Once a year

Festival of Lights, Laos

The Lhai Heua Fai (festival of light) takes place all over Laos. But the celebrations in Luang Prabang, the country’s religious and royal capital, are the most spectacular.The three-day festival is held at the end of the summer monsoon, a period of intense meditation for this deeply spiritual Buddhist nation.

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On the last evening, tens of thousands of handmade boats, fashioned from bamboo and banana leaves, and filled with fruit, flowers, coins, candles, and paper snakes, are set alight and set adrift on the Mekong river. Their precious cargo includes the hopes and prayers of the locals who depend on the Mekong River for their survival — prayers for health and prosperity, clean water and a good harvest.

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The ritual begins at dusk, when dozens of larger ‘fire boats’ are paraded through town to the 16th century Wat Xieng Thong temple, accompanied by dancers, musicians and saffron-robed monks. A jury awards prizes to the most beautiful boats. One by one, the boats are carried down the steep temple staircase and gently lowered onto the blue-black Mekong river. Thousands of people gather on the river banks to watch the flickering procession drift away beneath the star-spangled sky.

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You can watch this magical parade unfold from the privacy of Amantaka, a heritage resort set on a garden estate beside the Mekong. French Colonial in design, the 24-suites are housed in white-walled, green-shuttered shalas, nine of them protected by UNESCO.

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This tranquil sanctuary offers immersive experiences that tap into the spiritual energy of Luang Prabang. A dawn blessing from Buddhist monks, a creative workshop creating floral offerings for the temple, or a private river cruise to the sacred caves of Pak Ou, a pilgrimage site for thousands of years.

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Selected images courtesy of Amantaka.