In July 2010 I went with my friends Aod and Chai to visit Aod’s family in Roi Et province. On the 10 and 11 July they celebrated the Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival in the village of Ban Kang Pla (Nong Phai) which is on the road no 2043 a few km outside of Roi Et.
On the first day they held a parade through the village with beautifully decorated floats, marching bands, and dancing groups. The parade started and ended at the village temple (Wat Charoenphol Ban Kang Pla). In the temple grounds a bouncy castle and a few trampolines were set up for the children to enjoy. All over the village were stalls with food and drinks and guys on motorbikes were selling ice cream from their side-car. Vendors would sell balloons and other souvenirs. From some little stall you could buy small rockets. We bought a couple for ourselves and in the evening we fired them into the sky in our village. These rockets don’t go “boom” nor do they burst into colourful displays. Their only purpose is to rise as high as possible into the sky to appease some goddess and ensure a good rainfall.
The parade was opened by some official in the temple were they had some reserved seating for guests of honour. Hundreds of people lined the village roads and all had a jolly good time (and some too much to drink). Quite a few people were walking around with their umbrella opened, not because they were expecting a sudden downpour, but to protect themselves from the burning sun, which was rather strong on this day. Apart from myself there were only one or two more farang at the parade. This didn’t bother me at all. I don’t mind the odd foreigner.
Occasionally the parade would come to a halt. Usually the reason was that one of the big floats got itself entangled in the power cables, which were hanging fairly low across the streets throughout the village. When this happened men with long bamboo sticks would lift up the cables to allow the float to pass underneath. Sometimes they had to climb on top of the float and fold the decorations down so that the float could pass – a bit like the mast of a sailing vessel that is passing under a low bridge.
On the second day the big rockets were sent skywards. For this purpose a rocket launcher had been erected in a meadow opposite the village on the other side of the road No 2043. This contraption looked probably not dissimilar from what the Americans used for the early Apollo missions. As is customary in space exploration each rocket launch began with a countdown. Since there were not too many clouds in the sky it was easy to follow the path of each rocket with the naked eye. Some monks were also in attendance – I assume to give a blessing for each rocket.
Again there were a few stalls with food and drink, and also some souvenirs. People would just walk about, stand to watch the launch of a rocket or sit down in the grass to have a family picnic. On the opposite end of the meadow from the launch pad was a big stage with live music. Anybody who felt like they needed to shake the hokey cokey out of their legs was to be found here.