October in Laos marks the end of 3 months of Buddhist Lent. People visit the river in their thousands for the Festival of Lights to thank the river for everything it provides. Candles, flowers and incense are set floated onto the river, fish and birds are released, and at school, children make boats to release at night.
This is followed by the annual Boat Racing Festival, basically a big party by the riverside, in which village teams compete, rowing long, narrow wooden boats. The event is held on different days in different parts of the country.
Last year, in Vientiane, it was so, so hot. Like baking, unbearably hot. We watched part of the racing from a friend’s house right on the Mekong, Even standing on their balcony in the shade it was well over 40 degrees. You can read about our Boat Racing experience last year here.
This year, it was a much different scene; we were in southern Laos. Unlike Vientiane, which is almost always hot and humid at this time of year, every day in southern Laos was in the late 20’s, with a gorgeous river breeze. Perfect weather, for boat racing, and just about everything else.
We spent 3 nights in Champasak province, right on the river at the beautiful River Resort. It's such a special place. At night, while an army of giant geckos gulped at the throng of insects flying around the evening lamps, a strong river breeze flowed through the screen doors of our villa. lightning crackled the sky and the rain poured down. Is there a better way to fall asleep?
There is the lovely French-run Champsak Spa, a pizzeria, an Italian restaurant, and several Lao restaurants that front the river. There is also a pottery place and a handicraft shop. Most buildings are traditional wooden villas with stilt legs, though there are also modern brick homes, and most noticeably, faded French colonial villas, still resplendent after a century or two of age and humidity.
Down here, the river seems to spread out much wider than in Vientiane. The stretch of river along Champasak town is perfect for boat racing practice. I took these photos late in the afternoon as the thick, humid, storm clouds gathered over the river.
The actual boat races are held upstream in Pakse, and we happened to be there on Monday when they were on. Swept along in the traffic of people, buses, tuktuks and general excitement, we went over the bridge, saw the line up, then back along the other side. Crowds of people were hanging over the bridge and waiting at the finish line. Parked cars and motorbikes lined the streets and the smaller side roads were blocked off with police leisurely waving cars on.
And then we were through the boating racing fever of Pakse and heading south again.