Yasothon Bun Bangfai Rocket Festival
Date : 5 - 9 May 2010
Venue : Phaya Thaen Park, Mueang District, Yasothon
The underlying logic and science behind the famous rocket festival, scheduled for 5 to 9 May, in the unassuming northeast town of Yasothon, is not to be found in a chemistry laboratory.
While the rocket owners pack as much as 25 kg of black powder into plastic or bamboo pipes to give their homemade missiles take off, the blueprints for this exceptionally noisy festival are traced in the mystical skies ruled by gods. Approaching rain clouds signal the start of the rice planting season, but according to northeastern folklore the first raindrops fall only when the gods are in the mood for love. They need encouragement hence the importance of the Bun Bang Fai, or rocket festival, to stir the mythical community, resident in the heavens, to bless earth with fertility and rain.
One mother of all rockets shoots high into the sky possibly for a kilometre or more stimulating the gods to action. Its vapour trail and height is seen as an omen. The higher it goes, the more rain will fall on the northeast plateau bringing good fortune and a bumper rice harvest.
None of these lofty goals prevent Yasothon’s residents and thousands of visitors from the more earthly pleasures of merry making associated with their homemade rockets.
All sizes and shapes are built around a simple plastic or bamboo pipe packed solid with black powder and fuses. They can be up to 10 metres, or more, in length, as long as they are capable of powering into the skies at blast off. Anything short of that spectacle prompts a chorus of laughter from the crowd and even a few missiles of mud aimed at the head of the hapless rocket owner.
While the rockets compete, the crowd is entertained with comedy, often bawdy with a smattering of dirty jokes and raucous country music. It’s a genuine farming community excuse to have fun and get the planting season off to a good start.
Accidents are few and far between, but as the beer and rice whisky flows, missiles may stutter, wobble or even do some low flying antics over the tents and entertainment stages.
Rocket festivals are held throughout the region and in neighbouring Laos, but Yasothon residents, noted for their sense of humour, inspire an event that draws international visitors attracted by a hilarious three-day party. It embodies I-san’s ability to rise above the hardships of tilling the land.
Ironically, at any other time of the year, Yasothon is a sleepy northeast town that hardly warrants a second glance. Rarely visited by tourists, it is overshadowed by its neighbour Ubon Ratchathani, 98 km to the southeast. Considered the prime tourism gateway to the lower I-san region, Ubon Ratchathani’s airport is served by both the national airline, Thai Airways International, and low-cost airlines. It is possible to hire a car at the airport and drive northwest on Highway 23 to Yasothon.
The town’s hotels are full during this short festival and hotels will double their rates to cash in on the festival’s popularity. There are also hotels in Roi-et, 60 km northwest of Yasothon, while some visitors may decide to stay in Ubon and embark on a daytrip returning after sunset.