Xayaboury’s annual rocket festival celebrates Visit Laos Year

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.

Lao and foreign tourists visiting Xayaboury province shouldn’t miss the annual rocket festival and the Visit Laos Year celebrations in Thongmixay district over this weekend.
This year, the rocket festival is more special because it is organised as part of the Visit Laos Year celebrations. Local authorities have made this traditional festival a bigger event this year and there will be many special activities, including elephant rides around the town, a street fair, a Kong Peung drum performance, and cultural performances.
The rocket festival and other activities will mainly take place at a central ground in That village, known as the garden of That Nang Samphiew.
The festivities started earlier this week but the official celebrations are scheduled for April 22-23. The opening ceremony of the Visit Laos Year celebrations will be organised in the morning of April 23, and will feature processions representing villages, district’s organisations, tourist attractions and cultural performances.
Ahead of the opening ceremony, there will also be rituals and an almsgiving session for nine monks.

Rockets being launched from the stage.

In the afternoon of April 23, more than 3,000 rockets presented by local residents, people from other districts and parts of Laos, and neighbouring districts of Thailand will be launched as part of a worship session at That Nang Samphiew or Nang Samphiew stupa.
Thousands of people are expected to witness the launch and cheer for their favourite rockets as they shoot into the sky.
The rocket festival is always joyous and colourful, and has a lively atmosphere because the people march in a procession with their rockets around the stupa three times before placing them at the stupa. During the procession, they cheer loudly and make a wish for their rockets to travel very high.
The men who launch the rockets dress in strange clothes and they play music and dance in a traditional way before going on to the high stage.  There will be also be a local food cooking contest and a Kong Peung drum performance. Kong Peung is a special drum of the district that is generally played only during the Buddhist Lent. But on this special occasion, visitors will hear the drum because it will be played to mark the Visit Laos Year celebrations.
The head of the district’s Information, Culture and Tourism Office and a member of the organising committee, Mr Buangern Soukphaly, said the event will be more colourful than last year.
“The rocket festival is the biggest event of this district and many people from around the country and foreign visitors like to take part each year. So, the event is really meaningful for Thongmixay district and its people,” he said.
That Nang Samphiew, located in That village, is the main cultural icon and tourist attraction of Thongmixay district. Believed to have been erected in ancient times, it is a large stupa but not very high. It has become a symbol of the belief, faith and solidarity of the local people.
Besides local residents, people from other districts, provinces, and countries come to pray at the stupa when they visit Thongmixay or participate in the rocket festival.
According to legend, That Nang Samphiew is the stupa of a woman who had a skin of three colours and was very beautiful. That means stupa, Nang means woman, and Samphiew means the skin of three colours. The legend states that her skin is white in the morning, pink in the afternoon, and blue in the evening.
It is also believed that Nang Samphiew was buried at the spot where the stupa now stands. The people worship her as their city’s guardian.
Every year, after the Lao New Year in April, the local residents launch rockets, called Bangfai in Lao, to honour the stupa and to seek annual blessings from their guardian.
Thongmixay district celebrates Lao New Year longer than other parts of the country and the festivities last nine days. This year, the celebrations will end on Monday.
During past wars, many people, including soldiers, would take some soil or a brick from the stupa, with a vow to return it later, and seek blessings in the hope that they would survive the conflict. Legend has it that those who didn’t return the soil or brick after completing their task would face something bad in their life.
This is one of reasons why people strictly follow the rules when entering the stupa.
Thongmixay is a small and rural district in the southwest of Xayaboury province with an abundance of natural resorts and tourist attractions, particularly cultural and natural sites such as temples and protected forests.
Xayaboury is in the northwest of Laos, about 459 km from the capital Vientiane. Visitors can get there by taking a bus from the northern station in Vientiane or by taking a van from the station in Sikhay village of Sikhottabong district. Visitors can also get to Thongmixay by taking a bus from Vientiane to Xayboury, and then taking a car from Xayaboury to Paklai, and then another car from Paklai to Thongmixai, or by taking a van from Vientiane to Paklai, and then a car from Paklai to Thongmixay.
Thongmixay is about 47 km from Paklai and about 45 minutes by car. It also shares a border with Thailand.
However, as it’s a very small district and doesn’t have sufficient hotels, guesthouses and restaurants, foreign visitors are advised to stay in Paklai district. 

By Visith Teppalath
(Latest Update April 21, 2018)

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