Yasothon Rocketfestival – Street Parade

Written by Frank on October 26th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind


There isn’t too much in Yasothon, that would tickle the fancy of a traveler to venture out here. Located in the Northeastern corner of Thailand, Yasothon never attracted much tourist traffic. The folks here are predominantly farmers and the farming of staple foods, such as rice is their livelihood. The young generations have left their homes for the glitz, glitter and the jobs in Bangkok, Pattaya or on Phuket long ago, but once a year the all come back to where their roots are. The Bun Bang Fai Festival is their highlight on everyone’s calendar. For many generations, this multi-day festival in the month of May marks the end of their hot and dry season. The celebrations attract spectators from all neighboring provinces as well.

A combination of mythical fertility rites, some ritual begging for rain and ancient legends, created this festival and it remains almost not topable in terms of fun, joy and alcohol consumption for most.

Day 1 is always taking place on a Friday, when folks meet, roads in town are closed and mighty stages are being built. The street party starts before sunset and continues non-stop well into Saturday, people gather again after a short rest to watch the gigantic street parade on Day 2. Saturday belongs to dance troupes, huge parade floats and marching bands. Every part of the province and surrounding areas sends their best performers. This street parade will be judged team by team and it takes place on the major road in town. This report deals with the parade only. It is the start of a SIAMPEDIA trilogy of the famous rocket festival! The middle part will handle the stage parties in-depth and give you some additional information about Yaso, as the locals call their town proudly. Day 3 will have the grand finale with the actual rocket firing. 10 m projectiles of several hundred pounds weight, soar into the sky (or explode on the ground). Stand by for the final part of our trilogy, when we team up with the national TV crews to give you the real insight of the rocket shootings with SIAMPEDIA’s All-area-access privileges.

The parade floats are XXL in size and very detailed.

The assembled floats host riders as well, they are decorated in every detail and appear solid built. Final assemblies take place, after the riders have entered their float, in order to cover up the chassis. Floats are being used in this parade by the score, the festival actually reflects Laotian customs and is being held elsewhere as well. The folks in the Isaan are of Laotian descent and treasure this. Thailand rules this neck of the woods for generations, but the spoken language is Lao, not Thai! Countless efforts by the government over the years have brought these people another language as spoken in schools. This did not prevent them from keeping up their Laotian traditions, language spoken at home and with friends and their awesome festivals. This festival is one of the few naturally grown ones, not instigated by TAT (Tourist Authority of Thailand) and the likes!

So prices aren’t inflated, no foreigner gets ripped for a few extra Baht, everything is moderatly priced and hotels are cheap, but should be booked way ahead of time. This is their peak season, don’t be surprised if they are fully booked by March.

Dance troupes from every village around sport their prettiest dancers to perform on the road, nothing I’ve witnessed before, does come close to this grace and beauty. No stage, no lights, no show enhancement with lights or from tapes – these dancers are very special, because they are true amateurs!

Signage announces each new group. I presume their village name is shown in a fancy script on it.

The Queen Sirikit is always proudly displayed by the marching beauties, she is loved by the crowd. 

This little Isaan princess was riding in her special float, trailed by an enormous tourage. Dancers followed her closeby and the parade slowly inched on.

TV Thailand broadcasts this parade nationwide. Over the years, there were more and more moviecrews, TV-cameras and photographers present. My first Bun Bang Fai was in 1999, when I was one of a handful of non-locals here. Back in those days, foreigners were stared at by the kids and smiled at by the ladies. One had a serious problem to stay sober, as many bystanders were drinking and inviting others to participate. The mood changed a bit over the years, but the Bun Bang Fai remains a time, when every local person of age is hammered.

The winning dance team in the competition did include several tricks in their wonderful performance, on an invisible command, they simultaneously fell to the ground and hugged the hot asphalt. While bystanders protected themselves with huge umbrellas, these ladies remained in this position for a while!

Dressed up kids were also a part of this parade and show, surely hard for them to endure this ordeal in the melting heat of midday.

Laotian style marching bands sometimes numbered over a hundred musicians, their thunderous drumming was surely heard for miles.

More and more smiles were given generously all day long, just for the fun and not for money (like in so many other instances). People here have a happy and friendly attitude, maybe that is why I traveled the Isaan so frequently.

Dancing people were to be seen everywhere and many spectators joined in.

Young boys with make-up paraded as well, followed by some real drag-queens and cross-dressers. A Kathoey (Ladyboy) contest for the crowd was to follow a few hours after the parade, but that wasn’t important to me. 

Were all the good looking ladies on the sidewalks real ladies? Some of them surely, but not all!

The parade here goes on for hours, for me it was time to get some minor sleep in the afternoon, because this coming night was going to be a rough one, with my friends and their rocket firing team “We love Yaso” on stage all night!

The full length of the high street here was full of huge loudspeaker towers, flanking the rocket teams stages. 1000s of watts of sound waited for the evening and I surely didn’t want to upset my friends. Most of them already practiced dancing and drinking last night, when I drove the 500+ kilometers from Bangkok to come here. This night I could not let them down!

Read about the Stage Party with thousands of party-goers on a street with a hundred or so sound stages in the next part of the Bun Bang Fai report!


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