6 June 2024

The rocket festival is back for 2023 to appease the God of Rain as well as to provide fun and excitement for people from all walks of life. 

Visit the north-eastern provinces of Thailand in May and you will be thrilled by rockets zooming up into a blue sky. The annual Rocket Festival is back for more fun and plenty of sensations, and Yasothon province is one of the best places to see these homemade creations blasting off.

The annual Rocket or “Bun Bung Fai” festival, which is part of Thailand’s agricultural culture, takes place just a month before the rice-growing season begins. The locals launch a homemade rocket into the sky to appease the Rain God and send a message that it’s time to deliver rain for the growing season.

In Yasothon province, some 500 kilometres east of Bangkok, the celebrations kick off at the Phraya Than Public Park on May 19 and continue until the official launches on May 21.

Just like the Songkran Festival, the Rocket Festival is a homecoming event, and it expects to draw 50,000 visitors to Yasothon too.

The rocket procession marches around the town allowing visitors to admire the homemade rockets up close. (Photo by Phoowadon Duagmee)

Over the first few days, the locals will leave their routine work behind, and head to the local temples for rocket making.

Yasothon residents don’t need quantum physics to make their rockets fly into the blue sky. Led by monks, who seem to have the well-kept secrets and the formulas for successful blast-off, these rocket makers put the gunpowder inside a long plastic pipe.

The rockets come in all sizes. Some are very small and cute containing one kilogram of gunpowder, others are huge and threatening with a load of up to 120 kilograms of black powder.

Apparently, the smaller rocket is fancier in the way it dashes towards the heavens, but the large one looks way too threatening. Unlike kid’s rocket candy, the look and paint are no big deal with “bung fai”—the secret lies in how to make the rocket fly high.

Once the rockets are ready, they’re loaded onto floats. Pulled by handsome bulls, the procession marches around the town allowing visitors to admire them up close. In between the floats, groups of men covered in white powder men and wearing frog masks do a weird dance with phallic and vulvic items – the symbols of fertility.

Locals in Yasothon celebrate the annual rocket festival. (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)

On launch day, Sunday, May 21, thousands of people will converge in Yasothon’s public park. The rockets blast off from time to time – big ones every half hour, small ones all the time.

You will see monks, men, women, children and people from all walks of life sitting in the shade watching the rockets roar through the sky.

The higher the rockets go, say the locals, the more rain will come. The higher the rockets go, the more delighted the gamblers, as the more they’ll win on their wagers.

However, not every rocket will fly. If it merely fizzles out on the ground, the creators will be thrown into a mud puddle and wallow in their shame until they look like walking cookies.

A launch team gets ready for the Yasothon Rocket Festival. (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)

IF YOU GO

Yasothon is about 550 kilometres from Bangkok. A public bus departs daily from Bangkok’s Northern Terminal to Yasothon. Visitors can also take a domestic flight to Ubon Ratchathani or Roi Et from where Yasothon is about an hour’s drive.

OTHER ROCKET FESTIVALS

  • Roi Et’s Pathum Rat Rocket Festival (1-2 June) and Phanom Phrai Rocket Festival (3-4 June)
  • Kalasin Province’s Kutwa Rocket Festival (20-21 May)
  • Maha Sarakham’s Phayakkhaphum Phisai Rocket Festival ((17-19 May)

By Thai PBS World Feature Desk

A local rocket builder is ecstatic as his rocket roars into the sky. (Photo by Phoowadon Duangmee)