Maybe one day my blog will be updated in close to real time. Until then, hop into the Wayback Machine and time-travel to late October for one of the most popular festivals in Laos.
The end of October marked the end of Buddhist Lent, or Boun Awk Phansa. Buddhist Lent, or the “rains retreat” began in August and to celebrate, we went to morning prayers at That Luang. Boun Awk Phansa also coincides with the Boat Racing Festival as well as Loi Krathong. We went up to Vientiane for the start of Boat Racing Festival and it looked like the city had exploded with activity. Temporary stands popped up in front of the shops along the river, selling everything from clothing to toothpaste. Others had carnival games, where you could win a stuffed animal that was the approximation of a popular cartoon character (so many Minions… *shudder*). The population of the city seemed to have doubled and people poured out along the streets. We wandered from attraction to attraction along the riverbank, from Muay Thai match to dance performance to concert.
We hopped back on the night bus to make it back to Savannakhet for most of the festivities. After napping for a few hours, Mari and I hopped on her motorbike and drove to the biggest stupa in Savannakhet, That Ing Hang. Unlike Boun Khao Phansa, where we sat listening to prayers, we walked casually around the temple grounds, casually chatting with the handful of our students we met along the way.
That afternoon, Theresa, Mari, and I went to our colleague Toun’s house, where we joined several other teachers from the English department to prepare for Loi Krathong that evening. We spent the afternoon making krathong, vessels made from the trunk of a banana tree and adorned with folded banana leaves and flowers. Later that evening, we stuck incense sticks and candles into the krathong and made our way to a temple along the water where we lit the candles and joined a handful of monks and other Lao people in walking around the temple. Fireworks illuminated the sky behind the wat and after a few rounds, everyone walked to a large model boat set up in a field near the temple. The model was propped up on stilts and overflowing with flowers, banana leaves, incense, and candles. A string of energy drink bottles hung decoratively above the boat. The monks took turns lighting the boat with a long stick with a flame on the end. Within minutes, the entire thing was beautifully ablaze.
After the boat had been reduced to smoldering ashes, everyone climbed over the short walls of the temple and walked down to the edge of the river, krathong in hand. We walked one by one to the water, hiked up our pant legs, and pushed each of our krathong into the river… little beacons lit and floating away into the dark. As we walked to the river, one of my fellow teachers mentioned to me that the sending off the lit boats was symbolic of sending away troubles from the last year and welcoming in good luck for the next year. Along with the candles and flowers, we had also sprinkled a bit of hair or a piece of our fingernails into the boat.
“You want the boat to float the whole way, which means good luck for you next year. You put in your hair to make sure you have good luck.” Thongter explained.
“But… what happens if the boat tips over?” I asked, ever the devil’s advocate.
He thought for a moment giving me some really good advice.
“Hmm… don’t overthink it.”