Around the beginning of the rainy season in Thailand’s bucolic north east, drunken men climb 50-foot scaffolds to prepare rockets – usually consisting of a nine-foot plastic drainpipe stuffed with gunpowder – before lighting the fuse and running for their lives before the crudely constructed missiles surge into the sky, amid frenzied cheers from the assembled spectators.
In the parched north east (Isaan), the Bun Bang Fai festival is part of an ancient rite: once fired into the air, the phallic rockets explode, “fertilising” the sky with sparks and debris in the hope of producing rain. As such, it’s an excuse for locals to cut loose before the arduous planting season begins, downing lao khao in huge quantities and exhibiting ridiculous behaviour: grown men dance around in women’s clothing and mud wrestle, all to a bawdy morlam soundtrack.
This being Thailand, gambling also forms a large part of the festival, with betting on both the height and distance achieved by the rockets.
Given the alcohol consumption and lax safety standards, there are fewer accidents than you’d expect, the most notorious being in 1999, when five spectators were killed by a prematurely-exploding rocket.
With danger, alcohol a-plenty and a healthy amount of superstition, Bun Bang Fai is a very Thai celebration.