A determined crew from Thapha village pipped their rivals from nearby Thakhaek village to the finish line in the men’s traditional boat category, becoming kings of the Mekong in Vientiane’s boat racing festival yesterday.

Thapha village proudly reclaimed the title after missing out on the coveted prize for several years and the delighted winners walked away with the trophy and 20 million kip in prize money. The first and second placed boats were both from Hadxaifong district.

In third place was a boat from Chanthabouly district, while the Hongmaeya crew from Sikhay village took fourth place.

In the men’s modified boat category, Sithane Tai clinched the title while Khokxai village came second, Thapha village landed third place and Suanmone village came in fourth.

The winning crew in the women’s traditional boat division came from Hadsiew village, picking up 15 million kip for their hard-earned victory.

Second place went to the women of Thapha village, while Phonhong village came in third and Hadkieng village took the fourth spot.

Another highlight of the hotly contested two-day event was the men’s sport boat category.

A total of 42 boats took part in this year’s races. Men’s crews rowed 12 traditional boats, seven modified boats and 17 sport boats, while women crewed six traditional boats.

This year saw the first-ever participation of boats from Luang Prabang, Borikhamxay and Vientiane provinces.

The Vat Chan festival is the largest boat racing competition in Laos and takes place annually the day after Buddhist Lent ends.

The joyful festival provides an opportunity for people throughout the country to visit one another and strengthen family bonds.

Aside from the boat races, the main attraction is a massive street fair where an estimated 100,000 people gather to shop for bargains. Also on offer are games of various kinds and rides for children.

In recent years the festival has become more commercialised as stalls selling goods of every description proliferate. Prices tend to be on the high side as vendors must recoup the rental fee for a roadside pitch. Snacks and food items in particular cost more than last year.

Stallholder Ms May said she was struggling to make a profit after having paid 3.5 million kip to rent a 2 x 4 metre booth. Last year she paid 2.8 million kip to set up a stall in the same location.

Many vendors suffered when heavy rain shuttered their stalls on two days last week, as shoppers stayed away.

Traffic snarls built up during the week as festival goers flocked to the riverside, while every nook and cranny in the vicinity was turned into a parking lot.

Temples held almsgiving ceremonies on Saturday morning to mark the end of Buddhist Lent, while monks assembled model boats with lighted candles which adorned temple grounds in the evening.

As darkness fell, people flocked to the riverbank to launch a flotilla of colourful handmade ‘boats’ made of banana leaves and decorated with flowers and candles.

Meanwhile, away from the crowds and the noise, brightly lit vessels sat serenely in mid-river, heralding the passage of myriad wooden longboats that would power their way downstream the following day.

Source: Vientiane Times
Published on October 21, 2013