Posted By : Threeland Travel / Festivals & Events Information
Name of festival: Pha That Luang Festival or Boun That Luang
Time: 3-7 days during the full moon of the twelfth Buddhist month (normally fall in November of international calendar). It falls to 6-12 November 2019 and 24-30 November 2020
Location: At the golden That Luang Stupa or Pha That Luang in Vientiane, Laos
Being well-known as the national symbol, The Golden Stupa or Pha That Luang is the most important religious monument in Laos. Have you had a chance to join this most important Buddhist festival - Boun That Luang? Being as important as Tet holiday in Vietnam, Laos people so look forward to this most important festival of the year though coming from far or near region to revere and celebrate That Luang. For those who are interested in Lao culture, it’s highly recommended to visit the country at this time of the year to have a good opportunity to know more about their spiritual life. Especially, the weather in November is so nice and cool (no rain at all), the city, Vientiane is livelier.
Activities at Pha That Luang Festival
During That Luang festival, there are trade fairs, concerts and funfairs taking place around the esplanade. Here is a list of main activities during the event.
Wax Castle Procession
The festival starts with a candlelight wax castle procession (phasat) in the evening then continuing in the next afternoon at Wat Simeuang. Groups of people in their best clothes gather and walk three times around the main hall of the temple. There is also a parade of men and women dressing in various Lao ethnic costumes who dance and play traditional music and songs when preaching the stupa. The “wax castles” are not actually castles, they are created by yellow trees with gold paper and kip notes. They, though, look like the castles carrying candles, incense and flowers, beat drums and cymbals. People sing when walking around the Wat. The so-called wax castles have been a part of the Lao lifestyle for many years, bringing one to Pha That Laung on this occasion is believed to bring considerable merit.
People carry wax castles to That Luang from Wat Simeuang
The following morning (the last day of the festival) a huge crowd assembles at dawn That Luang to give alms to hundreds of monks who come here from all regions of the country, and to pay homage to the stupa. The celebration is known as taak baat beginning at 7 am on the grounds of the That Luang, but thousands of devotees begin gathering inside the cloister and around it before 5 am to secure the best positions, to pray and prepare their offerings. Both inside and outside the cloister, That Luang’s esplanade is full of monks who assemble to receive their offerings.
During the alms giving ritual, everyone sits quietly and listens to the prayers. Some people pour water on the ground to ask Ngamae Thorani (a female earth goddess) to tell the spirits of their relatives to come back and receive their offerings, whilst others release birds from cages to make merit. As the formal part of the ceremony has ended, everyone tries to go inside the stupa to give alms to the monks, to light candles and incense and pray for good luck. After the ceremony, each family gathers at stalls to eat Khao Poun, the national rice noodle soup and Tom Kai, chicken soup.
Pha That Luang Festival almsgiving in Laos
Tikhy or Lao Hockey Game
Early in the afternoon, there is the ritual game of Tikhy, a hockey game traditionally played in the Kingdom of Vientiane and believed to be exported to Burma and later to England. The game used to be between a team of officials and a team of villagers. Nowadays, it is considered a more light-hearted sporting event between two teams of the Vientiane municipality. Nevertheless, the procession to accompany the ball (louk khy) from the stupa to the grounds and back.
Tikhy or Lao Hockey Game
The festival draws to a close under a full moon when people from all over Laos will gather around the Pha That Luang (stupa) for one last candlelight procession, bearing posies of flowers, incense and candles. Normally there are also firework displays to mark the end of the celebration.
During That Luang festival there are also trade fairs and concerts, and funfairs took place around the esplanade.
Dos and Don’ts at Pha That Luang
Visitors come to That Luang in droves to pay their respects to the grand stupa and ponder over the ancient artifacts on display. All of them have to wear modest attire: Women always dress in a long skirt (sinh) to enter the grand stupa. Hence please kindly note that:
- Those from overseas wearing trousers or shorts should rent a long skirt for a few Kip.
- Due to the reverence according to That Luang, it is not permitted to wear hats or shoes to worship the Buddha images inside the grand stupa.
- Lao people sit cross-legged on the ground to pay homage to all sacred things including Buddha images. Visitors can buy flowers, incense sticks, and candles so they can take part in the ceremonies.
- Be polite when taking photos.
Attire at Pha That Luang Festival, Laos
Tips for travelers
- As Pha That Luang is Vientiane’s most important Buddhist festival, hotels are in high demand, so book early, especially since Vientiane does not cater to tourists as well as Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng do.
- Transportation to the festival and ceremonies are also hard to find unless you know the correct songtheuw (pickup truck with benches) to catch, so check with your hotel.
- If you want to reach the Taak Baat ceremony, get started early, even before 6 am if you want to get close to the main grounds.