The Pha That Luang or the Golden Stupa is the most important religious monument in Laos. Located in Vientiane and built over an ancient stupa in 1566, the That Luang has since become the country’s national symbol and icon of Lao Buddhism.
For three days in the capital, during the full moon of the twelfth lunar month (usually in November), the most important Lao Buddhist festival, Boun Pha That Luang, is held in its honour.
Monks and tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the country and other neighbouring Southeast Asian nations make the trip to Vientiane Capital to celebrate Boun That Luang. Should you join them, expect to see religious processions, traditional games, endless rows of food stalls, and massive crowds ready to party afterward. Since you’re in Laos, the mostly Laotian crowd is generally relaxed.
It starts with the procession at the 16th century Vat Si Meuang to pay homage to Nya Mae Si Meuang, considered the protector of Vientiane Capital. During the colourful parade, Phasat Pheung or wax castles are carried around the capital and then offered to the temple. The more ornate and larger procession parades around more wax castles and carried three times around the Pha That Luang before being offered to the shrine. If you want to get a good view of the action, be there hours before the rites begin.
On the last day of the festival, wake up as early as dawn to see the morning Sai baat (alms giving) to the monks. You can then join the locals afterward to eat Khao Poun (rice noodle soup) and Tom Kai (chicken soup) before catching the ancient pastime of Tee Khee, which is played with a ball and long curved stick, resembling a game of hockey.
Southeast Asia’s temple festivals are worth seeing – you’ll find them in Boun Vat Phou Champasak, also in Laos; Phaung Daw Oo Festival, in Myanmar; and the Bamboo Organ Festival in the Philippines. For alternative festival stops in the month of October, visit the Kate Festival in Vietnam; the Asmat Cultural Festivals in Papua, Indonesia; and the Deepavali Light-up and Festivities in Singapore.