There are several important events in Laos throughout the year. If you go on vacation or live in Laos, you should know about these festivals and holidays. They are one of the best ways to get to know Laos culture better. It’s also a lot of fun to take part in them. Many of the holidays in Laos are linked to agricultural seasons or historical Buddhist events. But there are also holidays that have been adapted from other cultures and are also celebrated here in Laos.
The general word for festival in Laos is boun. You’ll notice that by yourself when you take a look at the different festivals in Laos. By the way, Laotians really like to celebrate. Some events unofficially even start earlier and last a little longer than officially stated. However, this can differ from region to region. Some of the holidays in Laos are also celebrated in neighboring Buddhist countries. Including the Lao New Year, which is called Songkran in Thailand.
International New Year
Pathet Lao Day
Day of the Army
in January or February
Chinese New Year
Boun Pha Vet
in February or March
Day of Lao People's Revolutionary Party
in March (usually)
Boun Khoun Khao (Rice Festival)
April 14 to 16
Boun Pi Mai / Laos New Year
mid to late May (usually)
Boun Bang Fai / Laos Rocket Festival
Start in June or July
Laos Issara / Day of the Free Laos
Ho Khao Padap Dinh
in September or October
Boun Ok Phansa
Boun That Luang / That Luang Festival
Laos National Day
End of the harvest season (November or December)
Hmong New Year
International New Year
There is practically no country in the world where the International New Year isn’t celebrated. Laos is no exception. Well, the celebrations aren’t comparable to those of the Lao New Year but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate well. There’s always a lot going on, especially in the more touristy areas. January 1 is also considered a national holiday.
Pathet Lao Day
Pathet Lao Day is a national holiday celebrated on January 6. On this day, the victory of the Pathet Lao over Lao Royal government is celebrated. For those who don’t know: The Pathet Lao was a communist political movement in Laos and an important part of Laotian history. Several parades take place in the capital Vientiane on Pathet Lao Day.
Day of the Army
The anniversary of the Laotian Army is celebrated every January 20. It’s a national holiday. On this day the creation of the independent Lao army on January 20, 1949 is celebrated. This holiday is an important day to honor the army. Large posters can be seen on the streets every year to illustrate the first step towards independence.
Chinese New Year
This event takes place in either January or February. The exact date depends on the new moon that appears between January 21 and February 20. So it’s determined by the lunar calendar. Since both the Chinese and the Vietnamese are a large minority, the Chinese New Year is also celebrated in Laos. Although not a national holiday, many shops and restaurants are closed during Chinese New Year.
Boun Pha Vet
Boun Pha Vet is a traditional Buddhist festival that takes place every January. It’s very religious and temple centered. The event is a commemoration of the incarnation of Prince Vessantara as Buddha. Prince Vessantara was Buddha’s penultimate existence. During this event the birth story of Buddha is recited and Lao people believe that if they listen to it they’ll get a lots of merits. Also it’s one of the favored times for Lao men to become ordained as a monk. On the day the story of Pha Vet is told, the Laotians prepare money trees to be donated to the novices and monks.
The Magha Puja Day is one of the most important Buddhist festivals. It’s not only celebrated in Laos but also in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and other Buddhist countries. This is another event that’s determined by the lunar calendar. As it is flexible in date Magha Puja is celebrated either in February or March. The festival commemorates a historical meeting that was held between Buddha and his first 1,250 disciples. During Magha Puja Laotians usually give donations to monks and abstain from temptations like gambling or nightlife. They also visit temples with family members and friends and take part in candle processions.
Women’s Day takes place on March 8 and is a national holiday in Laos. It’s also known as International Women’s Day or International Working Women’s Day, although the latter term was a former expression and is now uncommon. On the one hand, this festival is about celebrating appreciation, love and respect towards women. On the other hand, it’s about celebrating the achievement of women in the recent years. Including economic, political and social achievements. As expected, this day is especially for women. It’s not uncommon for men to take care of the household and women to drink beer with their friends. There are also numerous parades. Overall, a very important day in Laotian culture, which started as a Socialist political event.
Day of Lao People’s Revolutionary Party
There are usually no big festivities on this day but all the administration are closed. The Day of Lao People’s Revolutionary Party is celebrated the day the Marxist–Leninist political party was founded. It’s a national holiday that takes places every March 22.
Boun Khoun Khao
Another important festival in Laos, the exact date of which depends on the lunar calendar. Boun Khoun Khao is usually celebrated in March. It’s also known as Rice Festival and comparable to the Erntedankfest in Germany and the Thanksgiving in the US. On this day, the Lao people in various villages thank the abundance of the land and the rice harvest. Since many Lao people are totally reliant on the rice harvest, this festival is very important. Farmers bring rice sheaves to the temples and take part in a ceremony. Village elders tie a white cotton string around other participants wrists and pray for their luck. Of course, as befits a harvest festival, people also eat well. There are many delicacies, including fried fish from the Mekong and papaya salad. Also a lot of rice alcohol is drunk. The drinking of rice alcohol has a symbolic meaning and serves to express gratitude.
Boun Pi Mai | Laos New Year
No doubt that this is festival is probably the most fun one. Boun Pi Mai is the traditional Lao New Year and very similar to Songkran in Thailand. The festival takes place from April 14 to 16. However, it’s common for the celebrations to take place earlier and last longer. Instead of the official three days, in many places Boun Pi Mai is celebrated a whole week. The traditional Laotian New Year is one huge party. There are huge water battles and strangers smear each other with moist powder. There are huge water battles and strangers smear wet powder on each other’s face. Boun Pi Mai is a really great festival and an unforgettable experience that you shouldn’t miss. We would even go as far as to say that this is the best time to come to Laos. Just get a water gun and plunge into the fray.
Although Boun Pi Mai is a huge party, you shouldn’t forget that it’s still a religious event. The water is used for cleansing to wash any past bad actions and bad luck away. This is to pave the way for a happy new year. In general, everything during this time has the character of a fresh start. Many Lao people clean their houses, wear new clothes and visit the temples. By the way, the Lao New Year is in the middle of April. So it’s one of the hottest times of the year. That of course makes it the perfect time for a water battle. Although Boun Pi Mai is a peaceful festival, you should still be careful. Since it’s a turbulent time, a lot of water is involved and many people drive drunk, we recommend you not to drive. If possible you shouldn’t even take a tuk tuk or motorbike taxi. Especially long journeys from city to city is something you really should avoid.
As with many other countries in the world, Labor Day is a national holiday in Laos. It also takes place every year on May 1. On this day people thank the contribution of workers to the country and fight for workers rights. The federation of trade unions organizes various activities in many cities. There are often community walks and lectures. In all of Laos, the capital Vientiane is arguably the best place to visit for celebrating Labor Day.
Boun Bang Fai | Laos Rocket Festival
The Rocket Festival in Laos is another great event of the country. It’s also celebrated in Northern Thailand by the Isan people. In contrast to many other festivals in Laos, the lunar calendar is only used to a limited extent to determine the date. When Boun Bang Fai takes place can vary from place to place. Usually the date is mid to late May. Best you just ask the locals. Traditionally, the festival is about calling the rain. This is also the reason why the Rocket Festival usually takes place before the rainy season starts. To call the rain, homemade rockets are launched into the sky. There are often competitions and the winners are usually those whose rockets fly the furthest. There are also other competitions where, for example, the most beautiful rocket or the brightest rocket is awarded.
There’s no denying that the Laos Rocket Festival is one of the best events to take part in as a tourist. Not only will rockets be fired, but there will also be exuberant dancing and singing. Not to mention all the delicious food. But that’s not all. The festival is really a bit crazy. You may not be able to believe what you see. Men dress up as women and women dress up as men, huge wooden penises are carried around and people paint themselves. All in all a really colorful and fun festival. As you probably thought already, a lot of alcohol is drunk too. Especially the famous Beerlao.
Children’s Day is an official public holiday in Laos promoted by the Laos government and charitable organizations. The day mainly takes place in schools where the children meet up and celebrate. Parents and teachers are also present. There is singing, dancing and gifts. The children usually wear traditional Laotian clothing.Various events are also organized outside of schools. Since there are many free events with activities, this day is something very special for children from poorer families. Basically, however, all children have fun regardless of their social class. After all, it’s not for nothing that this holiday is called Children’s Day. In addition to the celebrations, there are also different awareness campaigns. These aim to protect children’s rights, provide access to education and combat poverty. The holiday also plays an important role in the family circle. On Children’s Day, many families go on excursions with their children and give them gifts.
This events marks the beginning of the Buddhist Lent. It starts either in June or July, depending on the lunar calendar, and ends after three months. For many Buddhists in Southeast Asia, Khao Pansa is one of the preferred times to start serving a monk. Usually on a temporary basis. Those who fast at the time refrain from things like alcohol, tobacco and meat. A peculiarity of this period is that at the beginning of Khao Pansa many monks retreat to the temples to pray and meditate there for three months. The festivities of this holiday differ from region to region.
Laos Issara | Day of the Free Laos
Lao Issara is a national holiday to honor the eponymous anti-French movement and its fight for independence. The event is held on August 13. There are no celebrations or demonstrations but all the administration are closed.
Ho Khao Padap Dinh
This festival has a Buddhist background and takes place in August. The exact date is determined by the lunar calendar. Ho Khao Padap Dinh is a day to commemorate the ancestors and the dead. At this time the Laotians offer the ancestors food such as fruits and cakes made with rice. The food is usually put in containers made of banana leaves or paper. Buddhists are also expected to refrain from any bad deeds.
Boun Ok Phansa
Determined by the lunar calendar Boun Ok Phansa takes place either at October or September. While Khao Pansa is celebrated at the start of the Buddhist Lent, Boun Ok Phansa is celebrated at its end. Parades are held on the streets and Lao people give donations to the monks coming out of the temples. At evening floats decorated with flowers and candles are set adrift down the rivers to pay respect to the spirits of the river. One of the most well known of them is the naga who plays an important role in Buddhism. The festival is especially worth seeing in cities near the Mekong, since there usually are exciting boat races. In addition to floats, the temples are also decorated with candles. Mostly young couples and families take care of that.
Boun That Luang | That Luang Festival
That Luang is one of the most famous sights in Vientiane. It’s an important monument from both a cultural and religious point of view. It’s believed that it contains the breastbone of Buddha. During the Boun That Luang festival, thousands of monks from Laos and Thailand pilgrim to the great stupa, where a huge blessing ceremony takes place. The attending monks receive all kinds of gifts. Among them flowers and money. There is even fireworks at night.
One of the highlights of the event is a large, colorful parade on the first day. If you want to immerse yourself in the culture of Laos, there’s hardly a better time. Especially since an international trade fair is held during daytime. You can really learn a lot there. Like with many other religious events the exact date of the That Luang Festival depends on the lunar calendar. It can take place practically every day in November. So better inform yourself in advance if you want to participate.
Laos National Day
Laos National Day is a national holiday on December 2. On that day in 1975 the monarchy was abolished and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic established. Speeches and military parades are held to celebrate the event. Many citizens attend them in traditional clothing. Most of the festivities take place in the larger cities, even though it’s a day celebrated all over Laos. Especially in Vientiane there’s a lot to see every year.
Hmong New Year
There really are a lot of New Year celebrations in Laos and one of them is the Hmong New Year. Since the Hmong are a strong ethnic minority in Laos (third largest) we think this festival should be on our list. The annual celebration is very traditional and takes place at the end of the harvest season in November or December. The exact date is based on the lunar calendar. During the event the Hmong come together with their families and wear their best traditional clothes and jewelry. The festivities are accompanied by traditional music. There is dancing, eating and outdoor sports. Also many kinds of games are played. In addition to games like hide and seek, there are also very traditional games like pov pob. At pov pob, young people toss cloth balls back and forth. The purpose of the game is to get to know each other better and in the best case to find a partner.