At the end of Buddhist Lent, the green monsoon season draws to a close, and the harvest season begins. To give thanks for their livelihoods and annual bounty, Lao people make merit by making offerings to the mother spirit of rivers.
In Luang Prabang, this is especially magical, as the entire town is lit with colorful lanterns and candles. Temples, homes, and businesses hang candlelit lanterns instead of electric lights, giving the city a magical glow. Each village works together to construct and decorate large boats with bamboo frames covered in colored paper and lights, ranging from simpler designs to very elaborate structures featuring mythical creatures.
As dusk settles on the city, these heua fai, or fireboats, are paraded down the main street from Wat That Noy to Wat Xieng Thong amid revelry and music – and in near-total absence of electrical lighting. Onlookers line the sidewalks to get a glimpse of these fantastic creations in this procession. As they arrive in Wat Xieng Thong, they line up in the courtyard and are judged by local dignitaries. Then one by one, the boats are carried down the steps to the Mekong where they are launched into the river, offering thanks to the river and bringing good fortune to the village.
This year’s Fireboat
Festival takes place on the 3rd of October.
Lao Airlines has regular flights to Luang Prabang.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Phoonsab Thevongsa
Text by jason rolan