Festivals are a very big deal in Lao PDR.

The traditional Lao calendar is a mixed solar and lunar calendar. The year itself is bracketed by solar phases while the months are divided according to lunar phases. The Lao Buddhist Era (BE) calendar started in 638 BC.

Festivals in Laos are largely linked to agricultural seasons or historical Buddhist holidays. The general word for festival in Lao is “boun.” In general, Lao people like to party and they stretch out festivals as long as possible. Some of the festivals – like the new year – begin a few days before the official holiday and go on for about a week. If you want to have fun instead of sightseeing, check out Laos during the Pi Mai festival.

January 1
International New Year’s Day is celebrated here along with the Lao New Year. (In a country that loves a party, the only thing better than one new year is two!)

Boun Pha Vet
This temple-centered festival celebrate the birth of Prince Vessanthara, the Buddha’s penultimate existence. The jataka, or birth story, of Buddha is recited. This period is when most Lao men begin their time as a novice or become ordained as a monk. Festivities are staggered between villages so that different villages can visit one another for their celebrations.

Boun Ma Kha Bu Saar (Full Moon Festival)
This celebration commemorates a speech given by the Buddha in which he laid down the first monastic regulations and predicted his own death. The speech was heard by 1250 enlightened monks who arrived without prior summons. The festival is celebrated by chanting and presenting offering at various wats throughout the country. The biggest celebration takes place at the Khmer ruins of Wat Phu Champasack.

Boun Khoun Khao
Harvest festivals are celebrated in various villages throughout the month.

Boun Pi Mai (New Year’s Festival)
Pi Mai means “new year”. Pi Mai is when the Lao cerebrate the start of their lunar calendar year. The entire country essentially shuts down for the celebration. Houses are cleaned, people wear new clothes, and Buddha images are washed with holy water. This festival is one of the best time to visit Laos (as long as you don’t mind getting wet).

Boun Visakha Bu Saar (Full Moon Festival)
Starting on the day of the sixth lunar month, this celebration commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and parinibbana (death) of the Buddha. The festival is based around community temples and visitors can see chanting and listen to sermons at night. These are followed by beautiful candlelight processions.

Boun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival)
Various villages throughout the country take part in one of the most boisterous festivals on the Lao calendar. This festival dates back to pre-Buddhist times and features homemade rockets that are fired into the clouds to ask for rain as well. Amid all the projectiles is a great deal of chanting, raucous singing, and merry making.

Boun Haw Khao Salaack (Full Moon Festival)/Boun Khao Salak (Rice Festival)
These festivals are for honoring and giving offerings to the dead. People make merit by giving offerings of rice and other goods to their ancestors. During Boun Khao Salak, exciting longboat-racing competitions are held to celebrate the river. They draw crowds and usually have a fair atmosphere. These festivals are held during the tenth full moon of the lunar calendar.

Boat Racing Festival in Khammouane Province
The Sebangfai River is the site of a major boat race, as well as a trade fair of agricultural products and local handicrafts. Traditional Lao music and dance performances are organized. In this festival, citizens donate offerings to dead ancestors to gain merit.

Boun Ok Phansa and Boat Racing Festival
The festival marks the end of the monks’ three-month fast and retreat during the rainy season (Boun Khao Pansa). At dawn on the first day, donations and offerings are made at temples around the towns and villages. In the evening, candlelight processions are held at temples and hundreds of colorful floats decorated with flowers, incense and candles are set adrift down the Mekong River to pay respect to the river spirit. The following day in Vientiane, Savannakhet, and Champasack Provinces, a big boat race is held to celebrate the Mekong River.

Boun Khathin
This festival begins immediately after the last day of Buddhist Lent and lasts until the next full moon. During this one month period, devout Buddhists help the monks to carry out their religious duties by making offerings of all their nine stipulated requirements and other useful items.

That Luang Festival and Trade Fair in Vientiane
This religious festival is held in and around That Luang Stupa, the National Symbol of Laos, where hundreds of monks gather to accept alms and floral votives from the people. The  festival includes a grand fireworks display at night. During the day, an international trade fair, showcasing tourism in Laos and other countries from ASEAN and the Greater Mekong Sub-region. During the same period a similar festival is celebrated at Ching Tim Stupa in Luang Namtha Province.