Yasothon Cowboys: 7 essential Bun Bangfai rocket festival components

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pickup trucks? Check. Cowboy hats? Check. Questionable music? Every Thailand veteran already knows the answer to that one.
Every May, rocket festivals are held across Northeast Thailand (Isaan) and Laos at the start of the rainy season as a fertility ritual. But Bun Bangfai, held in the town of Yasothon, is by far the largest and craziest, with visitors and returning Isaan migrants streaming in from Bangkok and the rest of Thailand to check out the action.
This year was no exception, and from May 13–15 an endlessly entertaining cast of characters gathered together in Yasothon to drink, dance, leer and cheer at the explosive capacity of over 120 kilos of gunpowder used to fire each homemade rocket.
Here are seven essential rocket festival componants that help cement Bun Bangfai's explosive status one of Thailand's wildest events.

1. The party animals 

Yasothon Bangfai
The festival kicks off with Raw Friday, a night of unrestrained revelry. Sound stages, equipped with colossal speakers turned all the way up to 11, are lined up along Yasothon’s main street, and people stay out partying until daybreak.

2. The performers

Yasothon rocket festival parade
Saturday is the day of the parade, featuring colorful floats and traditional dance and music by performers from villages of the region.

3. The Toad King, aka The Buddha 

Toad King in Yasothon
Giant toads are prominent in several floats. Bun Bangfai 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.

4. Mum 

Even more ubiquitous at Bun Bangfai is the face of Mum Jokmok, one of Thailand’s biggest comedians and Yasothon’s most famous son.

5. A very un-Disney princess 

The rocket festivals are an opportunity to let loose before the grueling rice-planting months ahead. Which means many engage in hedonistic behavior that is usually frowned upon by rural Thai society.

6. Insects

Yasothon cuisine
Bun Bangfai is an opportunity for the tourists to sample Isaan cuisine in its heartland, from the mouth-watering laab muu (pork salad) to the fried cockroach, which is more of an acquired taste.

7. Space Cowboys

Bun Bangfai
The centerpiece of the Yasothon Rocket Festival, however, is indisputably the racketeer showdown on Sunday which puts the bang in Bun Bangfai (sorry, contractually obligated pun).
The rockets are judged according to height achieved, how straight they fly, and the “beauty” of their smoke trail. The winning team takes home almost US$1,000, while a third place win barely accounts for the cost of building the rockets.

Competitors whose rockets fail to lift are forced to wallow in the mud, but even that won’t stop them from enjoying the sight of a new heavenly trailblazer.
Yasothon rockets
Lots of noise, lots of smoke, and lots of fun.

Still, when the rockets take off and the crowd rejoices, it's pretty clear that the money is not exactly the point.

Rocket festival
The show is not without its dangers. Spectators who stand too close are subjected to plenty of smoke, while injuries are common.

Showing 3 comments

  • Kasemsanm Today 02:38 PM
    In No. 6, Insects are NATIVE CRICKETS (not crockroach, common!)
  • I haven't been there. I kind of like it though. It is very very Thai style party.
  • I've been there Yasothon in 2007 ... It was one hell of a celebration. Very much looking forward to my second Bun Bang Fai!!

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