The Lai Reua Fai festival has been on my ‘bucket list’ for a couple of years now, after seeing a video display of the festival in the old Nakhon Phanom Governor’s residence that has been converted into a Museum.
Trying to pin point the dates for the lunar moon and full moon at the end of Buddhist Lent for 2016, and book a hotel, took considerable research and planning. The dates listed on TAT (Tourist Authority of Thailand) sites had the festival running from the 9th to 17th of October with the fire boat grand finale on the full day of October 16th.
Trying to book a room started in October 2015, as most hotels book out very quickly with a significant influx of Thai tourists. Hotels were shown as fully booked on the 2 or 3 internet booking sites that I usually use for hotel bookings from November 2015 onward and this is in spite of a real boom in hotels in Nakhon Phanom over the past 3 years.
I arrived in Nakhon Phanom on October 12th, to stay for 1 week, so as to have the opportunity to see the preparation and subsequent clean up of this special regional festival. I flew from Bangkok to Nong Khia and then took a bus to Nakhon Phanom – a 7 hour ride.
The boats are constructed from bamboo scaffolds that have a wire frame of the Buddhist and Royal Family inspired design lashed to them, with studs every few centimetres to hold the candles. The candles are made from small cans (mostly Birdy brand iced coffee cans) that have a wick inserted and a wire added to each one to hang from the stud. The final act is to light all of the thousands of candles and to have the fire boat slowly pulled along the river front while thousands of candles are launched upstream and floated down to join the boats.
All was going well;
- I had the opportunity to see 2 of the smaller fire boats on my first night in Nakhom Phanom
- I could easily get up close to see all the stages of preparing the fire boats
- Arriving before the main event meant that the river front wasn’t as crowded
- The boats were to be displayed in order of grandeur with the larger boats held back for the final night
The death of HM the King of Thailand was announced on Thursday 13th October with 30 days of official mourning to follow. Late on Friday October 14th the Provincial Governor announced that the Lai Reua Fai festival for 2016 would be cut short – ie. the remaining fire boats would not be launched. Full list of all cancelled events here
When I visited the river front on the Saturday the 15th, the countless vendor stalls had begun to be dismantled and by late afternoon most had gone, leaving the empty tents that were themselves gone by early evening.
The expressions on the faces of the people that had been preparing the boats was indescribably sad, in part (I presume) due to the death of their much loved and long serving Monarch but also as their work over the previous year would not be allowed to culminate in the lighting and floating of the remaining grand fire boats.