Thursday Oct. 25 – Day 5 – The Boat Parade in Luang Prabang, Laos. We saw many paddle boat crews here since our arrival. We have come at a special time. It is Boun Lai Heua Fai or The Festival of Light Boats. It ocures on the full moon of the eleventh lunar month. It is the last day of Buddhist Lent.
The crews all come into town and make paper replicas of their boats and parade them down the main street and on down to the Mekong River. There are loud speakers for singing and I believe some alcohol might be involved in the celebration. There are many teams. Perhaps a hundred or more, and consisting of both men and women are here for the celebration.
We sat on the curb like at home, waiting a very long time for the parade to begin. We were entertained by families out with their small children waiting along with us. There are tables set up in the open restaurants and families are eating while they wait. The children all have lit candles and enjoy playing with them as they crouch down to the ground as only young children can. They pour the wax down on the sidewalks and place their candles in it to hold them in place. No one was injured or burnt that I could see. That is miracle in its self, I think.
We saw people walking with what I will describe as vegetable cakes with candles in the center of them. They were made of long leaves of some type and more edible vegetables in side all wrapped tightly together. The candles were stuck in the middle like a birthday cake.
Finally the life sized paper boats came into view with loud music close behind. All of the boats have a wire frame covered in many different colors of transparent paper. You can see the candles burning inside the boats. I was amazed that none of them caught fire. Some of the more decorative boats look like dragons.
The boats are eventually launched into the Mekong River as are our vegetable cakes, now, with lit candles. The sidewalks are full of people so we had to join the parade to the river to get our cakes into the river. Everyone was here tonight, or so it seemed.
There are few places to launch our cake but we find a crowded stairway down to the river and we walked down to the end, nearly. The stairs are packed with like minded people holding their cakes as well. An enterprising young boy spots us and our difficulty and comes to our aid. He offers to light the cake and take it to the river and release it for a few pennies. We make a deal and see our cake sail down the river with hundreds of others. As usual, we have arrived somewhere at a special time.
The cakes represent the bad luck of the last year, I think. It was a beautiful spectacle to see all the boats and the cakes floating down the Mekong River in the dark night lit by candles. It was pleasantly warm and the atmosphere was one of calmness and hopefulness for the new year.
For pictures of this event and others, go to my friends Facebook at Ray-Andrea Matthews. He set this up for me. I’m terrible with computers and all this stuff.
Read my novel, Kazu, Son of Oshjda Kamasaki if you like stories from Asia. Its on Amazon.