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 HERE, HERE 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.