CityNews — During the month of June every year, people in Northern Thailand follow a tradition of bringing water offerings to Buddha images at temples and shrines all over the region in hopes of abundant rainfall during the coming wet season. The three days of water offerings culminate with the rocket festival, or Bun Bang Fai, which has been celebrated in Northern Thailand and Laos for centuries as a signal to the sky to commence the change of season, and was held on June 15th this year.
Bun Bang Fai is held in provinces all around Thailand, the most well-known festival near Chiang Mai is celebrated at Huay Tun Tao Lake and organised by Phra Non Khon Muang temple in the Mae Rim district, while collaborating with the Chiang Mai provincial administrative organisation, cultural council, and local villagers. After the three days of merit making, hundreds of locals gather at the lake to witness the rocket launches, which are judged in a competition where the best rocket brings home a prize of 10,000 baht. Judges rule on rocket flights according to speed, height, and trajectory. The rocket that flies the highest, fastest and straightest, wins.
Competitors from many provinces brought in 107 of the 17 metre long homemade rockets for this year’s competition at Huay Tung Tao, which began at 9.30am and went until the last rocket was launched. Hundreds of people from the area braved the scorching sun to watch the enormous rockets fly over the rice field and to see whose rocket will take home the prize this year.
“There are always new competitors from other cities that join in the competition every year,” says competitor Sawang Wannawong, “Most of the surrounding villages form their own teams. This is my fourth year competing, and this time my team brought five rockets to take out the competition.”
A competitor and his rocket.
Kunto Intaklaew is the head of the Traditional Rocket Association and drafted the guide that judges use to asses rocket flights, and the requirements used by competitors to craft the rockets. “The structure of the rocket is made from bamboo with charcoal and sulphur ground up inside. The bamboo must be very straight, so rocket builders must use a hot fire to straighten the bamboo if it is bent. It takes three to five days and ten people to craft a rocket because shape, size, accuracy and safety are so important. They are also very difficult to transport, and expensive, usually costing around 5,000 baht for each one. So it’s unfortunate if some of the competitor’s rockets don’t fly well.”
Kunto Intaklaew head of Traditional Rocket Association.
Competitors contribute a great deal of effort and time to crafting the rockets and preparing for the festival. Many of the competitors spend the night before the festival at the lake, preparing their rockets for their flight on the next day. Success in the competition is very important, as it wins their village name honour and a respected reputation.
Bun Bang Fai is not only a unique Chiang Mai tradition, but also strengthens relationships between the people, their villages, and their temples as they work together to prepare for the launch. Every year the festival is sure to bring enthusiastic competitors and spectators from near and far to witness the impressive launches. Even today, as crowds seek out any scrap of shade to hide from the scorching sun and witness the rain bringing rockets, the festival represents Thailand’s firm belief in man’s relationship and coexistence with nature.