The national religion of Laos is Theravada Buddhism, which permeates everyday life. Buddhist faith is woven together with an older, vernacular belief in spirits. The act of offering food and money to both are important daily rituals.
Khamsi Bounkhong and Noubath Siluangkhot, Toon’s parents, were instrumental in establishing Wat Lao Sayaphoum in the rolling countryside outside of Morganton. Since 2005, the Lao community has helped transform a double-wide trailer and carport into a little piece of Laos in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In many ways, Buddhist rituals must be reinterpreted in North Carolina. This includes the daily alms-giving (sai or tak baht) to monks. In Laos, monks walk the streets at dawn. In Morganton, the Phapphaybouns rotate with other families to deliver meals to the two resident monks.
One of the busiest weekends at Wat Lao Sayaphoum is Pi Mai, or Lao New Year, which takes place in mid-April. Unlike in Laos, the day’s activities are compressed to the temple grounds. A ceremony is followed by alms-giving, a parade of “princesses” reenacting an old folk tale, water throwing, eating, dancing, and drinking.