Today people all around Laos are preparing for Lhai Heua Fai, which means “floating boats of light downstream.” This beautiful traditional ritual pays respect to the Mekong River, which translates to “mother of all things.” As a visitor, you see people everywhere crafting their small floating boats using beautiful green banana leaves and its trunks. The boats are filled with flowers, incense sticks, candles, food and money. Lhai Heua Fai has the following purposes:
- Ask divinities living along the river for forgiveness for misuse of its water
- Sends away negativity such as sickness, bad luck, and failure
- Sending offerings to the dead
- Honouring the Lord Buddha
Melissa Chungfat, our Marketing Manager, had the opportunity to attend the festival and the days leading up to the ritual in Luang Prabang last year. She learned to make a banana leaf candle holder from her guesthouse owner, who is a vibrant and generous Laotian woman. “I was amazed by the variety and complexity of the designs that people created with the banana leaves. It’s not an easy task to create these works of art but Laotians are very experienced and can make them efficiently,” Melissa said.
In addition to the candles, temples and villages build their much bigger boats of light. As you walk around town, you can see monks working throughout the day on their boats using bamboo and coloured paper and people in the village working together to make the best boats they possibly can.
In Luang Prabang, one boat is sent to represent each temple and village to join the procession on the main street leading to Wat Xieng Tong, a 16th century temple. The boats are then displayed among the busy crowd and a jury judges the boats for prizes.
Once all of the boats have been judged, they’re brought down to the Mekong River to float among the thousands of candles that have been sent by people around the country. “It was a beautiful sight to see the streets so vibrant in this quiet town and it was so peaceful to watch so many people sending their candles and wishes along the Mekong River,” Melissa said. People on the street also lit floating lanterns which lit up vividly contrasting the beautiful night sky.
For travelers who have Laos on their travel bucket list, we definitely recommend coming during one of the major festivals so you can participate in traditional activities. If you come during the Lhai Heua Fai festival next year, you will forever have the memory of the magical Mekong River carrying the wishes and respect of thousands of people around the country.