Yasothon and its' incredible Rocket Festival!!

Discussion in 'North-East Thailand Road Trip Reports' started by cdrw, May 17, 2011.

  1. cdrw

    cdrw Ol'Timer

    Yasothon and its' incredible Rocket Festival!!

    Yasothon city is a small rice growing community with a listed population of just under 20,000 residents. It first began having their Rocket Festival in 1972, and it's grown ever year since. But, don't let Yasothon's diminutive size fool you, as it's now home to largest and most attended Rocket Festival in Thailand! The town becomes a megapolis during the festival; some estimate the attendance as high as 150,000! It's the little city that roars just one weekend a year, then returns to the mundane chores of everyday life.

    I rode to Yasothon on May 11th, well in advance of the Festival and the arrival of any tourists. Upon entering the town I encountered police checks at four corners of the main road on the outskirts of town. They were stopping local motos riders for not wearing a helmet...and they cited many. Ironically, during my 5-days in Yasothon, rarely did see anyone wearing a helmet while driving in the town. TIT
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    I went to many hotels and all were book solid, but with assistance from a local I met, who spoke some English, and I was able to obtain a room for the event, at the RP Mansion Park Hotel. It's located just a short block East from the parade route and not far from the rocket launch area. Due to a problem I later encountered, it proved to have been a very fortunate choice.
    Rooms were 400-Bt/night, with increased rates on the14th & 15th. A/C, HW, refrig, TV. They also have a karoke and restaurant. I was surprised that none of the staff spoke English, but they were helpful, none-the-less.
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    The days (May 11-13) proceding the festival were quiet, except for those preparing the sound stages and systems along the parade route, the viewing stands, and some groups in other parts of town rehearsing for the parade. Each of the sound stages displayed banners of their main sponsors.
    Practicing for the parade:
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    Sound stage:
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    The rocket launch area had been idle since last year; soon it will have a crush of people:
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    A few of the large floats lined up near the start of the parade route:
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    And some of the individually created floats parked nearby:
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    While most Thai concerts will have one stage and a very well equipped and loud sound system, I was utterly surprised to count that the parade route had just over _40_ stages, each equipped with enormous sound systems and any one of them would be sufficient for any concert. Each stage had banners of their sponsors as well as dancers and singers entertaining the masses. Ear plugs were absolutely mandatory for me, yet few Thai's seemed too concerned. The combined loudness from the speakers could be heard many blocks away. On the parade route you could feel the bass sounds vibrating every bone and organ in your body! Once, during the parade I ate lunch at an adjacent food stall....and the rice in my meal was dancing to the music!!
    The word 'loud' doesn't adequately convey the parade's sound levels!
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    At 8am on the May 14th a number of dignitaries, in white uniforms being taken to the main viewing area and parading groups began lining up at the start. The actual parade began almost two hours later..and the party began! Parade ornaments and floats often sport phallic symbols and imagery, recalling the fertility rite origins of the festival. Ribald humor is widespread and the festival includes cross-dressing, both cross-sex and cross-generational, and great quantities of alcohol.
    Dignitaries:
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    And as just as the parade started it began to rain heavily. Fortunately it didn't last long.
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    Parade begins:
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    Some of those in parade spectacle...the horse had a cell phone number written on it's white schlong:
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    The singer with a dildo for a mic...and the pink large katoey behind her
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    Another pair of ladyboys...who sought anyone with a camera to photo them:
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    And a few of the individually dressed paraders:
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    The parade was still going at 7:30pm, as the last half-dozen fatigued marching groups had yet to reach the final assembly area. I went back to my room, exhausted.

    The next morning I awoke to hear the sounds of a few of the smaller rockets being launched. I'd visited the large rocket launch area a few days earlier, seeing the seven rocket platforms and 250-yards back from the platforms were danger signs to alert spectators not to go closer. There were only a few workers there and no indication of what was to come. Turned out that the danger signs were totally ignored...you could get as close as you wished to the launch sites. The once large field and adjacent areas had become a large city of spectators and the surrounding area was now filled with hundreds of stands offering everything from food, trinkets, souvenirs, hats & umbrellas [the weather was HOT!], fireworks and bottle rockets. Unfortunately, I've no pix of the large areas where the sellers and many of the spectators were nor where the 1000's of motorcycles and other vehicles were parked.
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    Of the 7 rocket launch sites, the first 4 are for rockets with smaller amounts of propellant, sites 5 & 6 rockets can have up to 60kg of propellant and up to 120kg at the tallest structure. Airports know to detour flights around the area, as some rockets can reach many kilometers in elevation and go long distances downrange. Rockets are judged by height attained, distance downrange and beauty of the vapor trail...but there is no predicting in which direction a rocket may travel, including potentially into the crowds.
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    A rocket is loaded on the launchpad then fired skyward. Numerous rockets were launched until the late afternoon. While I've many pix of the event, other GT-R attendees will surely post more pix of rocket launches and things they saw.
    Yep, you can get as close to the launch site as you dare:
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    The rocket launch bunker was 100-yards back from the launch site:
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    Staging and launching a rocket. Note each rocket launched has a banner of its sponsor:
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    After a successful launch, the rocket's club members celebrate and congratulate each other:
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    However, sometimes things go wrong. This rocket landed about 70-feet from me and had a brief and mild explosion from its remaining fuel. I only was quick enough to my camera out and photo the residual smoke. No injuries to anyone nearby.
    Sadly, last year, a wayward rocket killed a 26y/o Thai by completely decapitating him. There is potential danger!
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    Miscellaneous:
    The night before the rocket launching, my bike's clutch was failing to release. Early the next morning, I found that the clutch cable was frayed and upon using the clutch lever the few remaining cable strands broke. I spoke with the hotel's owner and he called a friend. Twenty minutes later his friend arrives on a R1200 BMW. He digs into his pannier for tools and a new cable & housing, and has it installed in just 10miinutes! He then refused to take any money nor a drink for his efforts. I was one very fortunate person! Turns out that there's a number of local riders...the town even have a BMW and Harley Davidson club, and the hotels owner belongs to both.
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    Yasothon evidently has some classic car collectors. At the hotel, a Thai drove up in a pristine 1963 (?) Cadillac. It even had the original motor! The Thai said he also owns 5 other 60's era Cadillacs! Later, another Thai drove up in a pristine 1960 Chevrolet Impala Nomad Six-Passenger Wagon, also with the original engine. I was amazed!
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    If you've never attended Yasothon's Rocket Festival, you've missed the biggest and most attended community event in Thailand! If you plan on attending sometime, do make your room reservations months in advance of the event.
    It's a great show...and one I'll likely attend next year!
     
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  3. Sateev

    Sateev Member

    Brilliant report, great pictures. Next year, for sure...thanks!
     
  4. schackster

    schackster Ol'Timer

    Great report.
    We saw your BMW but didnt manage to see you. Pictures just dont do it justice , simply amazing in real life . As the day progressed the rockets just kept getting bigger and bigger. Was worth braving the hot Isaan heat .Now I understand why people travel the globe to witness this event. We'll be back for sure.
    In total we were with 11 friends who rode up from Chiang Mai - some of us partied together and some chose to do their own thing

    Heres a video taken in the morning



    The practice is that the losers get tossed into the mud along with many drunks who managed to find their own way into it without any help

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  5. cdrw

    cdrw Ol'Timer

    Nice photos & video, shackster.
    It was damn hot that day and some locals...sober even...lounged in the mud just to avoid the heat. They were wise, unlike me. My face was fried before I gave in and bought an umbrella (50-Bt), but it was too late and my skin has since started to peel....like a red onion.
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    I found it refreshing that none of the many various vendors I encountered had farang prices...everything offered was at Thai prices. I later bought some fireworks & bottle rockets...at prices as low as 3-Bt!
     
  6. johngooding

    johngooding Ol'Timer

    Thanks for the excellent report Jay, good to run into you there and happy you got your clutch problem resolved so pleasantly.
    Rocket Biker club and the Classic American Car Club of Thailand had an evening party on the Saturday, which we attended until it was cut short just after 9pm by heavy rain. It was located on the main 23 highway, just after the parade area on the Eastern area of the town. The cars were parked on one carriageway of the road, where the central divider starts and it becomes a dual carriageway.
     
  7. cdrw

    cdrw Ol'Timer

    John, I wish I'd known about the party. It was held very close where I stayed. Until Sunday's Rocket Festival, I'd not encountered any GT-riders, or any farangs for that matter. No one at my hotel spoke English, and I was the only farang staying there. At times I felt somewhat isolated, likely due to my limited Thai language abilities. Next year, maybe I just need to bring a long-haired Thai dictionary with me ;-)
     
  8. johngooding

    johngooding Ol'Timer

    Long haired dictionaries are certainly a big help in those circumstances. There were 11 bikers from Chiang Mai, but we did not get together all the time. One travelled alone, 2 groups of 2 and one group of 6 bikes travelled down and the return journey was even more split up. We all met up from time to time around the festival and for evening dining. I am sorry we did not meet up earlier and we could have joined for some events. Maybe next year, although it looks like we will be going to a smaller festival, similar time of year, not far from Loei, which is a lot less travelling, easy one day ride from CM. Not so many huge rockets, but a more personal atmosphere.
     
  9. TonyBKK

    TonyBKK Ol'Timer

    Awesome report and great pictures! Will definitely try to attend next year! Happy Trails!
     
  10. Ian Bungy

    Ian Bungy Ol'Timer

    Seems there are Rocket Festivals all over the Place at different Times of the Year? This one held in Khon Kaen turned out Tragically for this poor Young Guy! When You have witnessed one for Yourself it is Surprising there are not a lot more Accidents really? Condolences to the Family.

    Rocket festival death
    By The Nation on Sunday

    A 12-year-old boy was killed instantly in an accident during the Bun Bung Fai Lan - Thai Traditional Rocket Festival - in Khon Kaen's Kranuan district yesterday afternoon.

    While adults and kids were observing rockets launch, one soared upwards for about 10-20 metres and suddenly exploded, sending a piece of metal shrapnel which cut into the throat of Ekkachai Khamlapa, standing by his dad 6-7 metres away.

    Witnesses said an organiser's warning for spectators to stay at least 10 metres from the launch area was lost in loud music so people were not standing a safe distance away until the explosion caused the boy's death. Police said tragedy was an accident, but they are considering a charge of recklessness causing death against the person who lit the rocket and event organisers.
     

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