Yasothon, Thailand and its' incredible Rocket Festival!! Yasothon city is a small rice growing community with a listed population of just under 20,000 residents. It first began having their Rocket Festival in 1972, and it's grown ever year since. But, don't let Yasothon's diminutive size fool you, as it's now home to largest and most attended Rocket Festival in Thailand! The town becomes a megapolis during the festival; some estimate the attendance as high as 150,000! It's the little city that roars just one weekend a year, then returns to the mundane chores of everyday life. I rode to Yasothon on May 11th, well in advance of the Festival and the arrival of any tourists. Upon entering the town I encountered police checks at four corners of the main road on the outskirts of town. They were stopping local motos riders for not wearing a helmet...and they cited many. Ironically, during my 5-days in Yasothon, rarely did see anyone wearing a helmet while driving in the town. Such is Thailand! I went to many hotels and all were book solid, but with assistance from a local I met, who spoke some English, and I was able to obtain a room for the event, at the RP Mansion Park Hotel. It's located just a short block East from the parade route and not far from the rocket launch area. Due to a problem I later encountered, it proved to have been a very fortunate choice. Rooms were 400-Bt/night ($30 US), with increased rates on the14th & 15th. A/C, HW, refrig, TV. They also have a karoke and restaurant. I was surprised that none of the staff spoke English, yet they did all they could to try and help me, the only westerner staying there. The days (May 11-13) preceeding the festival were quiet, except for those preparing the sound stages and systems along the parade route, the viewing stands, and some groups in other parts of town rehearsing for the parade. Each of the sound stages displayed banners of their main sponsors. Practicing for the parade: Sound stage: The rocket launch area had been idle since last year; soon it will have a crush of people: A few of the large floats lined up near the start of the parade route: And some of the individually created floats parked nearby: While most Thai concerts will have one stage and a very well equipped and loud sound system, I was utterly surprised to count that the parade route had just over _40_ stages, each equipped with enormous sound systems and any one of them would be sufficient for any concert. Each stage had banners of their sponsors as well as dancers and singers entertaining the masses. Ear plugs were absolutely mandatory for me, yet few Thai's seemed too concerned. The combined loudness from the speakers could be heard many blocks away. On the parade route you could feel the bass sounds vibrating every bone and organ in your body! Once, during the parade I ate lunch at an adjacent food stall....and the rice in my meal was dancing to the music!! The word 'loud' doesn't adequately convey the parade's sound levels! At 8am on the May 14th a number of dignitaries, in white uniforms being taken to the main viewing area and parading groups began lining up at the start. The actual parade began almost two hours later..and the party began! Parade ornaments and floats often sport phallic symbols and imagery, recalling the fertility rite origins of the festival. Ribald humor is widespread and the festival includes cross-dressing, both cross-sex and cross-generational, and great quantities of alcohol. Dignitaries: And as just as the parade started it began to rain heavily. Fortunately it didn't last long. Parade begins: Some of those in parade spectacle...the horse had a cell phone number written on it's cock: The singer with a dildo for a mic...and the pink large katoey behind her Another pair of ladyboys...who sought anyone with a camera to photo them And a few of the individually dressed paraders: The parade was still going at 7:30pm, as the last half-dozen fatigued marching groups had yet to reach the final assembly area. I went back to my room, exhausted. The next morning I awoke to the sounds of a few of the smaller rockets being launched. I'd visited the large rocket launch area a few days earlier, seeing the seven rocket platforms and 250-yards back from the platforms were danger signs to alert spectators not to go closer. There were only a few workers there and no indication of what was to come. Turned out that the danger signs were totally ignored...you could get as close as you wished to the launch sites. The once large field and adjacent areas had become a large city of spectators and the surrounding area was now filled with hundreds of stands offering everthing from food, trinkets, souvenirs, hats & umbrellas [the weather was HOT!], fireworks and bottle rockets. Unfortunately, I've no pix of the large areas where the sellers and many of the spectators were nor where the 1000's of motorcycles and other vehicles were parked. Of the 7 rocket launch sites, the first 4 are for rockets with smaller amounts of black powder propellant, sites 5 & 6 rockets can have up to 60kg of propellant and up to 120kg at the tallest structure. Airports know to detour flights around the area, as some rockets can reach many kilometers in elevation and go long distances downrange. Rockets are judged by height attained, distance downrange and beauty of the vapor trail...but there is no predicting in which direction a rocket may travel, including potentially into the crowds. A rocket is loaded on the launchpad then fired skyward. Numerous rockets were launched until the late afternoon. While I've many pix of the event, other GT-Rider.com attendees will surely post more pix of rocket launches and things they saw. Yep, you can get as close to the launch site as you dare: The rocket launch bunker was 100-yards back from the launch site: Staging and launching a rocket. Note each rocket launched has a banner of its sponsor: After a successful launch, the rocket's club members celebrate and congratulate each other: However, sometimes things go wrong. This rocket landed about 80-feet from me and had a brief and mild explosion from its remaining fuel. I only was quick enough to my camera out and photo the residual smoke. No injuries to anyone nearby. Sadly, last year, a wayward rocket killed a 26y/o Thai by completely decapitating him. There is potential danger! Miscellaneous: The night before the rocket launching, my bike's clutch was failing to release. Early the next morning, I found that the clutch cable was frayed and upon using the clutch lever the few remaining cable strands broke. I spoke with the hotel's owner and he called a friend. Twenty minutes later his friend arrives on a R1200 BMW. He digs into his pannier for tools and a new BMW cable & housing, and has it installed on my bike in just 10miinutes! He then refused to take any money nor a drink for his efforts. I was one very fortunate person! Turns out that there's a number of local riders...the town even have a BMW and Harley Davidson club, and the hotels owner belongs to both. Yasothon evidently has a number of classic car collectors. At the hotel, a Thai drove up in a pristine 1963 (?) Cadillac. It even had the original motor! The Thai said he also owns 5 other 60's era Cadillacs! Later, another Thai drove up in a pristine 1960 Chevrolet Impala Nomad Six-Passenger Wagon, also with the original engine. I was amazed!