That Phonh festival set to draw tourists in record numbers

After giving alms in the early morning on the first full moon day in March of each lunar calendar year, devotees place balls of rice around the That Phonh stupa in Savannakhet province to honour the guardian spirits.
The stupa was built in the 16th Century in Phonthat village, Xayphouthong district and this annual ritual has been observed ever since. The stupa is highly revered among the local community. 
This year, the festival begins on January 27 when the provincial Governor, provincial Party Committee and people from around Laos and neighbouring countries gather to worship at the stupa.
A wax castle parade will be part of the programme and there will also be night-time candlelight processions around the stupa, when the faithful will call on Buddha to bless their family.    

Each month more than 1,000 devotees pay homage to the That Phonh stupa, hoping for good fortune in their lives.

Head of the Information, Culture and Tourism Division of Xayphouthong district, Mr May Manivanh, said thousands of people come to the stupa to seek good fortune from the guardian spirits. Rice balls are stuck directly onto the exterior to make sure that all the spirits receive the rice offered to them.
According to legend, Buddha taught his followers under a large tree there. He also used the place as a toilet and subsequently the god Indra built a shelter made of silver and golden shelves around the area where it was believed Buddha defecated.
Not long afterwards, his devotees built a stupa on the site and called it That Phonh. The word ‘phonh’ means stomach in Lao. 
Most of those who ask for good luck have their wishes answered, which has encouraged more and more people to visit the stupa each year. “This is a strong belief on the part of many individuals who visit,” Mr May said.
He said the rituals that take place at That Phonh are similar to those practiced at That Luang in Vientiane, Vat Phou in Champassak province, and That Sikhottabong in Khammuan province.  
This event runs for three days and three nights. On the sidelines there are exhibitions of local produce, sports events and cultural performances.
This year is special as the That Phonh festival will take place when the province announces the start of activities for Visit Laos Year 2018.
That Phonh has become a major money-maker for the district’s tourism sector. According to the Information, Culture and Tourism Division, more than 1,000 people visit the stupa each month.
The monthly tourist arrivals generate 100 to 200 million kip for the district and local community from the sale of souvenirs, flowers and other paraphernalia related to the stupa.
How to get to That Phonh
From Savannakhet provincial capital take Route 9B south to Lak 35 village and continue on for another 3km before turning right. Continue onwards for 18km before turning left. The stupa is 3km down this road and is open daily from 8am to 6pm. The road is sealed so the stupa is accessible year round.
By Bus
1.International bus routes
From Thailand: Buses depart from Mukdahan Bus Station. The bus will stop at the border so you can get a stamp in your border pass/visa/passport. You can also ride from the border crossing. It may take about one hour including immigration at Savannakhet Bus Station.
 From Vietnam: Buses depart from the Lao Bao border and Dong Ha (on alternate days only), Quang Tri and Hue (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), Danang and Hanoi (Saturday and Sunday only). It may take about five hours from the Lao Bao border to Savannakhet Bus Station.
2. Within Laos
From Vientiane: There are two types of bus running to Savannakhet: seven public buses and one VIP bus with toilet and air conditioning. Both depart from the Southern Bus Station every day. The journey to Savannakhet Bus Station takes 8-9 hours.
From Pakxe: Night buses depart from the bus station in Pakxe and take 4-5 hours to reach Savannakhet Bus Station.
By Car
From Vientiane: Take Route No. 13 South via Pakxan, Thakhaek and Seno to Savannakhet. The journey is 457 kilometres and may take 6-7 hours.
From Dansavan-Lao Bao (Vietnam): Take Route No. 9 via Sepon, Phin, Phalanxay and Seno, over a distance of about 240km. Expect the journey to take 4-5 hours.
From Mukdahan (Thailand): Cross the Friendship Bridge and stop at the border to get your border pass/visa/passport stamped. The journey should take about one hour, including the immigration stop.
From Pakxe: Take Route No. 13 South via Saravan to Savannakhet, over a distance of 247 kilometres. The drive will take 2-3 hours.
 By Air
From Vientiane: Three flights a week to Savannakhet on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. The flight takes about one hour.
From Luang Prabang: Two flights a week on Thursday and Sunday, taking about 90 mins.
From Bangkok: Three flights a week on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Flight time is 1 hour and 20 mins.
By Ferry
From Mukdahan (Thailand):  Boats cross the Mekong from the Mukdahan ferry pier.


By Xayxana Leukai
(Latest UpdateJanuary 24, 2018)

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