival includes boat racing on the NamKhane River and a trade fair in Luangprabang city. At the Khao Salak ceremony day, people visit local temples to make offering to the dead as well to share merits making.
Pha That Luang Festival (full moon November)
This takes place at the splendid That Luang in Vientiane. Hundreds of monks assemble to receive alms and floral votives early in the morning on the first day of the festival. There is a colourful procession between Wat Si Muang and Pha That Luang. The celebration lasts a week and includes fireworks and music, culminating in a candlelit curcumabulation (wien thien) of That Luang.