14 May, Laos – ‘All Over The Place, Asia – part 2’

Yesterday was a travel day and we worked our way down to southern Lao in our 3 people carriers, with walkie talkies to communicate due to there being a very sparse phone network. There were some absolutely terrifying rough mountain roads (at one point we passed a car that had just fallen off a road above and landed upside down), patchy bits of jungle that has been pretty ravaged by smallholding farmers, and lots of toilet stops due to our bus driver’s weak bladder. Got to our hotel in the dark and quickly realised that it was one of the weirdest I’ve ever stayed in, with different levels carved into the rock, death trap stairs with no bannisters, and constant ear splitting karaoke.

Woke up to a beautiful view of the man-made reservoir stretching out up to the horizon, peppered with little islands that at one time would have been hills. Our destination today was the Boun Bang Fai rocket festival, where locals fire home made rockets into the sky to anger the rain god and bring on the rainy season. When we arrived at what I guess was a village sports ground it looked like there had been a very big party the night before, with what looked like the remains of a rock festival scattered about the place. One of the organisers joked that some of the locals were still drinking and things might not be running to schedule, and sure enough we spent a fair amount of time sitting in a hot tent waiting for things to spring into action. By around midday I began to get a sense that things were getting crazy, as trucks with blaring sound systems and people in fancy dress began to feed in. Then the rockets began to arrive. I couldn’t believe the size of them. The “small” ones were made from drain pipes, and I’m not sure what the larger tubes were made from but people were packing a hell of a lot of gunpowder into them. Every 15 minutes a rocket would be carried up to a large wooden frame and then fired into the sky, with a huge sulphurous cloud of smoke billowing out into the scrub. The speed and distance they were travelling was amazing. They shot up way into the clouds and then you might catch a glimpse of them falling back down to earth miles in the distance a couple of minutes later. God knows where they landed and what the consequences were.

Richard and I allied ourselves with two different teams. My team’s rocket went quite some distance, but when it was Richard’s turn his rocket blew up a couple of seconds after launch – the only rocket to explode all day! I had a fit of hysterics and was crowned the Main Event winner.

By this point it was heaving with people in various states, with competing sound systems blasting dance music from cars and trucks, and kids running round letting off firework rockets – the sort that your dad lets off in the garden on bonfire night with all the family standing at a safe distance. It was time to leave before someone got their face blown off.

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