The rather aptly-named Bun Bang Fai is an annual festival marking the move from dry to wet season. It’s an apt name as a large part of the festival, in Vang Vieng anyway, involves firing rockets into the air to wake the gods up and ask them for plenty of rain for the forthcoming rice-growing season.
This request is somewhat redundant right now as it’s not stopped raining in around 20 hours, but that doesn’t stop the fun. You know how your parents always told you now to play with fireworks? Well, these guys build their own. And I swear some of them are the size of ICBMs. One by one over two days, the rockets are carried up to a launching area outside of the town with great accompanying ceremony. A crowd of around ten people will surround the rocket, drums are banged, songs are sung and they will march up the main street to the Laos version of Kennedy Space Center.
There a competition is held and it’s one day you don’t go walking near the mountains. The challenge is to get your home-made high-explosive device to fly further than your neighbour’s. Scores of these things are let loose simultaneously and the skies darken like that arrow scene from 300 only with slightly fewer deaths resulting. Usually.
As I type up this section, a crowd from a nearby shop have just trudged past as has a bunch of teenagers with what looks like the world’s biggest rocket-on-a-stick. Where on earth they’re going to get a 25-foot tall milk bottle to launch it from, I don’t know.
*later that day*
OK, all festivals should require alcohol and high explosives in equal measure. Also, the entire world should take on the hospitality and generosity of the Laos, Vietnamese, Thai etc people. Yet again I found myself caught up with a bunch of locals heading off to celebrate something special to them. This has happened so many times in Asia (and Oz, and NZ, and …) that I have lost count.
We got a “lift” in one of the floats carrying a highly-decorated rocket. As payment we had to drink beer. Bugger, what a shame. We ended up doing a huge circuit around the town before being driven over to the river where the rocket launchings were taking place.
Guy Fawkes would have been embarrassed at this display of gunpowder-related weaponry. Hell, I think this is where Saddam Hussein “hid” the WMDs that the US couldn’t find. There was certainly enough firepower floating around the waterline here.
The rocket firings were more than impressive, even the ones that didn’t make it off the launch towers. Huge explosions of white smoke as ten people sat around the exhaust with their big signs saying who had made them. Mad. All of them. Like most SE Asians. And in such a great way!
Anyone who can spend a day getting drunk and launching plastic tubes into orbit (or into China depending on what angle the platform is at) is OK by me. Best of all, no month-long run-up where kids throw them at each other, no clampdowns, no need for “organised” displays… and no injuries. High explosives can be fun – if you’re country isn’t full of morons who don’t know how to handle them.