We had a great Bun Bang Fai in our small part of Isaan this year. Bun Bang Fai is an Isaan rocket festival that happens every May/June with the vague aim of encouraging rains to fall for the upcoming rice season, and just by chance also includes a lot of drinking, dancing, rockets (of course) and generally having a good time (snuk/สนุก). The street party usually happens first and the second day is when they let off the rockets, with bets being made as to their performance. If you want more information about the background to this occasion, which is only held in Laos and the northeast of Thailand a region called Isaan/Esan, you can click on this link HERE.
For the first time since we moved here our own small village put on its own street party and rockets and my Thai family plus friends and neighbours were fully involved. The following photos take you with us on a Bun Bang Fai journey over a couple of weeks extracted from my very active Facebook site HERE, a sort of Isaan mini-blog, that you should join if you have a personal connection or interest in the area. I promise that you will mostly find useful day by day information and hardly any selfies or photos of food.
19 May 2018
Chung Noy (Chung is a title meaning “builder”), the lovely guy who built our pebblecrete driveway, invited us to the Bun Bang Fai party happening at his village.
As Noy’s moo ban is close to Noi’s Kitchen HERE (always a pleasure to see Greg and Noi) we decided to have lunch there first with a couple of beers, as it had been a hot day and I am always mindful about dehydration 🙂 and then join Noy for his party.
We passed the same houseboat I photographed on a previous occasion but this time it had its net out. You can just make out the faint lines hanging under the bamboo poles. Any fish caught are held in the netted area in front of the doorway.
I really enjoy these small intimate village parties. They are pure Thai – nothing to do with getting dressed up for tourists (a la northern hill tribes) and performing. You will most likely be the only farang there and are just a spectator to part of everyday life.
There is always at least one ladyboy (two in this photo) who seem to have clearance to dress far more provocatively than the real girls, who are usually pretty conservative in Isaan.
I spotted this old water pump. I am not sure it is still working. I should have found out because it would look great in the garden. Next time we pass I will ask for sure or maybe ask Chung Noy to check it out.
Gaun and Chung Noy’s wife who was all dressed up for the party.
The hat she has is a rough copy of a bird mask worn at a wonderful festival happening in the next province to us in mid-June called Phi (spirit) Ta Khon. I have missed it every year (last year we were in hospital for Peng’s operation) but am hopeful of getting there this year. More information HERE. It is a unique event so add it to your must do if in the area that time.
The village had scattered these small flower shrines around the streets.People put out iced water in colourful plastic pots, which party goers can either dip into or throw over each other or both. A freshly ploughed paddy field in the background.
This water station followed the dance group through the village.
Part of the “ritual” of Bun Bang Fai is that many people make a fermented drink, which Gaun calls Isaan whisky (but it’s nothing like the real whisky thank god). It has a yeast base and ends up slightly bubbly – like a sweet beer (almost a Spy for locals reading) and it’s pretty good if you get a decent batch. I won’t say there was anything other than water in those pots because Isaan home brew is illegal as it is very alcoholic and no tax is paid, however I noticed that the water was pretty cloudy 🙂
The woven sticky rice containers you see everywhere in Isaan, and steaming baskets etc are made either from bamboo or the stems of this plant. They both look much the same once woven but this is a much hardier material and an item made from this will cost you 50% more. Some villages specialise in making this variety including this one.
Every street party is the same. The formal dance group at the front, the casual dancers/drinkers in the middle with the average age decreasing and the drunkness increasing the closer you get to the music truck at the back.
Many villages have informal security guys with large wooden battens (one party I went to they had guns!) and they very quickly get involved if there’s any trouble.
Chung Noy and granddaughter. If you want any pebblecrete to smarten up your plain concrete this is the man to do it. Brilliant. We turned up and next thing Noy had bought us beer! I am always slightly overwhelmed by the kindness of some of the people I have met who have very little but share generously.
The final dance group photo.
20 May 2018
Day one of a Bun Bang Fai (Isaan rocket festival) event is a street party with a procession through the village while Day two involves launching the rockets with betting as to how long they keep going. We called into a local moo ban south of Si Bun Ruang (Ban Sa-At) because we heard they were putting on a good show and weren’t disappointed.
The rockets are graded in size from 5,000 to 1,000,000. The ones set off in most of the small moo bans (villages) are 10,000 but at Ban Sa-At they had six 100,000’s, which is why so many people turned up for the event.
Just to give you a comparison of sizes. This photo above is of a 10,000 rated rocket. The casing is open and the guy is making sure the propellant (whatever it is) is solidly rammed into the case.
And this is a 100,000. It is a five man job to move. I have seen a one million rated rocket but missed getting a video of it being launched. The party in Si Bun Ruang town on 9/10 June might well have a couple of million ones this year.
A group of monks from the village temple had the day off to enjoy the event. See the 10,000 rated rockets leaning against the tree on the left.
This is a 100,000 passing a 10,000 and you can see how much bigger it is (and heavy). They can weight up to 100 kilos.
A rope and pulley system with half a dozen guys pulling it up.
The full launch team in action.
The rocket is securely tied to the supports to ensure it fires vertically, which is all good news for the spectators. The bamboo tail is greased with dish-washing liquid to help it slip the ties. The firing is done using a battery not a lit fuse.
Two smaller ones being put in place. This is a team event both in the construction and the launch.
The monks moved for the actual launch. Faith in Buddha only goes so far!
These are a couple of small catherine wheels and I missed getting a video of their launch.
You might have see YouTube videos of the huge ones they set off elsewhere in Isaan. Amazing. An example HERE:I love it when the camera pans back and you realise the person taking the video is A LONG WAY back, which is very sensible!
The wheel rockets have a parachute. Gaun calls them umbrellas, which could be the actual Thai translation as they often have one name for multiple things (a waterfall and a bore/well has the same name).
No age restrictions here. Got money – how many do you want?
One for Gary Emms, a friend who will ship one back to his farm in Australia as soon as he wins the lottery.
25 May 2018
I knew the morning coffee run at the farm might not turn out as planned after Gaun asked me if I was hungry and when I said “no” she said “That’s OK. Thai whisky come soon”. It is only made this time of year, that I have seen anyway. I am here to tell you that the home brew made from yeast and sticky rice, brewed one day and drunk the next day packs a delayed punch. I did have photos but because making home brew is illegal (and none of my Thai family was making any) I thought I would be careful and removed them.
With plenty of good spirits happening inside and out my Isaan family turned the farmhouse into a dick making factory (known in polite company as phallic symbol production).
Our village is having its first Bun Bang Fai party in four years tomorrow and this is a time of dressing weirdly, lots of food, drink, music and, in the same tradition as rural communities anywhere, examples of fertility are on display. If the kiddies haven’t caught up with sex education at school yet they will tomorrow
Softwood cut for stage one of dick production. I have had some Isaan whisky on an empty stomach and it all seems a bit weird on so many levels!
These will be carried at the street party tomorrow with smaller ones available as neck ornamentation.
Small coconuts put to a new use. I am proud to say that the paint was donated by meas I like to to support local craftsmen and culture when I can 🙂
I suspect tomorrow will end up being a big day. We are off to the Friday markets soon to buy pork for a BBQ fry-up and I know there’s more Isaan whisky floating around. I will stick to beer.
26 May 2018
Our moo ban had its Bun Bang Fai (Rocket festival) today and the whole family and friends were very much involved.
The day started early with dress-up and make-up (girls AND boys), the BBQ was fired up for pork and the beer started flowing straight after my morning coffee! The street party itself got going early afternoon and ran straight into a thunderstorm and rain that lasted most of the rest of the day. As Bun Bang Fai is all about encouraging rainfall for the new rice season I think we did a good job.
I have shared a few of my favourite photos. Regular readers will know of my love of capturing the characters in my Isaan life through their faces and this set of photos is mostly that rather than of the party itself, which I have done before.
Lud scraping out coconut meat from the shells to form the basis of a dessert made from sticky rice, coconut and bananas steamed in banana leaves. Yummie.
If you could bottle that smile………..
Gaun who was going for a wild hair look today. Her make-up ended being pretty wild too as you will see.
Friends and neighbours messing around at the family home.
I am not sure what Gaun’s mama made of all of this!
Very tasteful Yuan. For those who missed an earlier observation, Bun Bang Fai is about fertility so the ornamentation although a little unusual is related to that 🙂
Another rather nice mum and daughter photo.
Age is no barrier to having a bit of makeup day like this. Gaun’s niece’s daughter.
Peng helping another cousin get in the spirit.
Peng my stepdaughter at her best.
Lud was our token ladyboy today. Men dressing up as women is very normal at these sort of events.
Lud was the designated cook too. A BBQ and a dress – a nice balance!
This is Tham, one of Gaun’s brother-in-laws, who helps run the family farm. Cooking is a community affair.
Me and the wife. Keep that image of me in mind as you go to the next photo.
Oh. There was a second token ladyboy! Having been through the makeup process I am SO happy to be male. My morning routine of a shave (optional) and hair comb (optional) vs this lot…..I know where my preferances lie.
Not my usual family shot. A neighbour donated the dress. Thank you…..I think!
I haven’t seen eggplants used in that way before!
This is Bun, the lady we bought our most recent land from, in her full costume.
The official party gathered to kick-start the procession. I was invited to join them and I think made a positive impression because I did have my makeup and skirt on by then.
Our moo ban’s dancing group. Alway stunning.
Imagine walking around the whole village in those shoes.
One of two music trucks leaves the temple to start the procession around the moo ban (village).
Yuan, Lud and a lovely niece called Thare (daughter of Gaun’s older brother Jun, for regulars). Oh Lud. Not a photo to show the blokes at the pub 🙂
Pick the odd one out. Actually looking at the photo there are a few candidates for that title.
Gaun’s niece Thare and she has brought a friend.
I said it before at Songkran (Thai New Year) about a similar group photo that Thais have the ability to be incredibly photogenic. What a great bunch of kids. They asked me to take the shot.
Security was provided by Tea, the son of a neighbour.
Are we having fun?
This is Jan. We bought our original block of land from her.
Kids getting a free ride.
Part of the Bun Bang Fai ritual is to dump your mates into the mud.
The dance group heads off into the village. Love the vivid colours.
I have to say that I have moments when I think that my retired life in Thailand is nothing like I thought it would be 🙂
27 May 2018
A brief return to the Bun Bang Fai topic with a few of my favourite photos from Day 2 (last Sunday) of our village’s party and a live music venue we went to afterwards.
Our village is very small and only had a few rockets to set off and they were only tiny ones, the biggest being rated at 5,000 (one million being the largest, which I hope we get to see the weekend after next). Still it was of interest for all ages.
Kids lighting a baby rocket bought at the local stall.
The fuse is lit…..RUN. Very sensible.
Both “mayors” of our two moo bans were thrown into the pond. One of the rockets exploded in mid-air and eventually the blame has to fall somewhere!
Never too young for a couple of rockets.. Those boots must have been borrowed because the boy in blue, Phum, is claiming them back.
This is a neighbour’s daughter who has set herself up with a small mobile food and drink stall.
I was looking pretty normal that day.
Gaun in blue for the dance party we went to after.
The party starts. Gaun and friend at the front of the stage.
Very much a family affair as it should be.
Some big characters though.
A face moment captured.
Many our friends in the village followed us over to this party at a moo ban who spend a lot of money on their celebrations and know how to have a good time.
I can’t remember seeing female police officers in Thailand before.
The police were there in big numbers, a dozen towards the end, although by the time we left they hadn’t been called into action. These are heavy drinking events and although usually pretty safe, young Thais in particular are quick to get into fights and, as loyalties are strong here, they can turn into mass rumble.
No fighting here. Some of “my” lot in front of the stage.
The lead singer of the group, which had three singers and two dancing girls.
In Isaan these ladies often look pretty sexy but in almost every occasion they wear a full body suit. Issan is still a pretty conservative society and in this sort of situation you won’t see the behaviour or dress sense you’d get in Bangkok or the beach party places.
The support dancers.
Snuk is a Thai word meaning “fun” and it is central to a lot of what they aim to get out of life. I think it’s working here.
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