Bang Fai / Bong Fai Rocket festivals in Thailand and Pattaya

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If watching drunken Thai rice farmers pack gun powder into a 4 foot bamboo rocket cases while smoking cigarettes sounds like fun, then just wait until they light these puppies up on the launch pad!

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I love bong fai season, another Thai festival that should not be missed, it’s loud, it’s exciting, it’s unpredictable, it’s dangerous and it’s lots of fun!Just after Songkran in mid April, the beginning of May marks another great festival in Thailand- Bang Fai / Bong Fai, however you want to say it, it means fun, fun, fun.

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There are no set dates for when the celebration begins and it varies from town to town but last for about 7 weeks all throughout Essan up to Knong Khai.

Unfortunately there are no bong fai festivities in Pattaya, which I find strange as Pattaya celebrates just about everything on the planet.

This is a time when whole communities come together and shoot bamboo rockets into the sky to signal the rain gods to send rain down to the fields so the rice planting can begin, it’s also a good excuse to eat, drink and be merry.

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The rocket takes off with a loud roar and there is smoke and fumes pouring out the back of the rocket, the rocket accelerates very fast at a couple hundred meters a second and is only visible to the naked eye for a short time, officials time the rocket from take off and spotters with high powered binoculars track it where abouts, small rocket that launch straight up can achieve altitudes of more than 3 km.

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In some communities,, they take their rocket building to the extremes and bigger is better, towns like Yasathon are famous for the 9 – 10 meter big boys, packed with 120 kg of black powder, enough to send a small child into space (just  joking), more like a small monkey.

How it works

The rocket

The rocket is usually made of a section of hollowed out bamboo with some outer case reinforcing, usually PVC and blue in color, the bamboo is packed with a special black powder mix that burns at just the right speed to give maximum thrust for the maximum amount of time, there is usually a long stick attached at the rear of the rocket that has 2 purposes-

  1. It acts as a tail fin when the rocket engine is ignited and basically keeps the rocket pointing up towards the sky while under thrust.
  2. It acts as a counter balance when the rockets fuel has been used up, it helps to slow the spent rocket fall slowly back to earth by creating more wind resistance.

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Betting on the rockets

When you make a bet on a rocket, you are betting on wether the rocket will stay up in the air for a longer or shorter time, before it hits the ground, than the previous rocket. Time starts from launch and ends when the rocket touches down again. So, if the last rocket was in the air for 3 minutes, and you think the next rocket will stay up longer than 3 minutes you find someone who thinks the next rocket will stay up for less than 3 minutes, and you bet your money and wait for the result, if the previous rocket failed, then just make up a time.

That’s all there is to it.

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A successful launch

A successful launch usually means a rocket stays up for 2 1/2 minutes 4 1/2 minutes, if your rocket stays up for 4 ½ minutes, you are a hero!

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An unsuccessful launch

An unsuccessful launch usually means your rocket failed to start up on the launch pad, it blows up on the launch pad, it spirals out of control and crashes nearby after takeoff, if this happens, you are a zero and will be picked up and thrown in the mud by your friends, all in good fun of course.

There are also many people selling small rockets and matches, you can buy packs of 10, 20, sizes from 1 inch 50 or 100, in various pencil size to 1 foot beauties that will but a smile on your dial.

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Every year people are killed or seriously injured at these events, when rockets blow up on the launch pad, just after launching or fire into the crowd, this should be kept in mind before getting to close to the action, But statistically safer than driving or riding a vehicle on the road.

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