Bun Bang Fai, or the rocket festival, is a merit-making ceremony traditionally practiced by ethnic Lao people throughout much of northeast Thailand and Laos, in numerous villages and municipalities near the beginning of the rainy season. Celebrations typically include preliminary music and dance performances, competitive processions of floats, dancers and musicians on the second day, and culminating on the third day in competitive firings of home-made rockets.
Dating back to pre-Buddhist times the Bun Bang Fai is held around the May full moon, and is based on the notion that launching bamboo rockets skyward will initiate the rainy season and bring much needed water to the country's rice fields. Traditionally, rockets are constructed out of bamboos and stuffed with gunpowder, but today, many different materials are used, including PVC or metal piping. These rockets come in variety of sizes starting from foot-long bottle rockets to an absurd nine meters in length. Some of the biggest rockets are packed up to 120 kg of gunpowder and balanced precariously on a launching tower made of bamboo scaffolding.
Photo credit: Getty Images
The larger rockets often reach altitudes of several kilometers and can travel dozens of kilometers down range. Since they can be barely controlled, the rockets can go in any direction, including right through the crowd. Injuries are not uncommon. On May 10, 1999, a 120 kg rocket exploded 50 meters above ground, just two seconds after launch, killing five persons and wounding 11.
The event is judged by a panel who assess the rockets based on height and distance travelled, as well as less for spectacular vapour trails. For those unsuccessful team members whose rockets fail to launch or falls shortly after launch, the tradition is to dump them into a nearby pool of mud.
Although Bun Bang Fai is held in many villages, the largest celebration occur at Yasothon.
A rocket building team climbs the scaffolding and prepares to launch their rocket at the Bun Bang Fai festival on May 11, 2014 in Yasothon, Thailand. Photo credit: Getty Images
A rocket-building team works together to hoist their weighty, handmade rocket onto the launch scaffolding during the Bun Bang Fai festival on May 11, 2014 in Yasothon, Thailand. Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images
Miniature rockets are sold at a parade during the Bun Bang Fai Rocket festival on May 10, 2014 in Yasothon, Thailand. The Bun Bang Fai Rocket festival is celebrated annually and culminates when home-made rockets are fired into the sky in a merit-making action that welcomes the beginning of the rainy season. (Photo by Getty Images)
Covering oneself with mud is part of the tradition on the day that the rockets are launched. Sunday, 12 May, 2013. Photo credit
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