April 28, 2015
When mayhem, noise, colour and laughter are mixed to produce a one of a kind annual event.
Revised March 2017
Yasothon Rocket Festival (Bun Bang Fai)
When: Normally early to mid May (11-14 May 2017)
Where: Phaya Thaen Park Yasothon. 1.8 kms south west of the main Yasothon bus station
Rocket festivals take place throughout Isan (North East Thailand) prior to the start of the rainy season, May-June, with the exact date’s specific to each village. Traditionally the festivities will last for 2-3 days. The largest, noisiest and at times the most bizarre festival is without doubt that of Yasothon, with the bedlam kicking off annually on the second Friday of May.
This ancient festival originated from neighbouring Lao and is believed to predate Buddhism; the festival is also widely believed to be a variant of fertility rites and an offering to the spirits, in particular to “Phaya Thaen”, the god of rain and Mae Phosop the goddess of rice, to ask for both the much needed rain and a bountiful harvest. For more on Isan’s Rocket festivals click here
The celebrations are spread over 3 days and nights
Raw Friday (Wan Sook Dip)
The opening day features the grand parade and rocket procession, where highly decorated mostly mock rockets…………it would not be a good idea to have the actual at times 8 metre length tubes filled with high explosives paraded around the streets, are adorned upon equally elaborate and colourful floats, known as Hae Bangfai.
The principal theme of the floats is the legend of Phadaeng and Nang Ai , the tragic love triangle story of King Phadaeng, Princess Aikham, and the Naga Prince, Phangkhi. These at times massive floats are paraded through the town, accompanied by traditional Isan music played on the flute, long drums, gongs and the electric Phin, (3-stringed lute which is reminiscent of surf rock guitar), along with traditionally dressed Isan dancers.
This is where the celebrations differ from most other provinces celebrating the same festival, as some of the Hae Bangfai, carry rockets with the heads of Nagas and phallic symbols which in turn are actually water cannon that can be swiveled to deliver a soaking to un-suspecting revelers.
It is worth noting that the origins of this festival goes back centuries and has its roots firmly steeped in ancient fertility rites.
This is most prevalent in the phallic symbols, that are seen just about everywhere and the bawdy behavior of some of the participants, who amid the riotous festive atmosphere, join in the parade by cross-dressing in gaudy clothing, which in turn leads to air becoming full of smutty (yet inoffensive) humor.
The day also includes a cheer leader contest and a Miss Bang Fai Pageant along with a multitude of displays and events showcasing local crafts and entertainment.
Mor lam means expert song, or expert singer, referring to the music or artist respectively. The music is very popular with the Isan people and continues into the early hours of Monday.
On the second day, International rocket floats will join the local procession in a more competitive parade, again they are accompanied by a crescendo of music and an array of dancers, with participating groups competing for prizes within their selected categories. The parade typically ends at a wat, where dancers and accompanying musicians may further compete in traditional folk dance competitions.
While the celebrations continue, with music concerts and displays featuring local customs and handmade products, this is the start of the serious business of igniting and sending these home-made massive projectiles into the sky.
It is also the point when your ears, which will have already taken a beating, from the mass of noise from the parades and live bands, all broadcasted via huge loud speakers, are now assaulted by the noise from the heaven bound rockets, some of which can reach altitudes of tens of thousands of metres.
The rockets are judged in various categories and various stages of their short but explosive lives, for example the height and distance traveled, with extra points awarded for exceptionally beautiful vapour trails, plus further marks for the design and aesthetics of the Bang Fai.
While almost all forms of gambling is illegal in Thailand; according to Aerothai, 56.5 billion baht is gambled on Bang Fai each year.
While rocket festivals by there very nature have to be planned in advance, there are a number of rituals, carried out in the region if the much needed rain does not appear. See more in our post Using cats, porn & snakes to make rain in Thailand.
“This festival is truly a unique spectacular and if you are lucky to be in the vicinity during this magical, comical and at times raunchy event, do bring both your sense of humour and a set of ear defenders, as you will need both in equal measure. The whole festival promises to be a roller coaster of a weekend”.
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