The
Rowing Festivals

During September and also for the “ Maekong Fireball Festival ”. During this time the weather is improving and the level of the Maekong is dropping. Crewed by teams of up to thirty rowers, these elegant dragon boats are owned and maintained by the temples along the riverbank.

The competitions usually start near Wat Lam Duan and end down-stream at Wat Taat near the sunken Chedi. They are officiated by the Maekong River Police.

Pictured right is a long boat resting at Wat Prao Neua during at the beginning of the rainy season. Its ornamental prow has been removed for repair work while the hull is being repainted by local craftsmen.

The dragon boats come in two sizes, the smaller take a twenty person crew and the larger around thirty.

They are paddle boats as opposed to the long oar boats common in the West. Those that stand at the back have long paddles used to steer, while the tougher types further forward use shorter ones to provide power. Pictured left are the judges.

From the middle of August onwards, at dusk along the riverbank you can hear teams practising rowing upstream. Their long chanting calls are used to coordinate the strokes of the oarsmen and are a distinctive and romantic feature of August, September and October evenings. Teams are more frequently made up of young men, though there are women's crews too. However, there are not normally mixed men's and women's crews.

By the middle of the rainy season in mid-July, in many of the temples along the riverbank, the process of refurbishing the boats for the coming season begins. The hulls are resealed and repainted and the ornate prow repaired and reguilded.

The first competitions take place during September as the flood waters in the Maekong River begin to drop, and when choppy waves of the early season can cause boats to sink. Though foreign crews are unusual, I remember vividly early one season, a team of Australian ladies from Laos entered a Thai-Lao event and promptly sank!

As the season continues the contests become longer and more intense and the cash prizes are larger. The biggest festival of the year will take place from the 3rd to the 7th of October 2017 for Okk Paan Saa, the festival celebrating the end of Buddhist Lent... a particularly exciting time of the year here in Nong Khai (See Maekong Fireballs).