Stay updated on Covid-19 in Southeast Asia. For more information, click here.

Published on November 29, 2017

Davy Demaline/Creative Commons

One of the largest festivals in Laos, which takes place in the in the historic and culturally-diverse Champasak Province in Southern Laos, is the Vat Phou Festival. Revolving around the fascinating pre-Angkorian temple complex of Vat Phou, the festival commemorates those who have helped bring the ancient wonder of Laos to life (and keep it from collapsing!).

Built by the Khmer Empire, originally as a Hindu temple complex, it traces its beginnings to as early as the 5th century, but it was restored and expanded from the early 11th to the 13th centuries. When Buddhism became the dominant religion in the region, Vat Phou became an important place of Theravada Buddhist worship and cultural heritage. More recently, it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Starting on the full moon of the third lunar month, usually in February, the three-day Vat Phou Festival attracts thousands all over the country to gather every year for prayer, ceremonies, and the very festive atmosphere. Many devotees climb around the temple’s hillside (which offer stunning views of the surrounding countryside) to pray and leave flowers and incense. The ceremonies culminate on the full-moon day with an early-morning parade of monks receiving alms, but it’s not until the evening when you get the visual treat of 4,000 lamps being lit, giving Vat Phou a beautiful dreamy glow.

There are also plenty of activities outside the temple to give you a cultural peek into a Lao festival. Likewise, there are performances of Lao traditional music and dancing, an elephant parade, a crafts and trade fair, and even (though not for the faint of heart) cockfighting.

Davy Demaline/Creative Commons

Davy Demaline/Creative Commons

Similar Festivals

Southeast Asia’s temple festivals are worth seeing – you’ll find them in Boun That Luang, also in Laos; Phaung Daw Oo Festival, in Myanmar; and the Bamboo Organ Festival in the Philippines. For other festivals in the month of February, visit the Philippines’ Panagbenga and Brunei’s Hari Nasional celebrations.