Thailand’s Bang Fai Rocket Festival and Grandfather’s Mountain

Thailand really is a land of surprises. It is a country full of warm, friendly smiling people and a land where the culture, scenery and relaxed way of life has a habit of bringing its visitors back for more.

I have been treading the Thailand trail for over 11 years and each and every visit brings something to either take my breath away or at least make me stand back in admiration.

Some of those things are ones which the Thais just take for granted and some of those things are just a couple of kilometres from your village home but you never knew they were even there.

Throw a Stone Far Enough – Grandfather’s Mountain

My Thai language skills are poor considering the amount of time I’ve spent in the Land of Smiles. I rely upon phonetic spelling rather than Thai script for my efforts to learn more of the language. Norn Poo roughly translates to Grandfather’s (poo) Mountain but Norn is in reality a small type of hill. Perhaps Catherine orHugh can help me on that one with a proper word description and more accurate phonetic spelling. Khao is Thai for mountain but norn is a word I haven’t managed to nail down. Norn Poo is a place I’ll visit again…and again. I kind of felt at peace there.

I spend a large part of my Thailand holidays staying at a village in a poor rural area of Udon Thani Province. My girlfriend Wonderful Wi and myself have a house there. The village is a place I enjoy being in but recreationally there is very little to do. A vivid imagination is a must to fill the quieter days and fortunately mine is a very vivid one to say the least. There are however many places and sights around Thailand’s small villages that you never get to hear or enquire about due to a lack of personal language skills. Sometimes you have to trip straight over them.

Last month (May) all around Northeast Thailand local communities were celebrating the Bang Fai Rocket Festival. There was no set date but the course of May held many different festival days around our village region. I wanted to see the Bang Fai Festival and one morning enquired to Wilai about my wish. As luck would have it there was a festival event taking place at the foot of Norn Poo that very day. I’d never heard of Norn Poo before and yet it was only three kilometres from our village house.

Here’s an extract from Wikipedia explaining the Bang Fai Festival

A Rocket Festival is a merit-making ceremony traditionally practiced throughout much of northeast Thailand and Laos, by numerous villages and municipalities near the beginning of the rainy season. Celebrations typically include preliminary music and dance performances, competitive processions of floats, dancers and musicians on the second day, and culminating on the third day in competitive firings of home-made rockets. Local participants and sponsors use the occasion to enhance their social prestige, as is customary in traditional Buddhist folk festivals throughout Southeast Asia….

In a word or two, the rockets are fired into the sky to please the rain gods in the belief they will bring rain to nourish the rice fields.

We arrived mid morning at the local Bang Fai Festival and already rockets were being fired high into the clear blue skies, watched by a very large and appreciative crowd. We stayed for about one hour and then decided to leave as the gap between each rocket launch was quite long and the sun was starting to beat fiercely.

Below is a few pictures I took but getting a shot of the launched rockets was near impossible, it was for me anyhow (see above right for my best effort). Click on the photos below to enlarge.

I was pleased I had seen the rocket festival in full swing, and happy with that we decided to leave. We walked along a dirt track with a slight incline back towards our car and Wilai kept walking, straight past it. She weaved through a large crowd and I followed suit. When I emerged through the throng of festival goers I saw a set of stone steps leading up a hill with Wilai (top photo) already on her ascent.

Where the hell is this leading to I wondered as I started my climb to the top. There was only about 60 or 70 steps but it was one of those days when the sun’s heat was unforgiving and by the time I reached the high ground I was kicking up quite a sweat. The view at the summit was stunning. Norn Poo shrine lay before me.

Thailand has much more beautiful shrines than the one on Grandfather’s Mountain, but to discover this just a few kilometres from your home made it all the more special. The view on the other side was spectacular and my photo (below left) does it no justice at all.

There was a small seated picnic area which looked down onto the Wang Chang River and the view was impressive. The river runs past Wilai’s village (out of shot) and to see it in its glory from above was an eye-catching sight. Wilai and I are going to visit Norn Poo shrine on my next trip to Udon Thani when the idyllic spot will be a lot less busy. It will be the perfect place for an afternoon picnic in a delightfully picturesque location.

Norn Poo has a ghost story attached to it but I don’t have enough detail at this moment in time to write at length about it. The ghost is an old man (grandfather) and I intend researching the story a lot further on my next visit. I think I like ghost stories nearly as much as the Thais themselves. That’s a post for the future.

The shrine itself was a tatty looking affair (it looked like it had been decorated by a Brazilian football fan), but it still had a primitive rustic charm to it which blended in perfectly with everything around. There was also a Buddhist elephant sculpture on the shrine grounds, the elephant is a symbol of physical and mental strength in Buddhism. The bottom photograph shows another small shrine in the raised roots of a large tree (possibly a bodhi tree but I’m no expert on trees).

Our morning at the Bang Fai Festival and Norn Poo shrine was one which will stick in my mind for a long time. It just made me think what else is out there that I haven’t seen before. What other surprises does this quiet rural area shelter from prying tourist eyes.

If you throw a stone far enough and go fetch it, you just might find something of interest on your way. I’ll have to throw a few stones in different directions on my next stay in Wilai’s village. Norn Poo shrine is a place I’ll never forget and one I’m going to spend many hours at in the future years ahead. Sometimes heaven is on your own doorstep.


I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

15 Responses

  1. malcolm says:

    Martyn, what a great find , just like you ,I am forever seeing places and things around Whang Pho , that most folks seem to take for granted as you say and very few Farangs have ever seen , and the way you tell your story about your day out and about, was sooooo from your heart and that brilliant writing mind and imagination of yours , I do soooo look foward to all your posts and am waiting for the old village gossip ladies and a new story from them . Take care . malcolm

  2. Hoo Don says:

    Thanks Malcolm for your nice words about the post and for reminding me about the stars of Under the mango Tree, those two dear old ladies Daw and Dao. I must get around to writing another post about them.

    It’s amazing to think about all the wonderful places you have visited in Thailand and then you realize there’s sooo many more you don’t even know about. Thailand is an adventure trail that starts the minute you walk out your house.

  3. Mike says:

    Martyn I never fail to be amazed at the different things that we come across out here. I wonder if the likes of Duen and Wi went to the UK would they find it as fascinating?

    My guess is that the answer is probably yes, what do you think?

  4. Hoo Don says:

    Mike in my neck of the woods they would probably find Stonehenge fascinating but probably nothing much else. Then again what is old hat to us may be of interest to them. Perhaps the White Horse of Uffington might appeal and the corn circles might grab their interest. I think shopping centres would win the day, shoes, handbags and clothes have a mystical charm of their own where Thai women are concerned.

    On a side note….Come on England.

  5. Boonsong says:

    Interesting post. Great photos! Thanks for this.

    All the best, Boonsong

  6. Lawrence says:

    Martyn, have been out of the blogs and blogging loop for a bit (been busy, the weather has taken me out on my bike, the football …). So it was good to ‘come back’ and find ‘Grandfather’s Mountain’, especially the rocket festival, which I usually miss, and your evocative pics. Glad to have caught up.

  7. Catherine says:

    Hi Martyn. ปู่ /bpòo/ is grandfather (as you said) and โนน /noon/ is a small hill or rise.

    Your post brought back to me one of the many reasons why I enjoy Thailand. Thank you. I became so wrapped up with what happened in Bangkok, I forgot to take a big breath to clear the air. It’s going to take many more deep breaths, but I’ll get there.

    I too absolutely love ghost stories. I just can’t get enough of their creativity. And have you noticed how creative Thai ghosts are?

  8. Jon says:

    Hey Martyn,

    Nice post, v informative and nice photos to boot. I have to agree with you that often very cultured parts of Thailand are taken for granted, I’ve become a victim of this the longer I’ve lived in Thailand.

    Re the naming “norn” (นอน) means lying down or (more commonly) sleeping, so if I’m not mistaken it might mean Grandpa’s resting place.

    Cat and other may have other thoughts?

    Interestingly, Boo (ปู่) is interesting as it is paternal grandfather while Da (ตา) is maternal grandfather. Unlike the UK Thai distinguishes between the two as both my parents well know from having a half-Thai grandson.

  9. Jon says:

    Ha, just seen kat has trumped me with her comment — I was mistaken. Just shows how tones, Thai spelling and a large vocab of words (which I don’t have) are all important!

    Hats off to Kat, once again 😉

  10. Hoo Don says:

    Boonsong thanks once again for the read and also for the link on your site. The photos aren’t great but they do capture the feel to the place (I think..).

    Cheers. I’ll be heading over to your photo blog shortly. I’ve added your photo blog to my Photo caption site links as I think it’s a damn good read.

  11. Hoo Don says:

    Lawrence I did notice you hadn’t posted for about 10 days, rest and recollection are a good thing sometimes. I hope my post and pics have put a little som tum (fire) back into your belly. Looking For Mr Rin turned up today and I’ll start reading it tonight after I’ve spun the basics of a nonsensical post together.

  12. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine thanks for the info, I knew you wouldn’t let me down.

    I obviously interpreted noon as norn and went wide of the plot from thereon.

    Sights like Noon Bpoo come along every now and again in life and I’m a big believer in milking their moment. In fact when the milkman ducks inside some house for a bit of hanky panky I think you should steal his milk float. Milk the moment.

    I guess there are so many things going on in Bangkok (good and bad) that you have little time to explore the more rural areas. Nonetheless the Big mango must have plenty of those ‘moments’.

    I love ghost stories but I hope I never meet one of the beggars.

  13. Hoo Don says:

    Jon thanks for the information and my apologies for my spelling of noon (not norn) misleading you.

    …’Interestingly, Boo (ปู่) is interesting as it is paternal grandfather while Da (ตา) is maternal grandfather’….I’ve briefly read something about this but never took it in. I’ll do some research on it.

    I guess people all over the world take a lot of things in their neighbourhood for granted, things which would interest outsiders. To the local they are matter of fact and old hat. There’s a mass of unseen treasures out there.

  14. Catherine says:

    Hi guys, I was only taking a stab that it was โนน (small hill). So Jon could very well be right.

    Martyn, the next time you talk to Wi, perhaps have her pronounce the name and then listen to how long the vowels are. That way you’ll have a better idea of the actual Thai word. Better yet, have her take a photo of the Thai script on her phone or camera and send it to you. And then post it here?

  15. Erich says:

    Well said and an insightful part of the expat experience. I just recently discovered that we have an organic farm a few kilometers from the house. They sell lettuce, eggs, mulberries, and an assortment of fruits and vegetables I can’t yet name, but happily eat. This sleepy little town has plenty of good stuff to offer: Thai French Beef, Khmer temples, a mountain (we have one too) and who knows what else?

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