In the years we have been here we had never been to the annual That Luang festival – and finally this year we made it and very much enjoyed it. We would describe it as a typically Lao undertaking – simple and understated, slightly chaotic and all about the people.
It is a three day Buddhist celebration, centering around the main Stupa in Vientiane– That Luang or the Golden Stupa. It happens during the full moon on the twelfth lunar month, this year from the 15th-17th November and people from around the country converge on the stupa and celebrate.
In the week leading up to the festival the stalls and carnival arrived. There were over 500 stalls selling everything from towels to cars. Traffic around the area became chaotic and every night we heard the music playing. We live 2km away from the stupa, so we wondered how those a bit closer survived. On the good side, Laos regulations stopped the music before midnight each night.
Celebrating and drink driving remain a major traffic safety problem here. There was a quote in the local paper from a Major in the police force
“a number of drivers were found asleep at traffic lights after the lights turned red. ‘It’s good to sleep like that because it’s better than continuing to drive. If they fall asleep while moving, accidents might happen. However it is better not to drive in the first place…’ ”
We missed the -activities on 1st day (work commitments and all that) but managed to see parts of days 2 & 3. It was a very Lao experience. First off, there was no information on what time the parade on Day 2 was due to start. We read the paper – “the parade leaves from Patuxay travelling to That Luang” – but it didn’t say when. Googling provided next to no more information, but one year it had started at 1:30pm, so based on that we wandered over and found a parade preparing to set-off.
The checklist for a Laos celebration goes something like this…
Officials – check (wearing formal dress)
Monks – check
Ethnic representation, Music, Dancing – check, check, check
The whole purpose was to take the so called ‘wax-castle’ offerings to the stupa. They aren’t really wax castles, rather they are a mix of marigolds, wax flowers and money. There was a range from larger group structures through to individuals holding their offering. Everyone was dressed beautifully and even though it was a serious affair, people were smiling and looking happy to be involved.
As well as the streams of bank notes in the picture below, there is a roll of toilet paper – nothing surprises us anymore!
It was lovely to watch and there were plenty of spectators.
In typical Lao fashion as we were leaving, having watched the parade arrive at That Luang, there was a cavalcade of about 30 parade-cars/vans just arriving. Either they had not been able to find the parade start time either, or they were simply working on Lao-Time. They had flags on the vehicles and drove straight to the stupa
Day 3 starts at 5am with 6000 monks receiving offerings from worshipers. We decided to forego attending (we see this on a small scale each morning on the streets outside the apartment – if we get up early) and instead just went along for the traditional TeeKhee match – sort of hockey with a big cane ball and a large number of players on each team. Traditionally the match was villagers vs a local government team. Lots of spectators and no idea who won.
After the morning alms ceremony, it is customary for families to have a picnic.
And again in typical Lao style this is the aftermath – put your mat down, eat drink and be merry and leave your rubbish – it’s all in a days fun
Everyone thinks of Vientiane being a quiet and sleepy city. Perhaps they should see the traffic chaos after events like this (or outside schools at pickup & drop off times)
And he’s not ethnically cute, walks to beat of his drum and doesn’t have any musical talent, but he does like a good parade