Boun Ok Phansa, the end of “Buddhist Lent”, is a national public holiday in Laos. It takes place sometime in October, near the end of the rainy season, and coincides with various boat racing festivals and other festive events.
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Three months prior to Boun Ok Phansa, as the rainy season begins, Buddhist monks in Laos “hide themselves” in their temples to study the teachings of Buddha and meditate. This is also a time of fasting, and a time when there are few if any weddings and parties in Laos.
When Boun Ok Phansa arrives, people line up at temples early in the morning and offer gifts to the monks. There are also candlelight processions around temples, and small decorative boats filled with flowers, lit candles, and incense are set out on the Mekong River. The whole river seems to light up.
And people also make beautiful paper lanterns and light them up at night in one location. Thus, the sky and the river are set aglow.
Finally, this is also the time of the final boat racing festival in Xieng Ngeun since the rains will soon stop and the water levels of the Mekong and other rivers recede.
Traditionally, Boun Ok Phansa is a time to honour the “river spirit” of the Mekong. It is thought that sickness, bad luck, and everything negative can be sent away into the river.