The Bang Fai were being launched just as we arrived in Vang Vieng at the beginning of the rainy season in the sixth lunar month of the year. As it turns out, the dancing and singing, the floats, and the rocket-firing all worked their charms to convince the skies to cry for them. Colorful umbrellas dotted the riverbanks as contestants climbed up hand-made ladders and platforms to launch their home-made rockets.
The Laos Rocket Festival has been practiced for centuries throughout cities and villages in Laos. The festival is also celebrated in Northern Thailand. Ask anyone why the event is celebrated and they will tell you that they launch big, loud rockets into the sky to stir up the skies and bring rains for the upcoming planting season.
Bang Fai come in various shapes and sizes. Rockets are judged on the height they reach and the distance traveled. Points are also given for exceptionally beautiful vapor trails.
The highly-anticipated launch of the nine meter long Bang Fai Lan are the pinnacle of the event. The extremely expensive and dangerous Bang Fai Lan are charged with 120kg of black powder and make an impressive ending to the festival. These bad boys wow the crowds by shooting several kilometers into the air. However, what goes up must come down and therein lies the danger. One of these rockets exploded 5o m meters in the air a few minutes after launch. It killed five people and injured eleven others.
This centuries old rocket festival is thought to have evolved from pre-Buddhist fertility rites, which were held to celebrate and encourage the coming of rain. This makes the festival quite wanton. Patrons, floats, and rockets highlight phallic symbols and imagery. Cross-dressing is also a custom on this day, as well as the consumption of large quantities of Lao Whiskey, beer, and sato, which is a brewed rice alcohol that is similar to Japanese sake. All in all, it makes for one heck of a great party. There’s no denying the excitement of spectators and competitors alike. This is one festival you won’t want to miss.