the Festival of
The Boats of Light
“Boun Lai Heua Fai or Loy Krathong ”
The Laotian Festival of Light is a 1000 year old boat racing festival, taking place on the Mekong River at full moon every October.
The sacred Naga (serpent) is the god or spirit of the river itself and life has always focused around it. Many countries on the Mekong have similar festivals in their folk traditions. This one marks the end the Buddhist Lent and wet season.The Evening after the Boat race is the Loy Kratong festival. People release small floats with offerings and lanterns onto the river. Unlike in some neighbouring countries, this is still free and unfettered. It's combined with the launching of the life-size boat lanterns in the forms of Nagas and Swans.After weeks of preparation, each of the 50 plus “Bans” or neighbourhoods, parades its carefully crafted boat lantern.In traditional costumes they Parade through the centre of the UNESCO world heritage old town. Arriving a Wat Xiengthong, one of the most ancient Temples, they are judged and blessed. Then taken down to the nearby river and launched in their full glory to join the swirl of Kratongs floating downstream.Our perfect Host for this festival was the Amantaka!We were so excited to be staying at one of the amazing Aman Resorts unique locations. Every one of the Aman properties is individually created in sympathy with the local culture and environment. They are renowned for understated but attentive care of their guests. The Amantaka is housed in an old French colonial hospital (don't worry all the ghosts have been suitably placated!) just outside the UNESCO world heritage old town. For the Festival the hotel provided their own boat for a late afternoon Loi Kratong offering ceremony on the River. Dropped after at a pier in time to walk up to the main street of the old town to join the Big Procession. The Bans in traditional costumes, paraded their huge boat floats by on the way to the temple at the end of the peninsula.From the blessing ceremony at Wat Xiengthong the boats are taken down the steep river banks to the waters edge and then launched to join crowds of swirling kratong floating downstream. Festivities carried on late into the night. We beat a timely retreat before things got too crazy.Next day it was time to seriously relax and Nine, my travelling companion for the trip, bravely volunteered to try the Yoga and Spa experiences. Yoga meditation and practice around the grounds of the hotel was truly transcendental. Followed by massage and spa treatments rounded off by a swim in the large bathhouse pool. Then a final foot massage to treat aching feet from all the walking during the festival the day before.The hotel was very keen we should experience their new Laotian Afternoon Tea experience. We graciously submitted.I retreated to the library to recover while Nine had a nap in the room, being Thai she takes her food very seriously and needed to recover. The Library was my favourite room in the hotel stocked with an excellent range of books and magazines. It had a seemingly never ending sweet and cookie buffet!Once we had recovered from recovering there was much to see and do in the old town itself. Early mornings are great to see the local fresh produce Market down the road from the Amantaka towards the river, just past the roundabout.After the market, there are many new cafes, Lao handicrafts and galleries to explore. Visit the Thai owned DEXTER cafe for breakfast with excellent coffee antipodean style. (Thais have embraced Melbourne coffee and taken it to heart, most local coffee is more the more bitter traditional european style)After the market, there are many new cafes, Lao handicrafts and galleries to explore. Visit the Thai owned DEXTER cafe for breakfast with excellent coffee antipodean style. (Thais have embraced Melbourne coffee and taken it to heart, most local coffee is more the more bitter traditional european style)Ock Pop Tok handicrafts and the Ethnological Museum (at the museum itself and thier shop on the main street) have great Hill-Tribe handicrafts. Anakha (The Blue House) has some lovely upmarket clothing made with local fabrics. Nearby is a small local photographers gallery with great shots of traditional Lao life. If photography is your thing (and it should be here!) go check out ADRI BERGER's Work at the Big Tree Cafe & Gallery. Sometimes there will be exhibitions in the royal palace (do check out Haw Pha Bang Temple on the way in and the school of dance opposite it, especially for the late afternoon performances).Fine Art Galleries are on Sisavang Vatana Road, between the French Institute (worth popping into this quaint little building) and the Mekong River.In the evenings try the many fantastic restaurants and bars. The Elephant Restaurant is "a must" while my favourite place to watch the sunset, enjoying a nibble on a cheese and charcuterie board, with people watching on the main street is Tangor. Near the night market at the royal palace.After all the walking, a good massage at the Hibiscus Spa is in order.If you have any energy left, pop into the ICON bar for a cocktail or five.For day trips the Buddha Cave on the River is beautiful. Try to go at the end of the day to avoid the crowds and enjoy the cool evening breeze running back to Luang Prabang for sunset. It's definitely worth taking a private boat for the trip.Mount Phousi is worth the short climb to join the sunset lovers. Walk back along its length to come out behind Tangor for a much-deserved drink!Hunt out the secret Pizza Garden Restaurant one evening.One of my favorite day strolls is a walk around the peninsula that borders the old town. Start near the bamboo bridge over the river and wander down along the river to tip of the peninsula. I enjoy stopping at the Burasari Heritage Veranda restaurant for a refreshing drink and satay on the way. Enjoy the small park and the Viewpoint Cafe at the tip to absorb the two rivers meeting, boats fleeting by on the current, the small temple across the river. When ready continue on around the Point. Wat Xiengthong is one of the oldest temples and worth visiting again outside of the Loi Kratong festival events. The entrance is opposite the Xieng Thong Dock, a wide set of stairs going down to the river guarded large Tiger statues greet you after you leave the Viewpoint Cafe. Further along The Belle Rive Terrace offers a taste of luxury on an otherwise backpacker and local set of bars and restaurants along that bank. The Big Tree cafe gallery is also is worth a stop.One morning, time your brunch at the Le Cafe/Bistro Ban Vat Sene and watch the mums and dads pick up their kids for lunch at the primary school across the road. Very entertaining! A real slice of local life. Classic kids on bicycle shotsåEarly one morning enjoy the alms giving procession of the local monks. But please avoid getting too close or touching them especially women as this is against their vows. Check with the Amantaka about a special temple visit as an alternative. Sadly the Alms Procession is overwhelmed by tour vans and in-your-face tourists which threatens the continued existence of the Procession. .Over the festival period, you could stay for at least 3 nights and maybe another one or two to relax and soak up the local atmosphere and surrounding sights. Do go and explore soon though, before the overland connection to China is completed!!
Nine enjoying the Wellness
yoga 1 on 1, medatative walking, massage and bathhouse.
Amantakka Afternoon Tea Lao Style
On the Amantaka boat for Loi kratong offering
and some local sights
and lastly the Lovely Staff that works to hard to make you welcome!