Kapok flower festival, unique a multi-cultural celebration

Welcoming Visit Laos Year 2018, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and images inviting you to experience the authentic nature, culture, history and hospitality of Laos, Jewel of the Mekong.

Kapok Flower Festival, which is well known as one of the biggest cultural events in Bokeo province, has just celebrated its 18th year.
Last week, I was lucky enough to have a chance to attend the festival. It lived up to its expectations being a festival of colour and cultures, very different from any other in Laos.
What first attracted me to the festival was the blooming of the Kapok flower. I expected it to be a small garden-variety flower, I didn’t know what to expect.
When we arrived, we went directly to the festival where we saw many local people walking and wandering around, some wearing very colourful and unfamiliar dresses.

Kapok flowers bloom during the festival in Don Xao, Tonpheung district, Bokeo province.

The festival was held in an open space under the shadow of a group of big trees. Even though it was a sunny day, the weather was not as hot as it was still winter and the big trees provided plenty of shade making it pleasurable to walk around. 
I tried to look for the Kapok flower garden by following the crowd but I still could not see it. Finally, I asked a local girl ‘Where is the kapok garden?’ The girl looked at me confused and then asked me ‘Do you mean you want to see Kapok flowers? ‘Yes’ I replied, ‘I want to see the flowers and also their plants.’
She looked around and ran to pick up a flower hiding in the green grass far away under a big tree. She ran back and gave it to me. ‘Here, it is,’ she smiled. ‘Wow, it’s nice, it’s quite a big red flower!’
I looked at the big plant in front of me. It had few leaves but was full of red flowers. This was the famous Kapok.
She said we would not be able to see many flowers fallen in the yard because the many people that attended the festival would usually pick them up as they fell because they are good to eat.
“Really! They must taste good,” I said.
I looked up in the sky. ‘I’m actually in the middle of kapok flower garden, but I didn’t realise it!’ It was a big flower garden and I didn’t expect that the kapok tree would be so big. I turned back to the girl with a smile and thanked her.
I started to look around and enjoy the flowers. 
I walked around to see the local products and try some local food. It was like any other local festival market fair in that there were some products on display. However, here there was a bigger variety of local products and activities that sets it apart from other market fairs in other parts of the country. There were also products from neighboring countries such as khiew (traditional herbal seeing gum) and Thanaka, which is a Myanmar cosmetic herb. There were also products from Thailand and China. Lao products were also promoted at the event.
Far away, there was a group of teenagers walking towards me. Most of the girls were wearing Sinh, however it was different from Lao Sinh. It was longer and with different patterns. When I looked at their face, they had powder painting on their faces.
The men in the groups were also wearing sinh, which was different from the women’s dressed. We call it Salong and it’s for only men. From their clothes we could see that they were Myanmara. It’s normal to see a group of Myanmara people in the festival and some of them wear very colorful and traditional clothes. 
The majority of visitors in the festival are Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and China. There are also some western visitors. It’s a multi-cultural festival that combines different local cultures together.
In the evening, the visitors also can enjoy the sunset along Mekong River, and watch the boats taking passengers coming and going across the river between Laos and Thailand.
Watching sunset through the Kapok trees is like watching a painting.
At one corner of festival, there are different gambling activities and at night, there are many forms of entertainment including live music and art performances at the center stage. The performance includes traditional dance and art performance from neighboring countries and the live music is also very traditional, a rare sight.
Kapok festival is more than just a local flower festival it’s multi-cultural celebration bringing together different parts of the country under one stage.



By Keoxomphou Sakdavong
(Latest Update February 19, 2018)

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