Rockets blast off in Thai festival

15-May-2012 Intellasia | Ttrweekly | 7:01 AM Print This Post

Yasothon’s famous rocket festival blasts off, 11 to 13 May, with teams from four Asian nations participating in the competition.

The idea is to blast a rocket in a perfect climb skyward from launch sites at the provincial town’s Chang Sanit Road, opposite City Hall and Phraya Than Park.

Known locally as Bun Bang Fai Yasothon the event features many activities leading up to the rocket displays on the third day. Teams are competing from Laos, Vietnam, Japan and Korea. Winners are mainly decided on the power and ascent time. Ceremonial rockets are judged on their appearance after they are paraded through town.

Essentially, Bun Bang Fai or the rocket festival is a merit-making ceremony traditionally practiced by ethnic Lao people and Thais born in I-san (Northeast Thailand). The festival is usually held before rainy season to celebrate, or possibly bring on the start of the rainy season, which means farmers can plant their rice in fields already cleared but still lacking water.

Participants in a rocket competition cheer after their rocket was successfully launched during the rocket festival known as "Bun Bangfai" in Yasothon, northeast of Bangkok, May 13, 2012. (Reuters)

The three-day celebration is celebrated across Northeast Thailand, but is very popular in Udon Thani and Khon Kaen, but Yasothon province is the star where the rocket festival is celebrated on the grandest of scales.

As to be expected local bands figure highly on the entertainment agenday with concerts and dance performances called Mor Lam Sing that start on day 1 and continue to the end. Both music and dances are very popular in I-san and usually the Mor Lam Sing performances will go on all night until the band flops into their make-shift beds.

On the second day, the highlight is the street parades to display the Bang Fai Ko. These richly decorated rockets are mounted on traditional, but highly decorated oxcarts. Most of the Bang Fai Ko are not capable of being fired as they are really for decoration purposes only. The serious rockets are left at the launch pads and are quite drab in apperance when compared to their ceremonial brethren.

The theme of the rocket parade comes from the Nang Ai Phadaeng legend so they are adorned as Nang Ai, a female character or Phadaeng, a male character in the legend.

If a rocket fails to ignite, or goes adrift rather than climbing to the heavens, it is thrown into a mud pond, a tradition derived from the legend but it also helps to cool down the rocket and prevent further explosions.

Apart from that the rockets visitors are entertained by Bang Fai cultural performances, a Bang Fai Ko beauty queen contest and a food fair.

The most convenient way is to fly to Ubon Ratchathani airport from Bangkok and then take a mini-van transfer or rent a car to cover the 200 km to Yasothon. Three airlines currently fly to Ubon Ratchathani from Bangkok: Nok Air (three flights daily); Thai Airways (two flights daily) and Air Asia (four flights daily).

Ubon is on the southern northeast rail line so it is possible to travel by train and then transfer to a provincial bus service for the trip to Yasothon.

There are daily bus services from Bangkok’s Mor Chit terminal in Chatuchak district. The air-conditioned buses take around 10 hours to complete the trip. Definitely, this is the cheapest way to get there, but inter-city bus transport in Thailand is not the safest option.

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