On the full moon of the eleventh lunar month, a magical phenomenon occurs in Laos and Thailand. From the murky waters of the Mekong incredible fireballs rise high into the night, then suddenly vanish. You can witness the spectacle for yourself on 04 October this year, and as Intrepid’s Nicola Gibson’s explains, the Mekong and this enigmatic event shouldn’t be missed…
“Travelling down the mighty Mekong River (Mae Nam Khong) between Thailand and Laos on a traditional wooden longboat, it’s very easy to truly relax and lose yourself in the surrounding scenery of towering mountains, lush green flora and fauna as birds fly over head.
Sit back in your boat and take in the peaceful life of the many ethnic groups which live in the lowlands of the mountains, such as of the Khmu and Hmong hilltribes. Watch the children playing – cartwheeling down the slopes of the banks and running at full speed into the water. Gaze at the water buffaloes farming the land and herds of cattle aimlessly wandering. See men carving boats out of trees, whilst others cast their nets to catch dinner and ladies pan for gold.
The Mekong is South East Asia’s longest river, measuring 4800km (2983 miles). It rises in southern China, flows south through eastern Tibet and across the highlands of Yunnan province. It forms part of the border between Myanmar and Laos, as well as between Laos and Thailand. It then runs through Laos and Cambodia before exiting into the South China Sea through the southern delta in Vietnam.
The river inspires a wealth of folklore and vivid mythology. It is a sacred belief held by many Buddhist Thai and Laotians living along the Mekong, that the Naga still rules in it and each year locals hold an annual sacrifice for the Naga.
The Buddhist Naga is generally believed to take the form of a large cobra-like snake, usually with a single head, but sometimes with many. Some of the Nagas are capable of using magic powers to transform themselves into a human semblance.
Local residents believe that the Naga can protect them from danger, so they usually make a sacrifice according to how their individual village earns a living. For instance, if their living is through transport, they would make a sacrifice to Naga before taking a boat trip along the Mekong River.
If you are lucky enough to be by the Mekong in Laos or Thailand, on the full moon night at the end Buddhist lent, you will witness the spectacular Naga Fireball Festival. During the day locals enjoy boat racing celebrations and at night they float trays of candles and flowers along the river in respect to Naga. Then an extraordinary phenomenon occurs – fireballs emerge from the river into the night sky. It is believed by villagers on both sides of the river that the reddish-pink orbs are from the mythological serpent Naga’s breath, to form a staircase to heaven for the Lord Buddha to descend and close Buddhist lent.
So, do you believe in the mythological Naga’s fireball? Whether you think it’s fact or fiction, travelling down the Mekong by longboat is a very memorable experience and the spectacular annual festival is one not to be missed!”
* photo by Fiona Montgomerie – Intrepid Photography Competition