Fireballs in the Mekong
There is an unusual (some would say paranormal) event that takes place year-round in the Mekong River. Unexplained Naga fireballs บั้งไฟพญานาค Boong Fai Phaya Nak rise out of the river, shoot into the sky and then disappear.
- Full moon of the 11th lunar month (October)
- Thursday 5 October to Friday 6 October, 2017.
- Tuesday 23 October to Wednesday, 24 October, 2018.
Traditionally held in Nong Khai province (in Northeastern Thailand), especially Phon Phisai district (east of Muang Nong Khai), and across the border in Laos in the villages of Pakngum, Nonxai and Nongkhiet.
The number and intensity of fireballs increases around the full moon of the 11th lunar month, marking the end of the rainy season and the Rains Retreat. This two-day festival features long-tail boat races, a sound and light show and, of course, plenty of unexplained fireballs.
Buddha and the Naga Serpent
Traditionally, the fire balls are believed to come from the naga, a mythical serpent that lives in the water. According to legend, the naga was so amazed by the Lord Buddha’s teaching, that he took human form and became ordained as a monk. However, the Buddha’s teaching stipulates that only human’s can become monks.
One night, while the naga was sleeping at the temple, it returned to its serpent form. Another monk saw the giant snake sleeping in the temple and was alarmed. The Buddha summoned the snake and informed him that he could not remain a monk. This crushed the naga’s spirit, and the Buddha felt great compassion for it. He gave it the five precepts, which would allow it to be reborn as a human and become a monk.
In the meantime, the Buddha consoled the naga by telling it that all candidates for monkhood would take the name of the naga in honor of this noble creature. Even today, all candidates for the Sangha are called naga. Furthermore, every candidate has to answer the question, Are you a human?, before being ordained as a monk.
Scientific Explanation of the Fireballs on the Mekong
Scientists have suggested that the naga fireball event is actually flammable phosphine gas rising out of the riverbed and igniting. However, locals maintain that this is the naga paying tribute to the Lord Buddha. Regardless of the source, there is no question that real fireballs rise out of the Mekong at Nong Khai. Those who visit during the festival routinely see them with their own eyes.
Naga Fireballs from the Lao side of the River
There are three villages on the Lao side of the river where people congregate to view the fireballs. These are Pakngum, Nonxai and Nongkhiet.
Lao officials encourage people to craft Krathong-style offerings to signal the end of the Buddhist Rains Retreat:
> Community and religious leaders have urged young people to bring banana stems and bamboo to make a boat. The craft will then be adorned with candles, flowers and flaming torches, and will be floated on the Mekong to mark the last night of Buddhist Lent, and the Naga will rest for another year.
Sala Kaew Koo in Nong Khai
While in Nong Khai, don’t forget to see the interesting and strange Sala Kaew Koo park.