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I'm in Vientiane Laos and there has been a buildup to a festival for at least a week and the festival finally started officially yesterday with October 20 being the final day.

Wikipedia article on "Boun Song Hua". Other websites about the festival, none of which seem to include the crucial details: laos-guide-999, tourismlaos, vientiane-hotel-link.

Vientiane is situated on the Mekong River but so far I haven't seen a boat anywhere, on the river or otherwise. Just sound stages, kiddie rides, sideshows, makeshift restaurants, and many many many stalls along the main road selling everything from cars and TVs to clothing to street food.

I can't seem to find a program anywhere that lists the actual boat racing. Are there heats or just one race on the last day? Where are the boats? When are the races?

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Post is related to a rapidly changing event.

    
Well it's not rapidly changing, it's just underway, or approaching if you think of just Sunday as the actual boat racing festival. –  hippietrail Oct 18 '13 at 21:49

2 Answers 2

According to sakunavoyage and tourismlaos, the big racing day will be on the 20th of October, 2013. The week that precedes the racing day is more of social activities (what you are experiencing now) as mentioned in tourismlaos:

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

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Aha I didn't manage to find this sakunavoyage site before. It still has no details such as time of day and whether or not it's a single race or several through the day or right after one another for qualifying or different categories. I heard there's a women's category but is it a separate race? –  hippietrail Oct 16 '13 at 15:27
    
Watch out! There is also a boat racing festival in Savannakhet, and your link with "11 AM" links to that page. This is one of the things that makes it hard to track down. –  hippietrail Oct 16 '13 at 16:47
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@hippietrail rolled it back –  MeNoTalk Oct 16 '13 at 17:09

Now that I've experienced festivals I can provide some answers from my observations:

  • The festivities seem to last for two weeks. The first week is "unofficial" with just lots of stalls set up along the main road along the river (Quai Fangum). The second week these festivities seem to become "official" as most of the stalls are now fully operational but the size of the crowds are still limited. The last two days are actually two separate festivals.

  • The date of the festival is dependant on the date of the end of "Buddhist Lent", which is the first of the actual festival, taking place on the penultimate day of festivities. In 2013 this was October 19.

  • By 9am on this penultimate day there are minor boat races, west along the river from the centre of down since the river nearest the centre of town is not suitable. These boats were shorter in length and not much crowd was gathered.

  • After sunset on this day the "End of Buddhist Lent" festival consists of locals floating decorate rafts made of flowers and sometimes model boats, carrying small candles and I think also incense sticks down the river. Young sons of families typically swam a few metres into the river to release them.

  • The last day of festivities is the day after "Buddhist Lent" and this day is the actual "Boat Racing Festival" day. In 2013 it fell on October 20.

  • A local told me the boat races on this final day are at 1pm. Again west along the river in the same location as the previous day. This time all the boats were very long with many rowers and the crowds were very large. I watched about four races and I don't think there were any before 1pm. I then took shelter from the sun and heat so I'm not sure what time the "final" took place or what accompanied this.

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