For many centuries, when farmers in Laos want the rain gods to hear their prayers, they fire them up to the sky in noisy rockets during the Boun Bang Fai. Also known as the Rocket Festival, the three-day merit-making ceremony marks the sixth month of the lunar calendar, which falls in May.
It’s held prior to the start of planting season so it was seen as a chance to engage in a bit of fun before the back-breaking work of farming began.
The fun starts when you arrive in the town. The festival is held in the outskirts of Vientiane Capital and in many villages across the country, some of the bigger ones are in Nason Village,Natham Village, Thongmang Village, Kern Village, and Pakkagnoung Village. Don’t be surprised if you see men wearing traditional Lao women’s clothes and makeup or elephant and horse pantomime puppets taken around the host village. You’ll also be surrounded by food stalls, loud music, and vendors selling firecrackers if you want fire some of your own.
Find the communal launch area, which is typically a wide open field, get a good grassy patch to sit on and watch all the homemade rockets launch well into the evening. Traditionally, the rockets were made by stuffing gun powder into a decorated bamboo. These days though, other materials are used and some look alarmingly large as there’s a contest for the best decorated and highest soaring rocket. There are also different types of rockets for different purposes, but the sight and sound of each of them shooting up in the sky with a cloud of smoke behind them are all similarly exhilarating.
Boun Bang Fai rockets firing. Image courtesy of the Laos Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.
For a similar elephant-focused festival, visit the Elephant Race Festival in Vietnam. For other festivals in the month of May, visit Malaysia's Sabah Fest, Thailand's Yasothon Bun Bangfai Festival, and Vietnam's Hoi An Lantern Festival.
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