The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Bang Fai rocket festival in Yasothon, Thailand

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 05•10

Happy, muddy revelers often shoot pistols and other explosives into the air to accompany bang fai rockets

Like us here at WoWasis, if your idea of fun is a weekend of Isaan parades, music, drinking, and rocket launching, the Bun Bungfai Rocket Festival, held each year in Yasothon, is for you.   Generally held on one of the first two weekends in May, the festival features dozens of teams launching thousands of home-crafted rockets.  The traveler can casually walk among the launchings, as there are no police to keep one away from close proximity.  Rockets range from the small Bangfai hoi type, which is powered by 12 kg of gunpowder, to the ultra-powerful Bangfai sene, which packs a payload of 120 kg.   Teams vie for various awards, and scads of children race around the environs with the task of putting out the small brush fires that are the result of rocket detritus crashing back down to earth.  The affair is held at a city park that is little more than a series of ponds and mudholes.  There is enough dry land for spectators and food and beer stalls, and by mid-day, a good percentage of the crowd is drunk, happy, and throwing everyone within sight into mudpits (don’t wear your good clothes).

Rocket launching day, held on a Sunday in the Isaan city of Yasothon, is actually the last day of a three day festival.  Even though the biggest occurs in Yasothon, similar events are held all over Isaan and Laos.  Ostensibly, the rockets are sent to appease the rain gods, but there is also a sexual, regenerative Spring-ritual element to the festival, and much sexual play-acting occurs in open tents, where participants drink, and are ultimately engaged in the act of throwing unmuddied friends in the mud.

On BangFai weekend, the Saturday preceding the Sunday rocket launching is given to a magnificent Isaan parade, where floats, dancers, musicians, and beauty queens parade by a dozen or so stages blasting morlam music from huge speakers.  Many of the beautiful women in the parade are ladyboys, as are a good portion of the dancers on stage.  Some of the most fascinating participants of the parade are the musicians, who power their guitars, phins (an Isaan stringed instrument), and keyboards on car batteries, loaded onto a cart that also houses speakers, and occasionally the keyboard itself.

ThailandPromoBannerGetting to Yasothon

Yasothon is 531 kilometers northeast of Bangkok.  You can rent a car (if you do, don’t miss Baan Sri Than, a handcraft village famous for its silk and cotton products, 20 km away on Route 202).  Aircon night buses leave from Bangkok’s Mo Chit station at approximately 9pm, and arrive in Yasothon at roughly 6 am the following day.

Staying in Yasothon

Hotels are reasonably priced (generally, under $25), but vary in age and amenities. The JD Emerald, located a kilometer or so from the main stage area, is the upscale hotel in town, tel (045) 724-848.  More centrally located, and across the street from the bus station, is the Yssothon Royal Orchid, (045) 721-000.  For more information on lodging, call the regional Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) office at (045) 243-770, or (045) 250-714.  They will provide hotel info, and phone numbers.

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One Comment

  1. Herb says:

    Here’s a neat video of a wonderful Bang Fai rocket launch:

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