Boat Races from an exceptional balcony

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As luck would have it, we have arrived in Luang Prabang during the week of their yearly boat festival. We asked the owner of our guesthouse to explain more about festival, but we were only able to ascertain that the purpose was to celebrate something. Do to the language barrier- both spoken and written- it’s been hard for us to find out much more information.

For days we’ve been watching the boat teams practice and listening to their chanting that signal when to stroke. In the evenings, we’ve seen the teams ride through the street in the back of a truck, singing songs and wearing matching shirts and headbands. Another tradition associated with the celebration is that every boy in town carries around a toy gun, some of which are disturbingly realistic.

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Of course the kids are delighted about this, but it gets rather tiring to see them on every corner, in every restaurant… Everywhere you go. It’s just one weekend, however, and we’re just happy to have stumbled upon an event that so many people are so excited about.

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When the festive morning arrived we went walking early with the plan to peruse the festival before returning to our room to view the races. The streets were blocked off to cars, and the sidewalks were packed with stalls selling everything from ducklings and chicks, to more toy machine guns, piles of dried squid, and even used clothing.

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Of special interest to us were the prizes offered for the winners of the carnival games: peg enough balloons with a dart and you can choose between a liter of pepsi, or a bottle of fish sauce.

The street food was prominent along the river walk, where the carnival games seemed to lessen and the colored flagging for the boat races became visible along the river. The loudspeaker was already discussing the upcoming competition. While we couldn’t understand a word, it had so much similarity to coverage of any sporting event back home that it felt oddly familiar. After a few hours of wandering, we picked up food from a number of different carts and headed back to the room to prepare for races.

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Lunch was steamed buns stuffed with mushroom and potato, Betol leaves rolled around bean sprouts, Ginger paste, and rice noodle, steamed cabbage dumplings, and two kinds of spring rolls. It was plenty of food and we lost the afternoon on the balcony watching the boats prepare for their races. Our place was just far enough away to prevent us from seeing the finish line, but the benefit of being separated from the crowds was worth it.

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The festivities lasted into the evening. Even after the police came to remove the roadblocks, people stayed in the streets. Whatever the celebration, it was certainly a thrill to be a part of it.

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