The
Maekong
Fireballs
14th to 17th October

An extraordinary happening takes place on the Maekong River on the last day of Buddhist Lent, which this year will be on Thursday, 5th of October 2017. For on that hallowed night, pink points of light arise noiselessly from the river after dusk and fly high into the sky. Only appearing either on that one evening every year, or the following night, so far nobody has been able to explain why...

Are the "Fireballs" a truly natural occurrence, or are they a giant hoax? And, if they are real, what process causes them, and why only on those special nights?

Buddhist Lent lasts for ninety days, and normally starts in July and finishes in October. Every Buddhist male in Thailand is encouraged to be a monk at some point in his life, and now is the time when he will enter the monastery. Okk Paan Saa is the festival on the full moon at the end of this period, and coincides with the end of the rainy season. The river level drops as much as ten metres during this period.

In Nong Khai, Okk Paan Saa, (literally Out of Lent) is accompanied by a large festival which lasts from the 3rd to the 7th of October 2017, just before till just after the full moon. The most important dragon boat rowing competition of the year is held at this time and there is a wonderful street festival on the river bank beside Wat Lam Duan (see left). Giant illuminated floats (see above) are sailed up and down the river. Traditionally it is said to be the time when the Lord Buddha returns to Earth from Heaven, where he has gone to teach his mother the truth of Buddhist Dharma, necessary as she had passed away before Buddha had achieved his great realisation.

The Naga Show (see above & right) takes place in the middle of this festival held along the riverbank here in Nong Khai town. It shows Buddha returning from heaven, but adds our own special twist to the story. For local people believe that the Giant Serpent (Phraya Naga - pronounced Paya Naag), which lives at the bottom of the Maekong, calls to Buddha by sending up pink points of light, to request his return to the Earthly domain.

What these pink points of light actually are nobody knows... but every year, for as long as anyone can remember, they have been seen to arise soundlessly from the Maekong River just after dusk at various locations along its banks, most famously at Phon Phisai forty kilometers to the east of Nong Khai. However, in 2004 a dreadful thing happened... for on the first night of Okk Paan Saa there were no fireballs!

Thousands (see right) were disappointed, but there is uncertainty which day should be counted as the full moon. Thailand generally believes it to be a day before Laos, thus the fireballs can be late.

And it seems that Lao people were right, for the following day the fireballs appeared...

Some say that the fireballs cannot be photographed, but pictured left is a postcard sold by a hawker purporting to be one with a river-float in the background. But, having seen them many times myself , that is pretty much what they look like!

Oh yes, some may say the whole fireball phenomenon is just a giant hoax …but then how can it be? …for their exact vertical trajectory, their lack of sound and random occurrence (not to mention the thousands of people who have failed in their attempts to expose the hoaxers …if they exist) are hard things to fabricate! And if it was a hoax, wouldn't there be more fireballs every year?

In 2011, however, there were lots and lots of fireballs. This came after several years of very few fireballs. Was this because 2011 was a very wet year, when the river was very high and flooded in Nong Khai Province? However, in 2013, even though it was a dry year there were again a lot of Fireballs.

For many years the picture below has been circulating as proof of the existence of Giant Serpents in the Maekong River. Local people call it the Naga Queen and say that it was seized from the river by American GI's stationed at a Lao Military base on the 27th of June 1973. However, a couple of years ago I came across the same shot, featured in a rather unreliable source, which claimed it to be of an "Oar Fish" caught by American Marines in the Caribbean...