Rockets From The Fields
Over the years I had heard and read about the rocket festival in Isan (North East Thailand) but somehow never found the time to check it out. It certainly sounding intriguing and exciting, not to say dangerous as some of those selfmade contraptions occasionally exploded too soon or fell on top of audience members…
The reason according to various guide books and newspaper articles was to convince the rain gods to squeeze out a few clouds before the start of the planting season.
I guess we can blame pre-Buddhist fertility rites held to celebrate and encourage the coming of the rains, although I do like my sister’s remark; they’re doing this just to have a good time?
Considering how keen Thai people are on finding a reason to have a fun time that is probably a more honest reason for going through all this effort, after all building these rockets takes time and money!
What I didn’t know was that are there different kind of rockets and I’m not talking about changing bamboo to pvc pipes. The standard ‘Bang Fai’ has the traditional rocket shape and is made in various sizes. Rumors that Werner Von Braun spent some time in the 1930’s in Isan are probably not true, any resemblance with German WW2 rockets is purely coincidental!
But in Kuchinarai the local people (Phu Tai) have produced a ‘Bun Bangfai Talai Lan’, a circular shaped rocket, like a bamboo cartwheel, that corkscrews up in the air like an up-country flying saucer!
The reason for this completely different design is unclear, one explanation is restricting the height because of the danger to overflying aircraft. However that begs the question why only the rockets of Kuchinarai and not everywhere?! The mystery remains…
Other safety measures though have been implemented at all rocket festivals, the audience is no longer allowed to be anywhere near the actual launching area which is probably a (very!) good thing.
My old friend Tim had invited us to visit his place in Kuchinarai and wander over to the festival, an offer I couldn’t refuse. Therefore on May 19 we drove to nearby Kut Wa where the festivities would take place and indeed while walking to the main area we already saw one of those cartwheel rockets going up, quite a sight even from a large distance. A couple of fields were transformed into a fun fair with heaps of food stalls (of course!), people selling stuff (sunshade umbrellas!) and the occasional blast of thundering Molam music which I’m sure changed my molecular structure considerably…
A commentator kept on chattering about the various rocket teams (competition, gambling!) and admonishing inconsiderate drivers who had parked their cars in front of exits and entrances.
We saw the cartwheel rockets close up as well as the team members, these last ones often covered in mud (precaution against exploding rockets and the heat itself) and enjoying (despite the no alcohol sale) more than a few beers…
It was very crowded and everybody was good humored and camera ready.
After 2 smaller cartwheels it was time for a massive sized one and we were ready as well.
The amount of smoke generated was enormous and the take off at first slow, but once it was going, off it went like a drunken UFO, very impressive!
Once it reached its maximum height its parachute didn’t fully open, probably it got half melted due to the heat and the cartwheel crashed a little later in an open field.
By that time the heat got so oppressive that we called it quits in order not to collapse on the ground as well.
Despite the heat it was very cool (nah, hot, very very stinking HOT!) event and I was glad to have seen it first hand.