Launching Bang Fai in Laos Rocket Festival

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.

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14 thoughts on “Launching Bang Fai in Laos Rocket Festival

  1. Expatriate Games

    Hey that's sounds like it was a good day! I don't think I've seen it here before.

    Cross-dressing and booze. Now THAT sounds like a recipe for a regretful morning after!

    Reply
  2. krzysztof

    Now I understand a description on your facebook profile. I'm not very fond of noisy places. However it must have been very impressive to watch those rockets, which have exploded in the air. It's a pity that a day was rainy and cloudy.
    ***
    Hello again after long break.

    Reply
    • globetrotteri Post author

      Hi K,
      I don’t mind noise, as long as it’s not at 7am in the morning. However, the Rocket Festival in Laos is a different kind of noise. We thought the whole weekend was really exciting and interesting. Those rockets are used to call the rain, and it worked. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many photos because there was too much rain. Better luck next time, eh?

      Reply
  3. Manali + Terry

    Hi carrie! What you would you say are the top 5 cultural festivals/events (something that occurs only once or twice a year) in Asia? My wife and I are planning a world trip…

    Thanks so much!

    Manali + Terry

    Reply
  4. globetrotteri Post author

    Hi Manali and Terry.

    I’ll have to give some thought to that. There are so many incredible festivals in Asia. I don’t like to miss any of them!

    Reply
  5. Mark Sloneker

    This tradition seems to show up in many places from Japan through different regions of Asia. It shows how much culture did travel in the old days. i’ve been wanting to catch one of these but am in Laos at the wrong time so far. I’d love to see the elephant festival too. I was told this event was banned in Laos until recent years because of government paranoia over it’s citizens having explosive rockets. Glad that things have relaxed a bit for some of these cultural events.

    Reply

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