Phayo, Franche-Compte, Elounda, Jum

Innocents Abroad

In the best tradition of innocents abroad, we stumble across unexpected, mysterious and colorful religious festivals at our destinations quite frequently: And as luck would have it, (or was it Buddha??), we arrived in Luang Prabang shortly before the October full moon, just as preparations for Lhai Heua Fai, (floating boats of light downstream festival) were taking off. The festival marks the end of Buddhist lent.

Buddhist lent, or Boun Khao Phansa, is the traditional three month “rains retreat” during which Buddhist monks are expected to stay in their temples to study and to meditate
End of Lent

According to the legend of Boun Khao Phansa, Buddha’s followers did not stop their wanderings during the rainy season and  people began to complain that they were trampling on the rice fields and worried they might damage seedlings or small creatures in the fields. When the Buddha heard these worries, he forbade the monks to leave their temples during the rains- voilà, the three months of Buddhist Lent.

Preparations for Lhai Heua Fai are mind-mindbogglingly time consuming
Star makers

Wired Naga

but oh so peaceful
Creating a star

First sign that something’s afoot- fragile boats made from supple bamboo strips and wire appear around town
Boat building

When we first saw this one, we marveled at the “delicate boats the Laotians brave the Mekong with” (duh!), ’til we found out the little ships were destined to be paneled with colored tissue paper,
Building a boat from tissue paper

trimmed in banana leaf, beads and shiny paper
Boat buildup

and lighted with laterns made from  bottles of M150 (makes Red Bull look like milk tea- all this creativity really takes it out of people who love to sleep– but more on that another time…)M150 makes merit

Constellations of paper stars are crafted, in all sizes and colors
Stars

and flocks of lights are prepared
lights

On the Day itself, half the town turns to making little floats (krathongs) out of banana tree stalks
Bananatree raft

banana leaves, flowers,incense and candles. Thankfully krathongs are up for sale too
Krathong for sale

Because who wouldn’t want to pay their respects to Buddha, thank the Mother of Rivers for providing water for our lives, honor the powerful nagas that live in the rivers,
Naga

ask for blessing, float last year’s bad luck away- and invite good luck to flow in!
Giving Thanks

In the evening, the boats the villages and temples built are finally lighted up, and carried through Luang Prabang to Wat Xieng Thong, in a chaotic fairy tale procession
Magical Procession

that ends at a steep flight of stairs leading down to the Mekong. I was reminded of Fitzcaraldo while I watched the men wrangling one lighted boat after the other down the steep, packed stairs to the dark Mekong, where the only light came from countless krathongs, sliding silently down the river.

Oh, and Lhai Heua Fai had a little lesson in store for us too. A day before the grand procession, when all was finally ready, tweaked, preened and shiny, and “our” temples were bathed in soft candlelight, and the ethereal paper stars glowed
Candlelight temple

it started to rain. It poured. Huge drops hammered fragile tissue paper, mercilessly…
Rain sweeps glory away

After we were done shaking virtual fists at the sky, we sought to be grateful- for a lesson about the transient nature of all things and the art of letting go…..
Letting go

6 Responses to Innocents Abroad

  1. October 26, 2013 at 20:03
    Hans Zbynden says:

    Very entertaining entry with beautiful, colorful images! But may I again ask for the occasional food foto, please. I have no idea what Laotian food is like.

    • Thanks, it was a sight to see.
      OK so food- we’re off to the “pampas” down South, so prepare for the best…. A. weigert sich bisher standhaft das Laotische Nationalgericht Laap (eine Art Tatar) zu bestellen. Wir halten uns häufig an Noodle Soup (hält Leib und Seele zusammen) und Baguettes………

  2. October 27, 2013 at 23:06
    Hans Zbynden says:

    Laap ist fantastic, it’s one of the best SE-Asian dishes of all, try laap ped with duck. Sort of the equivalent of Ghackets und Hörnli, just with rice instead of noodles and fiercely spicy!

  3. November 1, 2013 at 04:33
    Christiane says:

    Nice pictures and beautifully described! Danke.
    And we had Halloween today, with children out trick-or-treating. A few pieces of Reese’s peanut butter cups are left. Any takers? Regina? Hans?

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