I first heard about the Rocket Festival via some clips of the Bang Fai Festival on YouTube of enormous rockets (Bang Fai) being set off in a field to blaring music and the delight of an obviously very drunk crowd.
So when a good friend asked if I wanted to go, I jumped at the chance, after all who doesn't like whisky and explosions, and in the famous last words of adventurers, what's the worst that could happen?
So we booked flights on Air Asia, from don Muang airport to Ubonratchathani Airport from where we would take a taxi (1500 THB) to our rooms at the Green Park Grand Hotel in Yasothon. So with the logistics organised (or so we though) and with a few weeks to go until the second weekend in May (which is when the festival is held every year) we started planning.
First of all we wanted to know what this Rocket / Bang Fai Festival was all about. There's not a great deal of information online and asking around most people would tell me that the rockets are set off to ask for the rains to come, but it turns out that isn't quite accurate.
The origin of the story lies in myth, more specifically the Legend of the Toad King. In one of his previous lives the Lord Buddha was incarnated as a toad. Following his incarnation all the creatures of the land flocked to hear his sermons which were proving more popular than the Lord of the Sky's.
This angered the Sky Lord, who in a fit of jealousy withheld the rains for seven years, seven months and seven days.
Despite being cautioned by the Toad King, Lord Naga took arms and went to war with the Sky Lord and lost.
The Toad King enlisted the aid of termites who built towering mounds to reach the sky and sent up centipedes, and scorpions to attack the Sky Lords feet, and asked the winged hornets to join the fray. Overwhelmed by the assault, the Sky Lord sued for peace and released the rain.
Each year the rockets are released to remind Phaya Thaen (The Lord of the Sky) of the terms he agreed with the Toad King. The Lord Naga was rewarded for his efforts with the role of Honour Guard to the temples of Thailand and Laos.
In present day Yasothon, the festival lasts three days on the second weekend of May every year. The celebrations begin on Friday but sadly I missed those, as we arrived on Saturday morning just in time for the parade (and the sweltering heat!).
Saturday, 14th May 2016
Then on Sunday, the fun with rockets and whisky begins at 9 o'clock in the morning.
The noise was incredible. The largest rocket weighs 120 Kgs and can fly in the air for almost 5 minutes. The record is 320 seconds which of course teams from around the country compete to beat and perhaps have a friendly side bet on whose rocket will fly the longest.
Rockets fall to the ground where they may, but usually over a large field behind the grounds, and hopefully gently swaying beneath a parachute, but that doesn't always work out quite to plan.
There's lots of markets stalls selling all sorts of food and drink in a real party atmosphere with some of friendliest and most hospitable people you are ever likely to meet.
The Bang Fai Festival ends on Sunday at about 4:30pm, so we left from there and went to straight to the airport. But here's the strange thing, just as we got into the taxi and started on our way back, the heavens opened and the rain began to fall.
I had a truly great time and will certainly an experience that will stay with me forever, I highly recommend it.
Top travel tip!
Yasothon doesn't have much in the way of public transportation, no taxis, no Tuks Tuks, no Sontahews or buses, not even a converted pickup truck. Bear this in mind when thinking about getting back to the airport, and be sure to take a few name cards of taxi services on offer at Ubon's airport, you'll need them!