Yasothon is on the Chi River in the northeastern region (Isaan) of Thailand. In May, “Bun Bang Fai 2015” the annual Rocket Festival of the Province was even more dramatic than ever to celebrate the 20th anniversary as a Thai-Japanese Joint Rocket Festival. Thailand’s Yasothon and Japan’s Chichibu are Sister Cities which have similar rocket festival.
This ancient festival is believed to have originated in Laos (Isan people are direct descendants of Lao) and predates Buddhism. The festival is widely believed to be about fertility rites and an offering to the spirits to ask for both for the much needed rain and a bountiful harvest. Perhaps an early version of ‘cloud seeding’? On the opening day, visitors enjoyed the grand parade and rocket procession, a cheer leader contest and a Miss Bang Fai Contest. Giant toads and phallic symbols are prominent on several floats. Legend has it that the Buddha, during his incarnation as the Toad King, defeated the King of the Sky to end a drought that had lasted seven years, seven months and seven days.
This was ‘Raw Friday’, a night of unrestrained revelry and somewhat on the raunchy side. Sound stages, equipped with colossal speakers at top volume and complete with dancing girls were lined up along Yasothon’s main street and revelers stayed out until daybreak. On the second day, Japanese and International rocket floats joined the procession.
The last day was for a variety of rocket competitions such as the Fancy Rocket and the Powerful Rocket in crowdpleasing action. An average rocket is some nine metres in length and carries 20-25 kilograms of gunpowder. The climax of the festival is launch time. They soar through the clouds into the heavens as the launchers scamper for safety. This year no major mishaps; but miss-fires and launch pad explosions have been known. The relatively modern arrival of plastic tube casings has probably helped a little with safety issues which don’t generally have a high priority. The rockets were judged according to height achieved, how straight they fly, and the “beauty” of their smoke trail. The winning team took home around 30,000 thb, while third-place win barely covered the cost of building the rocket. Competitors whose rockets failed to take off were forced to wallow in nearby muddy ponds.
When the rocket firing was more successful the crowd rejoiced and it’s pretty clear that the money is not what it’s all about. If you join in all the Bun Bang Fai festivities you’ll end up exhausted, deafened and feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the whole experience. As one of the most chaotic Thailand experiences you certainly get a ‘big bang for your buck’!