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A Motorbike with Accessories

The start of our Bun Bang Fai Festival

I am going to cover three days of activities for Bun Bang Fai (the Isan rocket festival) in our own moo ban (village). This will be different from other posts I have written on the subject because it shows our personal involvement with preparing for the street party, the procession itself and then the rockets on the final day. We weren’t just observers this time but hands on.

Friday Day One – decorating the saling

A saling in Isan terms is a motorbike with sidecar. You see them everywhere and they provide a cheap alternative to a car for transporting people or produce. Half of Isan’s businesses are based on a saling selling drinks, food, knives, pancakes, ice cream and pretty well anything else you can think of at a mini-shop level.

This year our moo ban was planning a more extensive Bun Bang Fai celebration with a full street party incorporating both traditional and less traditional (you’ll see what I mean later) dancers, two music trucks and on the following day lots of rockets. Gaun decided that our street would enter a decorated saling to act as a base for a group of her friends who don’t mind a party or two.

For those of you who want to better understand Isan things rather than just floating on the top of local life here is one to add to your knowledge base. The lowest level of urban hiarachy in Isan is called a ‘koom’ (my phonetic spelling of Gaun’s pronounciation). A koom is basically a sub-group of the village formed by the houses within the grid pattern that forms most Isan villages. The next level up is the ‘moo ban’ itself.

I only pass this on because money for certain aspects included in events like Bun Bang Fai are funded directly by us villagers and it is collected at the koom level. This year we contributed 200 baht (Gaun insists that I pay no more for anything than a local would) and that went to fund our very own rocket that was entered into a competition (Gaun calls it an ‘exam’) between the various kooms that make up the moo ban.

You can see the grid pattern of our moo ban (actually there are two moo bans next to each other but you get the point) in the photo above. Each koom is basically determined by the houses within the squares. More information than you ever wanted to know but there are some Isan enthusiasts out there and you won’t find this stuff on your typical tourist blog.

Gaun arranged to borrow a saling from a friend (Bun, the lady we bought out latest piece of land from) and on the Friday before the weekend party it arrived at the farm to be decorated. Previous to this work had been happening to carve two large ‘dicks’, the technical expression I believe, from some wood that had been left over from some local land clearing.

The fertility cymbols that are pretty evident in the Bun Bang Fai event is all connected to wishing for a productive wet season with the planting of new rice, the result of which is so central to the Isan culture as well as its food. The photo below show Gaun’s hands-on approach to dick carving helped by nephews Game and Tom 🙂

Gaun in charge. That’s Game on the right, Yuan’s son, recently discharged from two years conscription in the army and happy to be home.

I can’t believe I am showing you before and after photos of Bun Bang Fai dicks! I must have been here too long and the heat and SangSom (a terrific and cheap Thai rum) is getting to me.

And this is going in the Isan farmers Pirelli calendar. Yuan here.  

On the Friday we set ourselves up at the farm with music on the back of Chang our pick-up (Chang is Thai for elephant and nickname for the truck), food and beer for me and the ladies and lao khao (Isan rice whisky) for the guys.

BBQ’ed pork was on the lunch menu with farang BBQ sauce for me! The lady next to Peng is Puk, a niece of Gaun.

Deadly lao khao rice whisky. 110 baht for a large bottle. Rough as……. 

Yuan carving up the pork in the farm’s ‘kitchen’.

The saling in its original state.

Family and friends all helping out. It is this inclusiveness that makes the observation of life here so enjoyable.

Platting coconut leaves to form an apron around the base of the saling. This is Tom, the son of Gaun’s older sister Bear and her husband Tham.

Mama looks on. Although she rarely talks she observes everything and takes it all in. 

Duk Dik WSD (world’s scruffiest dog) is part of the support team.

Adding long beans threaded onto string to the display.

And here’s Peng looking far too good for the farm 🙂

Yuan had made fresh flower garlands for the dick highlight of the saling. My life has changed a little from my observations as a senior government employee in Australia 🙂

It wasn’t all about phallic symbols. The saling was to be a reflection of the produce growing locally this time of year. Gaun here with early banana flowers.

Lud with some very sour fruit, the name of which is a mystery. Peng pinched some of these and was soon tucking into them with dried chilli powder and sugar. Each to their own.

Long beans, mangos, jackfruit and bananas.

Yuan testing out the rideability.

And Gaun being Gaun dancing to Isan music. A huge love of life.

Lud doing some painting. I just liked the photo. Notice the mini-dick, recently painted and drying!

An exotic Isan fruit.

A bit of Christmas thrown in for colour.

Mama wondering where she went wrong 🙂

The result at the end of the day. All ready for our street party the next day.

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  1. Jenny Adams

    Hi Tony, Things haven’t changed that much – there are dicks there and dicks here……

    • Tony in Thailand

      I know Jenny. Funny you mentioned dicks. It was only yesterday that Gaun called out ‘can you help me’ and when I arrived she had the wheelbarrow ready and said what I thought was ‘dig’. I didn’t know why she needed help to dig, because she never has in the past, but I am a relaxed hubbie so off we went. It turned it she wasn’t talking about ‘dig’ but ‘dick’. We collected our two dicks from a neighbours house, where they had been sitting since they were used in the main Si Bun Ruang street procession (we missed out because we were taking Peng to Chiang Mai). I didn’t get a photo but here I was pushing two dicks in a wheelbarrow down the street of our village! Now that’s something you won’t see in Canberra. The dicks are now safely stored at the back of the rice hut ready for next year 🙂 Did you see my email on your return from holidays? Cheers Tony

      • Jenny Adams

        Hi Tony, I did get your email and I will respond shortly. I love to hear all of your happenings. I do look at the blogs (albeit very late) and I see most of the Facebook things although I rarely go into Facebook these days. Jenny

        • Tony in Thailand

          I wasn’t being pushy for a response. I have a vague memory of the quantity of emails waiting in the mailbox on ones return from time away. I was just checking I hadn’t disappeared In the flood.

          I hope your time out of the office was for fun and will await the update.


  2. Greg Carroll

    Like franklin, Yuri and I are waiting for the Pirelli Calendars to be available. She has asked for equal representation so you will need to get a few of Guan’s male relatives together please Tony. Another great post Tony – Yuri’s comments & “local” insights adding to the pleasure of immersing ourselves in Thai culture through your great photos and, as usual, self effacing commentary.

    • Tony in Thailand

      I am very pleased you enjoyed it Greg and Yuri.

  3. Jim Busby

    Those are some pretty big dicks, uh, I mean Phalluses. Makes me feel pretty small about now. Gives new meaning to the term “getting wood.” Not a fan of the rice whiskey like my Korean friends’ Soju, but, yes it does have a kick. I think I would stick with the SangSom for that added kick. Duk Dik looks almost groomed at this stage, and may loose his title as WSD, if things don’t change in his favor. Another great festive party, just like your Songkran posting. Things just keep getting better every day there. Two phalluses beats one, you guys will win first prize (look like red torpedoes, or hotdogs). It was the Memorial Day Holiday 3 day weekend for us, so some of my Biotech friends and I took off to go mountain biking. That was, until one of them crashed, and we ended up at the hospital, and thinking his wife is going to kill him. Your celebration looks safer, maybe! Oh, yes, here’s hoping your rocket, well I mean the one you entered in the competition (exam), goes off well.



    • Tony in Thailand

      I keep telling myself that it’s all about quality not quantity and I sort of feel better 🙂

      Lao khao is absolutely revolting to my taste. I did try some in the days when we were building the house and neither my head nor stomach enjoyed the experience. There is a Chinese herb packet you can buy to put in the bottle and leave for a couple of days, which turns it red and is supposed to soften it. Well, I tried a packet leaving it for a month and it was still undrinkable. Locals can pick up a shot glass for breakfast or on the way home at any of the moo ban shops for 10 baht. A bit like the shots of espresso coffee Italians thrown back in the morning from coffee shops – cheaper to buy if you don’t sit down!

      Your eyesight is spot on. Dik Dik had been groomed by Yuan and Puk (it’s a two person job – one to hold and one to cut and wash). He will quickly revert to the WSD so I am not too worried at the outcome when the Guinness Book of Records next visit.

      The dicks were in high demand from the local ladies and many photos were taken, most of which I better not post on the blog! I have published a dick update today under the ‘Photo of the Day’ on the home page with some good news for the currently out-of-work dicks that you might enjoy. I am also probably having a catch-up day on the computer so Day 1 of the moo ban party may make an appearance on the blog this afternoon.

      Based on your mountain bike experiences it is not something I intend to take up anytime soon. You and your friends might like to mountain bike here where hills are a rarity and accidents less common! The 1km ride from home to the farm is dead flat and much more the sort of thing I would recommend.

      I don’t think our rocket did very well. It wouldn’t launch for a start because the battery that fires it went flat and things didn’t improve from there. My lot were in full party mode by then and the rockets are a side event to the main attraction of having fun.

      I will reply to your email today while I am computer based.

      Cheers Jim.


  4. Jenny

    I’m really enjoying your posts Tony. I find the explanation of the Moo Baan layout very interesting, and exactly the sort of stuff I want to know about. We’re planning our 70 day stay, due to begin June 25th. I’m very fond of Chiang Mai, and hubby loves Krabi, but I must say that when I read your posts, I feel a bit of time in the Isaan area should be definitely on our agenda. We are missing so much.

    • Tony in Thailand

      Thank you Jenny. I am pleased you are enjoying the detail as well as the stories themselves. I think it is more interesting to understand a little more about the underlying aspects of a country one is visiting.

      Isan requires more planning than Chiang Mai or a coastal destination in that the sights are around but they are more spread out and sometimes well hidden. The countryside on the whole is flatter and a lot less interesting than the far north Chiang Mai/Rai and Nan. I love it for the lifestyle it offers me more than the attractions, which are less important once you settle into a place longer term.

      One of the most spectacular events that’s happening in Isan while you’re in Thailand is the Candle Festival to kick off Buddhist Lent in Ubon Ratchathani. If you haven’t heard of it there’s lots of info online like this one here Nok Air have a direct flight from CM to Ubon I believe. I went a couple of years ago and it is amazing. Book accommodation ASAP as the place ends up literally fully booked (mostly Thais from around the country). Not trying to be your travel agent but it came to mind.

      If you are thinking of exploring our part of Isan around Udon Thani in the northeast let me know and I can point out some of the best places to see outside the major urban areas.

      I bet you are counting down the days.

      Cheers. Tony

  5. franklin r bond

    Hi Tony,
    I’ll keep an eye out for one of those Pirelli calendars! All this makes our lives here in Australia look pretty bland by comparison. The use of simple things at hand to create items for a festival deserve credit, and admiration.
    Love the photo’s and commentary. Just one question? What happens to the old dicks from the previous year, or do the termites get to them?
    Cheers Frank

    • Tony in Thailand

      I will let you know when the calendars are on the shelves 🙂 Cheers for the comment Frank. I am always pleased when the photos capture an event so that others can enjoy too.

      We have several dicks from last year hanging in trees in the garden to help educate young visitors 🙂 The two large ones from this year are evidently hanging underneath a neighbour’s house so that the termites don’t get to them (first thing I look for when I wake in the morning) ready for another outing next year. I will find them because that’s got to be worth a photo!


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