Bun Bang Fai ….the “Rocket Festival”

Around North Eastern Thailand at this time of the year many towns and villages hold their annual Bun Bang Fai festival, often called the “Rocket Festival” in English although it is more than just big boys playing with (explosive and dangerous) big toys !

My new home in rural Ubon Ratchathani held it’s festival last weekend, with music and dancing along the main street on day 1, followed the next day by the rockets and a morlam show just outside of town. The festival is one of the highlights of the year, and is traditionally the last chance for many people to party before the hard work of the rice season really gets under way.

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Each of the muu baan (sub-districts) enter their own team, as well as teams from the schools :BF-29

(click for larger version)

Although not quite as ribald as some of the things I saw at the Phi Ta Korn (Ghost Festival) I saw at Dan Sai at few years ago some of the non dancing participants were a bit “naughty” :

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They are fertility symbols, hoping to bring a good crop this rice growing season.

On day 2 there was a morlam show, with the usual food and alcohol stalls, in one area while “safely” on the other side of a large pond was the launch area for the rockets. The music was OK, but even by early afternoon there were too many drunks around for it to be really enjoyable. Too many of them wanted to come and glad-hand the very visible farang outsider !

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The missus was not really feeling comfortable so we went for a quick look at the rockets on the other side of the pond. The rockets come in various sizes, called  from muen (“10,000”) to lan (“1,000,000”), and also Catherine wheel ones that spin around. At our festival it was only the small meun sized rockets, but at the bigger and more famous festivals such as Yasothon’s they would have many of the Lan sized rockets, 9 metres long fuelled by 120kg of highly explosive powder.

If anybody wants to read up more on the big rockets then hop over to TonyinThailand where he has details on how they are made.

The smaller rockets here were all hand made I think, certainly they were being fuelled up on site :

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Booze, karaoke, and highly explosive fuel …what could go wrong ?

Basically they are a PVC tube filled with black powder fuel, inside another metal tube with sand in between the two tubes, with a bamboo tail tied on for a bit of stability.

There was a proper, but now disused metal launch tower for the big rockets, nowadays for the smaller rockets they just lash some bamboo together and prop it up against a tree:

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NASA, eat your heart out.

Finally everything is ready and the launch pad is cleared to a safe distance of ….oh, about 20 meters will do ….

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Points are awarded for height, flight duration, and the smoke trail, naturally there will be people gambling on the results ! Of course, what goes up has to come down…… Sometimes they are fitted with a parachute, but most just fall wherever they will. Probably not a good idea to live down range ? They can reach a height of several kilometers, so one falling through the roof of your house would be a nuisance… 😦

A short video here 

And a few more pics :

 

 

A postscript : at one of the rocket festivals held further north this year, one of the rockets ignited prematurely and went flying through the crowd, killing at least one person and injuring others.

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Goodbye Bangkok ….hello Issaan

Yes I know that I have been lazy with this blog (again) and that it has been a while since I wrote anything here. That was partly because I had nothing to write about, contrary to what some people think life as an expat in the exotic orient is not full of wonderful experiences every day. Many days are the same as they are worldwide …go shopping at the supermarket, stay home and do the housework, chill out on the sofa watching TV ….

The most “exciting” thing I’ve done since my last update was the annual trek out to Immigration, wearing long trousers, a collared shirt and good shoes for the one day of the year that I have to, to get approval for another years extension of stay stamped into my passport.

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The other reason was our move from Bangkok to my girlfriend’s home town in rural Ubon Ratchathani province ! Which is actually why I have been silent for the last month or so, what with packing stuff up and being offline for the last week before moving out …Cheap Charlie me was reluctant to pay a month’s internet bill for one week’s usage 🙂

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The girlfriend was worried it would not fit in the truck…plenty of room left !

And then the house where we are staying, belonging to one of her family, has been empty for some time so we had about a week’s worth of cleaning to do before bothering about such luxuries as internet access here.

The actual move was painless, all our stuff was packed into boxes and suitcases well in advance, the pickup driver arrived early for the overnight delivery to Ubon (7000baht door to door) while we stayed at a hotel for the night and flew up the next morning. Picked up at the Ubon airport by one of the sisters, we arrived to find that one of her other sisters had opened the house for the driver and our boxes and cases were neatly stacked away 🙂

The house is, shall we say, rather “Thai” ….gaudy tiles on the floor, a semi enclosed basic kitchen, squat toilet, and thai-style bathroom with a big tub of cold water for washing ! Actually the water is not really that cold, with the ambient temperature at least mid twenties that’s as cold as the water gets and in this hot weather cold water feels pretty good ! We will be building our own home eventually, I can live with this place for a while …. I’ve stayed in worse places when working in outback Oz !

It is lacking in storage so we had to make a trip into Ubon city to buy some shelving racks and other odds and ends at Dohome, a large DIY/hardware store. I’ve seen some big Bunnings hardware stores in Australia but this was easily at least 3 times larger. You would have to take a packed lunch to see it all ! In the same trip we went into the Ubon immigration office to do the formalities about changing address, something that is supposed to be done within 24 hours but what they don’t know won’t hurt them… I have to give a big thumbs up to the staff there, a lot friendlier than the sourpusses at Chaeng Wattana in Bangkok.

When we got around to internet access we went with True’s 899 baht package offering 200/100Mbps internet plus a basic cable TV package, mainly all the usual Thai free to air channels plus some Thai language specials and a smattering of English language channels, mainly 24 hour news. I was mildly excited to see it included Australia Plus until I checked it’s program guide and saw it too was mainly news and current affairs nowadays with a dose of Home and Away thrown in …. no thanks. The True girl did try and get us to upgrade to their 1999฿ Platinum package with lots of foreign English Language shows but no thanks, I can …ahem … obtain as many movies and tv series online as I have time to watch.

I was n’t really expecting to get the advertised speeds, but I am rather happy that we are getting around 75/50Mbps here in the rural countryside (which is about twice as fast as 3BB were giving us in Bangkok) plus the cable tv, for less than we were paying in Bangkok for internet alone.

So what’s the area like ? We are living on the edge of town, so we are woken by the roosters crowing and the tractors plowing the rice paddies ready for the planting soon but that’s better than the sound of young kids racing their motorbikes down our Bangkok soi. The town is about 30 kms north of Ubon Ratchathani city, so not too far from the big smoke . It’s the center of the district administrative area so has all the local government offices, a high school, a small hospital, a medium sized Tesco Express supermarket plus the usual market in town. Oh, and three 7/11s ! One in each of the big gas stations at each end of town, plus a third in the middle of town. 7/11s are a benchmark of progress, aren’t they ? maybe not…….

While I enjoyed living in Bangkok for nearly 5 years I was getting bored with it lately, and if you have read some of my epic road trip around Australia you will know that I am not a big city fellow normally so I think that I will enjoy living here, especially once we get our house built. Exactly when that will be is up in the air, and largely dependent on the AU$/Th฿ exchange rate which is not looking too good at the moment 😦

Anyway, that almost brings me up to date. This weekend just gone was the town’s Bun Bang Fai, or Rocket Festival. Not as big as some of the other ones, like Yasothon’s famous festival, but still a highlight of the local year. I have plenty of photos to share of that but not right now, this post is long enough already. Coming soon though. Promise !

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Sak Yant

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muay thai fighter sports a full back sak yant, or magical tattoo, as he goes through his pre-bout wai kruu. He is also wearing the mongkon headband and the pa-prajiet armband to bring him luck in the ring.

Traditionally sak yants were done by monks believed to have special powers, which were passed on to the wearer of the sak yant. Nowadays you can find them being done in any tattoo shop catering for tourists, but don’t expect those to have magical powers to protect you from life’s dangers !

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Wai Kruu

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Before each bout Muay Thai fighters don the mongkon headband and perform a ceremonial dance called the wai kruu honouring their gym’s masters and teachers (kruu).

Traditionally it is not worn when entering the ring, only the fighter’s master should place it on his head and utter a quick blessing for good luck, after which the fighter performs the wai kruu. The mongkon is then taken off and usually placed on or near the corner post for luck.

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Samut Prakan

I recently went on a photowalk with the “Bangkok Photographers” Facebook group, the first one that I have been on for a while. Making the most of the BTS Skytrain line extension earlier this year, it was easy to get to Pak Nam station ( and free 🙂 ) and then a ferry across the river to the 200 year old Phra Samut Chedi and then a walk along a boardwalk through the mangroves to the old Phi Suea Samut naval fort.

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© 2019 Michael Nottingham

© 2019 Michael Nottingham

Back on the other side of the river stands the “white elephant’ Observation tower ….. finished ages ago but never opened !

The old fort was the next stop, it stands on a small island that once used to be nearer the middle of the river. Nowadays the river banks have moved so that the island is just a short distance from the west bank, but getting there still involves several flights of steps to reach a bridge. For a change, there is actually wheelchair access …..sort of, if you look at the pic above right. A 45 degree wheelchair ramp ? And some of the ramps had a step at the top too ….. Disabled access is not a high priority in Thai planning.

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Some of the doorways were definitely Hobbit sized !

© 2019 Michael Nottingham

 

All in all, a pleasant day out of Bangkok 🙂

How to get there ? The quickest and easiest way is by BTS, getting off at Pak Nam stationmap

Alternately you could catch the air-con bus #511 but it would probably be a slow trip !

Walk along the main road and then veer towards the river, the ferry pier is next to the fresh market (worth a look if you want to see what a Thai fresh market looks like ….anybody for frog ? ). 3.5 baht each way on the ferry, no admission fee to the Temple or the Fort/museum, although you will be required to sign in at the fort’s front gate.

You could also combine this with a visit to the Erawan Museum which you would pass on the way, and is between the Pu Chao and Chang Erawan stations. Just look for a giant three headed elephant, you cannot miss it ! More about that here from my visit a couple of years ago.

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Happy (Chinese) New Year

Here in Thailand there are 3 New Years to celebrate …the western one on January 1, the traditional Thai one at Songkran, and because of the large number of Thais with an ethnic Chinese background, the recent Chinese New Year. Although the latter is not an official public holiday that does not stop many shops and businesses pulling down the shutters and celebrating !

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What was a surprise to me when I visited Chinatown here in Bangkok for my first New Year was that despite the large Chinese descent population, there is not much in the way of organised parades. Some of the other cities in Thailand with smaller Chinese communities have bigger and better entertainment. Here they close off the main road and some side streets, but that is mainly for the benefit of HRH Princess Sirindhorn as she makes her way from one official venue to another during the day, and then after she has left the barricades are removed and the road becomes a big flea market.

There are some lion dances going on during the day but thats about it unless you are lucky enough to get within viewing distance of the 2 official stages which do have entertainment (and lots of speeches 😦 ) . In contrast, back home in Australia, Sydney used to have a big street parade even though it’s Chinatown and chinese community is smaller.

But never the less, as this is going to be my last Chinese New Year in Bangkok I went over to Chinatown to make the most of it.

Walking from the MRT at Hualamphong station, the first stop was Wat Traimit, home of the Golden Buddha. HRH Princess Sirindhorn always visits here in the early afternoon as part of her official CNY duties so the temple grounds are all decorated and spotless.

TIP for the Cheap Charlies …..the actual temple and the Golden Buddha itself are closed until after HRH has paid her respects, but then it is free admission for a change.

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Chinatown is full of temples, my favourite is Wat Mongkorn on Charoen Krung road but just wander off the main road and you will find one, that will probably be full of worshippers making merit over New Year.

(Click to see a bigger version of any pic)

 

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Welcome to the Year of the Pig

 

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