Rocket Festivals and Royal Ploughing Ceremonies Welcome the Rainy Season

Although some tourists are put off visiting Southeast Asia during the rainy season, it can still be a great time to visit the region. It’s also a crucial time of the year for rice farmers. So much so, that special ceremonies and festivals are held in May to encourage the rains and hope for a good harvest.

Royal Ploughing Ceremony in Bangkok, Thailand

Royal Ploughing Ceremony

In Cambodia and Thailand, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony is an annual ceremonial event held in Phnom Penh and Bangkok respectively. This ancient tradition is Brahmin in origin and is supposed to predict the rice harvest for the forthcoming year. Oxen are hitched to a wooden plough and rice seed is scattered on the ceremonial ground. Once the oxen have finished ploughing they are given a choice of food and drinks. According to the old beliefs, Brahmins can predict the rice harvest for the year ahead based on what the animals have chosen. The ceremonies date back hundreds of years and although modern farming techniques and advanced weather forecasting are now used by rice farmers, the ploughing ceremonies are still widely anticipated. At the end of the ploughing ceremony, crowds rush onto the ploughed field to pick up the seeds. These seeds are thought to be auspicious and are highly prized by farmers.

When and where:
Date varies each year, but the Royal Ploughing Ceremony is usually held in May. In Thailand, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony takes place in Bangkok at Sanam Luang, the ceremonial field in front of the Grand Palace. In Cambodia, the ceremony is held in Phnom Penh at the park in front of the National Museum, next to the Royal Palace.

Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival

The bun bang fai rocket festivals have their roots in animist beliefs and date back centuries. In north-east Thailand and Laos, traditional folklore says that the seasonal rains will only fall when the gods are in the mood for love. To encourage this, village communities hold parties with plenty of eating, drinking, dancing and general merriment. Phallic symbols known as lingams figure prominently during the festival period. The lingams are fertility symbols and the theme extends to the home-made bamboo rockets which are packed with gunpowder and launched into the sky. The launching of the rockets are supposed to encourage the gods to get down to business and produce the required rain ahead of the rice-planting season.

Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival in Yasothon

The most famous of the rocket festivals is held at Yasothon in the north-east of Thailand. This region of Thailand is called Isaan and it’s an area where there is a real mix of Thai and Laos culture.

2013 Yasothon Rocket Festival 10

With street parades, fun-fairs, music concerts, beauty pageants and numerous parties, the Yasothon Rocket Festival is an event which attracts visitors far from and wide. The festival culminates on the final day with the launching of the rockets. There is plenty of local pride at stake as local communities compete to produce the most powerful or beautiful rocket. Many of the more elaborate handmade bamboo rockets can take months to prepare and can stand over 10 metres tall. The rockets are packed with nitrates enabling them to reach heights hundreds of metres in the air.

2013 Yasothon Rocket Festival 13

When and where:
Various local rocket festivals are held in north-east Thailand and Laos during May. The Yasothon Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival is usually held over a three-day period during the second weekend in May. Yasothon is approximately 100km away from Ubon Ratchathani in north-east Thailand.

If you’re interested in experiencing the unique culture of Southeast Asia, take a look at some of the trips on offer from TourChoice »

Photo credits: Wikipedia and Tourism Authority of Thailand

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