Boun Suang Hua, Boat Race Festival
In Luang Prabang, Boun Suang Hua, or the Boat Race Festival is held on Hor Khao Padap Din, the Day of the Commemoration of the Dead (in August). In Vientiane it is held the day after the End of Buddhist Lent. Both are important social and sports events witnessed by huge crowds. One week before the race, Fa Ngum Quai (along Fa Ngum Road) is taken over by stalls selling all kinds of goods and foods or games, and loud music is played all day and late into the night. On the day of the race, Vientiane City of finials visit all the sanctuaries of the Guardian Spirits of the City to make offerings. Request permission to hold the race and ask for their protection during the events. Big crowds gather along the banks of the Mekong River to watch and cheer on the boats. Next to the official stand a traditional orchestra plays to accompany each race and accelerate the tempo as the boats closes in on the finish line, dramatically adding to the momentum.
Traditional racing boats are carved using one single tree. The boats belong to a village and are usually kept in a shelter on the temple grounds and come out only once a year for the race. Several days before the race the boats are cleaned and presented with offerings because the boats are considered sacred items.
These boats can hold approximately fifty paddlers. The morning is devoted to women’s crews and the afternoon to men’s crews. The starting point is two kilometers upstream and the competition is between two boats at a time. The loser is eliminated. After the final race, all the boats participate in a final competition/show, which is rather spectacular. The winners receive a trophy, a silver cup and cash.
While the boat racing has become a focus of entertainment, athletics and commerce, the Boat Festival is really an homage to water divinities and the Nagas, who are protector of the country.