YASOTHON ROCKET FESTIVAL
original idea was to fire rockets into the sky to entice the gods
to start the rain needed for the rice to grow. Most famously in Yasothon,
Bang Fai Festival on May 8-9 has now become two days of riotous partying,
Isaan-style. On the 8th, highly decorated floats parade for half a
day through the town, with bands and dancers on stages, plus katoey
"back home" from their Pattaya cabarets.
Little exposed to foreigners, Yasothon's
genuinely warm to visitors, who often end up covered in mud, dancing
in the street to obscure mor lam
tunes with someone they've only just met. Mekong whisky may be forced
down your throat, but so what, go for it!
the street, bundles of small rockets are tied together like strings
of garlic. To launch them, young boys hold them between their fingers,
light the tapers and at just the right moment throw them into the
sky. Incredibly, few accidents are reported.
Sunday May 9 is when the rockets are
launched in Phaya Thaen Park to see which'll stay in the air longest.
Made of blue plastic piping, packed with gunpowder and tied to a bamboo
pole, the rockets come in two classes: up to 12 kg. of gunpowder and
up to 120 kg.
Teams draw for the firing order and
up to eight men carry their rocket to the launch site, where it's
winched into position and lashed to a giant metal ladder some 50 feet
long, angled skyward. An announcement to clear the site is followed
by hushed silence, then a shrill hissing and a belch of black smoke
as the thrust breaks the rocket from its mooring, sending into the
bright blue sky. A good launch draws cheers from the crowd who shade
their eyes to follow its progress.
how the judges determine the length of flight seems a mystery. Last
year's under-12 kg. winner was Khun Bann Pai, who won Baht 5,000 for
his rocket staying aloft 185 secs. In the 120 kg. class, Khun Phi
Pak Chan picked up Baht 15,000 for a flight of 145 secs.
How to Reach
Yasothon from Bangkok
Take airport expressway, then Route 1 to Saraburi, Route 2 to Khorat,
and onto Prathai and Phaykapum Phiasi to take Route 202 to Yasothon.
Overnight VIP bus from new Morchit II Bus Station at 9.30 pm., Baht
Closest station is Ubon Ratchatani with a daily 7 pm. departure from
BKK, 3rd class Baht 155, 2nd class aircon sleeper Baht 601, 1st class
sleeper Baht 1,040.
Thai fly to Ubon Ratchatani, 91 km. east, four times a day, round
trip Y-class Baht 2,810, J-class Baht 4,410 plus Baht 60 dep tax.
PB Air fly to Roi-et, 67 km. west, on Mon, Tue, Thur and Sat, Y-class
round trip Baht 2,920 plus Baht 60. Ground transport available from
both airports to Yasothon.
TEMPLES IN NORTHEAST THAILAND
wondered why Khmer temples, which are mostly built in Hindu rather
than Buddhist faith can be found in Thailand? As part of our exploration
of Isaan, we have come up with some of the answers . When the Khmer
temples were built, the sites were not in Siam then, rather in the
Angkor Empire, Kambujadesa. Today's Isaan only became a part of the
country during the reign of King Naresuan (1590-1605). That's why.
Communication was a great priority
of Khmer rulers and their greatest achievement was the network of
roads fanning out from the capital. The royal road to Phimai almost
certainly existed at the time that Suryavarman II came to power in
the beginning of 12th century. Then Phimai was a major centre, and
the road had both military and trade importance.
the most important Khmer temple in what's now Thailand, Prasat
Phimai is 49 kms. northeast of Khorat on Route 2, then
east 12 kms. on Route 206. Its importance stems from the loyal ruling
dynasty of Mahidharapura from where two of the greatest Khmer rulers
came, Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII.
Phimai is laid out in the same concentrical
style as Angkor Wat with the main sanctuary at its heart, yet one
of its most striking features is that it was built as a Mahayana Buddhist
rather than a Hindu temple. In Cambodia, large Khmer temples were
dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu until the Buddhist king Jayavarman came
to the throne in 1181.
Unusually, it's angled to the south
of the capital, Angkor instead of directly towards it. This is due
to the the influence of the earlier Funan kingdom that adopted the
Chinese custom of facing south. Or it may face south to honour the
ancestors of the ruling dynasty in the south. However the flaw in
both arguments is the axis point is 20' east of south and Angkor Wat
is 350 east of south, and Phnom Rung, the first major stop along the
road, is similar. Such an inaccuracy is usual as the Khmer were capable
of laying highways as straight as any Roman road. Another possible
explanation is the effect of the orientation of the land between the
Phnom Rung, built largely of high-quality pinkish sandstone,
an impressive hilltop site over the surrounding plains, is possibly
the most rewarding Khmer temple to visit. The builder certainly owed
allegiance to Angkor but they were much more than mere vassals and
throughout Phnom Rung there is evidence of the autonomy of local rule.
The Khmer were concerned with architectural
symbolism, particularly the recreation of Mount Meru and the elements
of the Hindu universe. The Khmer word 'Phnom' means hill and its use
in the temples title denotes location. Although the modern approach
is road at the top of the hill, the true start of the temple is half
a kilometre away at the foot of the eastern slope, which is partially
covered with vegetation.
As the sunrises on April 13, its rays
shine directly through the succession of 15 doorways and halls from
the east gopura, through the sanctuary to the west. Phnom Rung Festival
is celebrated for three days at this time with a spectacular light
and sound show. Although it falls at the same time a Songkran there
is no tangible link between the two.
east past Sisaket stands Preah Vihear
possibly the most beautiful and the least accessible major Khmer temple.
It is legally in Cambodia yet accessible only from Thailand. For unknown
reasons the Franco-Siamese treaty of 1907 left the temple on the Cambodian
side of the border. The ongoing dispute between Thailand and Cambodia
over ownership was officially settled at the International Court of
justice in the Hague in 1962. The verdict favoured Cambodia, and many
Thais still feel that this decision is unjust.
Its strategic position has given it
military importance in recent history and has intermittently been
used as a Cambodian military post. Its difficult access made it the
last place in the country to fall to the Khmer Rouge in 1975. Lon
Noi troops and the families held on here for days after the fall of
Phnom Penh in 1975. Ironically its brief recapture in 1998 was the
last victory by the residual Khmer Rouge.
Preah Vihear has no equal in its natural
site. Its builders were able to take full advantage of this when recreating
the microcosm of the Hindu universe, to enter the temple is to experience
the decent from mount Meru. A trip the Khmer temples in the Northeast
allow visitor to see the remains of the great empire without having
to cross the boarder into Cambodia.
TO KHON KAEN
Established in 1783 Khon Kaen is a
bustling prosperous town in the heart of Issan. Today it is the center
for regional development projects and home to the Northeast's largest
university. 450kms north of Bangkok the province of Khon Kaen covers
an area of 10,886 sq kms.
Kaen is a tourism and transport hub with a modern international airport
with daily flights linking Bangkok and it is on the junction of Highway
2 giving road and rail links to Nong Khai and onwards to Vientaine
in Laos, an ideal stopover on the route north.
The tourist attractions of Khmer ruins
at Phimai , the Phu Wiang pre-historic park and Chonnabot Silk are
well known. But less known is that Issan now has a beach resort .
Named after one of the more famous beaches near Pattaya, Bang Saen
2 is on the edge of Ubol Rattana reservoir 50 km north-west of Khon
joy of exploring Issan is discovering the unexpected.