Laos FESTIVAL MUST-SEE: BOUN BANG FAI EXPERIENCE BOUN BANG FAI
The festival runs over three days in the sixth month of the lunar calendar (May–june)
More commonly known as the Rocket Festival, this three-day event is held at the beginning of the wet season in the hope of bringing good rains. Like its name suggests, the festival involves the preparation and launch of homemade rockets, which are made by stuffing decorated bamboo (lined with PVC pipe) with gunpowder.
Sacred ceremonies take place on the first and second days, with dancing in elaborate masks and clothes, and prayers for rain. There’s also often a competitive procession of floats.
The real action kicks off on the third day, as villagers from the different communities converge on the district launching site for the rocket contest. Scores are ascribed to each performance based on several key criteria: the best rocket decoration, the height of the launch, and the level of entertainment for the gathered crowd. The success of the rockets is also judged by whether they make a loud bang and produce an impressive plume of smoke. The competition is fierce: If the team fails to launch their rocket, they’re punished with a downdown of muddy water – or satho (local rice whiskey). The winning team gains much prestige and admiration.
The origin of this festival is thought to date back to pre-buddhist times, derived from an ancient fertility rite that was held to encourage rain. Once gunpowder arrived on the scene, things got a bit more interesting: Some locals believe that the rockets help to “pierce holes in the clouds” to bring on the rains, while others suggest that the loud bangs of the rockets rouse the rain god from slumber.