On Wednesday, 22nd of May 2024, also in June and July, there are Rocket Festivals out in the countryside surrounding Nong Khai.

By Rocket Festivals, we don't mean some little fireworks that whistle and pop in the sky at night... these are frequently huge "Saturn V's" fired during the day time, and flying thousands of metres into the air.

Originally, these festivals started as a way to exhort the clouds to rain on the paddy fields, as the monsoon began. Today, they are a source of wild entertainment and a chance to make merry, drink and, of course, gamble.

On the day prior to launching the rockets, there is always a parade. This is a pretty pageant, where fanciful "dummy" rockets (not the real ones... too dangerous and they might get wet) are lead on floats through the town, attended by legions of very pretty dancing girls.

Pictured right is the procession for the Wat Taat Rocket Festival on Visakha Puja day (Buddha's birthday)... this year on Tuesday, 21st of May 2024

The rockets vary in size, depending on the festival, but some of the biggest have heads over 1.5
metres long and tails extending a further 5 metres.

They are produced by teams of young lads, each from different local temples, & each inheritors of many secret techniques.

The rockets normally fly for between 60 - 300 seconds, depending on their size, class and design. The crowd gambles on how long a rocket will stay in the air, with teams of scouts timing its return to earth and an official jury proclaiming the flight times.

Occasionally there's an accident and a rocket explodes on take off... then there's trouble...

A special mud bath is kept for such eventualities and the team that produced the rogue device is thrown into it as punishment for endangering everyone's life!

The festivals go on for several days, with the larger events seeing the launch of some twenty or thirty rockets a day, at ten to twenty minute intervals.

The atmosphere is terrific, with lots of stalls selling trinkets, restaurants serving fish and somtam and a great deal of merriment... But, beware, don't get too close... alcohol, gunpowder and gambling are a lethal combination, and there are disasters from time to time... but fortunately a lot less often than you might think!