Bun Bang Fai (rocket festival) is an event held in the north east of Thailand, a region called Isaan where we live. The origins of this festival can be found in Laos but presumably was imported into Thailand along with the historical movement of population from Laos, some of it made voluntarily and some in the 18th and 19th centuries being forced. The strong connection to Laos in the region makes Isaan a unique part of Thailand with its own language (almost Laos), food, music and some aspects of culture. As with any festival in Thailand there is a purpose to the event and in the case of Bun Bang Fai it is to celebrate and encourage the rains for the upcoming rice season.

I have been to every Bun Bang Fai festival in Si Bun Ruang, our home town, and reported on them with posts HEREHERE and HERE. Each festival follows the same schedule so there’s nothing new with this one in 2017. Each of the small villages called moo bans that make up a town (a bit like suburbs in a western sense) hold their own mini-version in May/June usually over two days. Day one is a street procession with formal dancing groups and is more of a spectacle although it depends on the mood of the moo ban as to what goes on during and after. Day two tends to be the street party either with a music truck that circles the village or a static Isaan band complete with dancing girls (NOT traditional). If there are rockets they tend to be launched on day 2. The words below have been extracted from Wikipedia and relate to the rocket side of the festival:

This is a 100,000 rocket from my visit in 2014.

The rockets (Bang Fai) come in various sizes, competing in several categories. Small ones are called Bang Fai Noi. Larger categories are designated by the counting words for 10,000, 100,000 and 1,000,000: Meun “Saen” and the largest Bang Fai, the Lan. These counting words see use in many contexts to indicate increasing size or value. Lan in this context may be taken to mean extremely large as well as extremely expensive and extremely dangerous: Bang Fai Lan are nine metres long and charged with 120 kg of black powder. These may reach altitudes reckoned in kilometres, and travel dozens of kilometres down range (loosely speaking, as they can go in any direction, including right through the crowd). Competing rockets are scored for apparent height, distance, and beauty of the vapour trail. A few include skyrocket pyrotechnics. A few also include parachutes for tail assemblies, but most fall where they may.

What they look like in the air.

The festival concludes with a large procession held by the town or Amphur where each of the moo bans contribute their dancing groups and floats so in the case of Si Bun Ruang it ends up being a full afternoon. The second day comprises the launching of rockets and it is here you’ll see the 100,000 and 1 million sized bang fai being set off. The villages are usually the small 10,000 rockets.

Getting ready for the big Amphur Si Bun Ruang parade. Photo taken a previous year.

One of the big professional floats moving down the main street of the town.

Although the days follow the same pattern each year is different in that the dance groups and music varies and the absolutely magnificent colours and combinations of the costumes on display make this endlessly enjoyable. The moo bans put in a huge effort and they don’t just dig up last year’s costumes, although the floats are mostly dusted off year after year. The dance groups are often organised by ladyboys who like nothing better than messing around with dresses, teaching the dance routine and applying makeup! They are often at the front of their groups leading the dancing and can be hard to pick from the real ladies. The dancing is judged and an eventual winner picked at the end of the festival in June.

If you haven’t participated in an Isaan Bun Bang Fai festival you are missing out on a wonderful fun day or two and the locals like nothing more than a farang who isn’t shy about joining in and getting involved. For the procession itself see if you can find the judging table. The dance groups will stop in front of the judges and perform their full routine so you can see the whole thing.

DAY 1

That introduction is most of what I will write for this post. I will let the photos speak for the event and the effort that goes into the procession in particular. I especially enjoy capturing faces during a crowd situation like this, both young and old, because I see such a range of characters shining through their expressions in these images. This day was held last weekend at a moo ban called Si Bun Ruang (the combined moo bans make up the town  of Si Bun Ruang). They always put on a good show.

This was a family event. Yuan and Lud, my in-laws, took the day off working at the farm and Peng, my stepdaughter, came along as well.

The judging table on the right. This is the first of the three dance groups.

A ladyboy greeting the judges. Her dance group is the one in the previous photo.

A mix of guys and ladies. Many of the groups are women only. The large and very loud music truck in the background. Each group has its own truck.

It is hard not to get terrific photos like this one.

Gaun wearing two hats and enjoying a cold beer on a warm afternoon.

Isaan traditional dancing is very graceful and in this context often set to modern music.

It is only when I see the photos later I often find see one person who is looking straight into the camera as the second lady is here.

A closer view of where the noise is coming from. The guy on the right with the bamboo pole is there to lift power and telecom lines out of the way of the speakers.

You will see horses like this one in these processions. They always have a male and female rider in lovely costumes. This lady is a friend of Peng’s from school.

A closer view of a couple on another horse.

A young lady on one of the floats in the procession. She’ll be dancing in a few years.

Thias are nationalistic and you will see lots of flags and posters of the king and queen. A couple of the new king this time.

He looks very proud to be carrying the flag doesn’t he.

Another lady on a horse photo!

A ladyboy leading her dance procession.

Are we having fun? I think so.

I just caught the moment.

Bowing to the judges.

Absolutely beautiful.

Another music setup on a farm truck powered by that small portable tractor engine on the front.

And this sound system required three engine to power it, one on the truck and two following in that trailer.

There for the view and to lift wires out of the way.

The endless Thai selfie.

And last music system photo. That combination punches out quite a volume.

A young girl watching it all passing her home.

This is Peng’s friend again greeting the judges with a wai, the hands in front of the face gesture as a sign of respect.

Lovely.

And Peng who has just spotted her friend.

Another small spectator.

And a slightly older one – in body anyway! I have no idea who he is supposed to be.

Well this is a farming community. There are lots of floats that relate to planting rice and other crops.

The Thai smile.

Dressing up for young and old.

A yai (grandmother).

Party goers topping up at the local shop.

Thais are always happy for you to take their photo and will pose for you if you act friendly and make it fun.

Another group selfie shot captured.

One more ladyboy.

Great face.

Pull the string and the two wooden figures will do what is politely known as “boom boom”. Great sex education for the kids watching.

One more ladyboy. She makes an appearance every year riding a buffalo (not a real one)

There is plenty of drink around and the more organised moo bans will have lots of security guys following with batons to make sure things stay on course. I went to one festival where the security guys had old muskets. More likely to kill the owner than the person it was pointed at.

A couple more faces.

Thais smile with their whole face. We westerners are less expressive.

Leaving the festival I spotted these monks enjoying the day from the temple across the main road, which happened to be where we packed the pickup.

The procession moved onto the main road before heading back into the moo ban. closing one lane. Police were on hand to sort it all out.

Thai traffic police actually get used for all events like this as well as directing traffic at school time. You will sometimes see them sitting at busy traffic light intersections where they will manually change the lights to keep the traffic flowing. Thee are no pressure pad system connected to traffic lights here that I have noticed as we have in Australia.

One of the new found joys of having a pickup. You can drop the tailgate and as we had prepacked an esky with cold drinks and bought food you can have a whole picnic in comfort.

DAY 2

We returned to Si Bun Ruang moo ban on the second day with friends from Udon Thani who hadn’t enjoyed one of these events before. The second day in this village is always a static music band and dancing girl display surrounded by the usual vast array of food and drink stalls to keep everyone going. These event are very basic and local and if you’re not into Isaan music or mixing with Isaan people having a party then best avoided. I love them and Gaun is always up for a fun time so we never miss them.

Just a few photos this time to give you an idea of the afternoon.

Gaun with Daniel, the son of our Udon friends. His first Isaan rave too.This is very early in the day and insufficient drink had been consumed to get everyone on their feet.

There are usually two singers in these bands, a lady and a man. The guy is often gay for whatever reason and the female singer almost always dresses up in an outfit similar to this one.

Although there was a huge storm in the background a fire truck was still brought in to cool everyone down. After all Bun Bang Fai is all about rains for the rice planting so getting wet goes with the territory.

Very refreshing.

Where there’s wet there’s kids.

And older kids. Yuan gets a drenching and loves it.

Tik, our friend from Udon, Gaun and a local friend and Lud. Yuan behind Lud.

Lud. The nicest guy you could ever meet.

Jan the lady we bought our land from. Thank you bigtime Jan.

Warming up after cooling down.

Mates.

Daniel again looking a little shell shocked and his dad Daryl who after a couple of beers supplied by Yuan was looking pretty relaxed!

We meet this lady every year at this party.

The band and the partygoers get more lively.

The girls in these bands often look pretty bored and just go through the motions. These ones seemed to be having a good time and certainly the male members of the audience were enjoying the performance.

The costumes are mostly a weird mix of styles and they are changed several times during the show.

One more for the record.

So our weekend of Bun Bang Fai finished up on a loud and high note. Next weekend we have been invited to the celebrations of the moo ban across the main road from our village and also there’s another one happening a bit further out. The main Si Bun Ruang Amphur show happens on the 10th and 11th of June.

And to finish up here are a couple of small rockets being launched last weekend at moo bans close to us. These are only 10,000 sized ones.

Thanks for reading.