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Bun Bang Fai is an exclusively Isaan (a region in the north east of Thailand) rocket festival held in June every year to encourage the rains to come for the rice season. I say exclusive in a Thai sense. The festival originated in Laos, which explains why it now forms part of Isaan culture as the people here came from Laos in one of those historical  movements of population.

No problems this year as the wet season has arrived early and we have been having regular rain for many weeks now. Yuan and Lud, my sister and brother in law who run half the family farm, were having problems actually getting the paddies ready to plant the first rice crop because the soil was too wet and the small tractor was getting bogged!

Bun Bang Fai takes place over a number of weeks. For us it starts off with local festivals run by each village (moo ban) surrounding the town of Si Bun Ruang. Some of these are quite impressive events such as the one I wrote about HERE and others pretty casual. The celebration takes place over two days with a procession through the village with formal dancing and loud music followed by a day of launching the rockets, usually with more music, the next day. At the end of this process a large combined procession is held on the main street of the town lasting several hours. Larger rockets are then fired off the second day (today as I write). A small rocket launch can be found here:

This rocket is rated at 10,000 while the big ones you may see at the larger festivals in Isaan go to 1 million in size.

Yesterday was the street procession in Si Bun Ruang and we went there as we do every year. This year we were joined by friends from Udon Thani who hadn’t yet been to a Bun Bang Fai. I have covered this festival on several occasions on the blog so I won’t do it in detail again.The reason I enjoy them so much is that it provides the opportunity to capture some beautiful scenes and more specifically some characterful faces, which provide a uniqueness to each year’s event. As you will see from the photos I find just as much material from scanning the crowd as I do the magnificent dancing displays.

The following are my best photos of the day and I won’t be adding much in the way of words because this post isn’t intended to be an instructional tourist type guide to the festival. Search on Bun Bang Fai in my blog if you want so see previous posts or there’s some very good information on this site HERE.

The formal part of the day started with a mass display of dancing at the local Amphur office, which has large public land area. I will only add one photo of this event because there were so many people it was hard to get a quality photo of the event. Also all the participants then formed the procession down the main street, which allowed better access for viewing. This year was a smaller event than 2016. We have a new head of the Amphur (a sort of city council) and he didn’t want the festival at all this year! However there was such an outcry that he had to back off. I don’t know if this was as a result of the cost involved or connected to the mourning period for the king (all government officials are still dressed in black).

The dance groups setting up for the display. It actually rained just before the start so the purpose of the event (encouraging the wet season) was demonstrated live.

The large dragon floats in the background arrive every year. They are hired I think from Yasothon, which hosts the largest Bun Bang Fai in Thailand but that may not be correct.

After the formal opening we walked to the main street, which had been closed for the day. Lud buying a lottery ticket in front of our truck called Big Chang (elephant).

On the way lottery tickets were purchased in celebration of the arrival of our new number plates after two months plus of running on temporary red plates. 5189 is the number you need to be looking for, which will get you a big payout on the 16th, the next draw date. You can read about our car purchase HERE.

Although there were fewer dance groups the ones that did participate had put a lot of effort into their routine and they were larger in number of participants.

There is a judging of the groups with money and awards handed out at the end. If you go to one of these festivals it is best to base yourself close to the judging area because each dance group will stop there and go through their entire routine of several songs so you get to see it all.

This is a community event. Lots of youngsters but the older ladies get involved too, which is great to see.

The colours of the day aren’t just in the costumes. Balloons here.

Normally the horse displays are well used and the same ones make an appearance every year. The lady and man are usually riding together. This one was different because it is a new very fine plastic horse and the lady is at the back in a sort of chariot.

I believe the extensive displays of horses relate to an ancient legend called the Ma Kham Lai ritual, where villagers ask for the long deceased ruler and his horse to appear once again. As always there is almost no information available so I may be wrong.

So I decided to give her a moment of glory and she is worth it.

I love capturing a crowd scene like this. It is nothing in itself but you pick up on individual faces that stand out The girl on the left and the one in the centre stand out.

This is the farmer next to the family farm who supplies all my limes. A lovely bloke.

He has a music system and it was loaded on one of the trucks in this festival rented out for 12,000 baht (A$480) for the day. We topped him up with beer before sending him on his way.

You could take closeups of these beautiful dancers all day – and I did! The advantage of a 250mm telephoto lense and good editing software.

Starting a routine.

Guys and girls.

I love this shot. This guy turns up regularly and is always worth a couple of photos. You will find him in my previous Bun Bang Fai post – link provided earlier.

Girl and guy on horse together this time.

A face in the crowd. Great. I wouldn’t recommend his dentist though.

Promoting recycling. You’d never guess would you 🙂

Endless selfie photos and one taken by a farang. Note the phallic object – a popular theme of the festival all to do with renewal and fertility I guess.

For regular readers you will be delighted to see that Gaun has a new but same as the old red hat! You can read how she lost the original HERE.

Gaun’s hat blown into a lake last weekend in the hills of Loei.

On the theme of hats I enjoyed the sight of these three for some reason.

The third dance group in action. The work that goes into these costumes is amazing. New every year.

Serious and happy.

Peng, my step daughter joined us for the day. She has some mobility problems so a small chair was bought for the occasion.

Umbrellas all round. For sun, rain or just for show.

I caught the moment. A joke shared with a friend maybe.

You can’t miss this group.

The male version. This group actually did a costume change mid-presentation in a sort of mobile change room.

This lady had a brilliant soft, gentle face. I had a few goes at trying to capturing it and I think I did here.

You will often see people made up in black at these festivals. I know that rolling people in the mud (if available) is part of the village events but whether that’s connected here I don’t know.

And a slightly classier female version.

Man with buffalo. There is obviously a strong rural theme to the festival.

This guy is a regular every year with his two mates.

Just to give you an idea of the size of these floats.

We stopped to buy some beer and the store had a table reserved for good customers so we ended up with a base for the day. More beer was purchased! This is Tik, our friend from Udon and Gaun of course.

Starting another dance routine.

No words required.

One more selfie. Great faces. You will see braces on many young Thai girls. At 40,000 baht over two years it shows that someone has a bit of spare money.

Having a good time.

The final display – a cooling shower provided by the local fire brigade.

Thanks to our friends Daniel, Daryl and Tik for helping make this a special outing.

The last task of the afternoon. Buying a late lunch. No event is complete without food and the occasional drink of course.

We are about to head off to see the rockets this afternoon so I may publish an updated YouTube video here of a launch if they are doing the bigger ones. It is a cloudy day so may not be the best conditions to capture the event. Time will tell.

I am back! I didn’t get a decent video so I have published one from 2016 below, which will give you an idea of what the rocket launch looks like.

I took a few photos too:

A smaller event again this year. Only 12 rockets being launched and no 1 million sized ones 🙁 The process of preparing the final rocket is a group effort. Two guys smoking.

Ramming the powder into the tube. These are 100,000 sized versions.

Gaun tells me that this is a mixture of crushed charcoal and something explosive you buy at the local market!!! It will probably be right as that explanation sounds so Thai. I will check it out next time we are buying food 🙂

Monks get everywhere.

The tent next door to the previous one had a monk actually helping out and smoking at the same time. Not a combination I would be trying around something that is designed to explode.

The launch site. Only baby rockets so the small frame closest to us being used.

The rocket arrives.

And is tied into place.

A bunch of leaves is used to go between the rope and the stick to give extra friction and also washing up liquid is applied to the stick as you can see here at a different event.

The end result is something like this if it all comes together. A lot of money exchanges hands over the course of the day as people bet on various aspects of the rocket’s performance.

Checking out the result.

You have to be over 18 with a responsible adult to buy the rockets sold everywhere this time of year. Or not! In Australia unless things have changed fireworks are banned altogether. 

Small 18 year olds.

A failed launch brought the tech team back for an assessment. Second attempt successful.

Thanks for reading.