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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Naga Dreaming

Our mid-course aligned with the full moon and Boun Ork Phansa (The End of Buddhist Lent).

Candlelight processions are held in many temples across the country followed by Lay Heua Fai. Rivers illuminate as small boats carry candles down waterways. Made of banana leaves wrapped around small segments of the banana tree trunk (that float) are decorated with flowers and then let go down the river in the darkness. These boats thank the mother of rivers for providing precious water, which sustains life. In a simple sense the boats symbolise the letting go and departure of bad luck or negative things, allowing room for positivity or good luck.

Lao folklore also tells tale of these heua fai being floated as an act of respect to the Nagas. The Naga is a mythical water serpent believed to reside in the murky depths of the Mekong, but on the night of the 15th day of the 11th month in the Lao lunar calendar, the Naga is said to surface, to shoot bright fireballs into the sky. These fireballs have been observed during this period of time in Bolikhamxai Province and science is still inconclusive on what combination of gases is creating them. Local opinion falls either way on whether the Nagas truly exist, yet many line the banks on both sides of the river in hope of a glimpse…