The 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!
Along 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.
Exactly 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 420.
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
IN NORTHEAST THAILAND
Ever 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.
Unquestionably 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
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 rivers.
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.
Further 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.
NORTH TO KHON
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.
Khon 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
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 Kaen.