Naga Fireball Festival

Nong Khau
24 September 2020

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Naga Fireball Festival

A celebration of natural mystery

The Naga Fireball Festival has to be one of the most mysterious festivals in the world and in a country like Thailand which is famed for its often fascinating events; this one has to be the strangest! It takes place each year at the end of the period known as Buddhist Lent or Vassa which is a time of retreat where followers give up meat or alcohol. The exact dates of Vassa depend upon the lunar cycle and the phases of the full moon. 

This year the Naga Fireball Festival begins on the 24th September 2020 and runs for a week. It takes place in North Eastern Thailand in Phon Phisai, Nong Khai which are situated on the banks of the Mekong River. 

The Naga Fireball Festival celebrates a natural phenomenon. Every year thousands of people gather on the banks of the Mekong River to see thousands of red fireballs shooting up into the sky. 

It is a dazzling spectacle which has baffled scientists as well as locals since time immemorial. These fireballs or orbs spring from the river into the sky before disappearing. Sometimes there are hundreds of orbs, but there can be thousands and the phenomenon can be seen all along the Mekong River for around 250 kms. 

Local legends has it that the fireballs are supernatural and are caused by the breath of a giant serpent called a Naga who lives in the river, waking up to honour the period of Vassa. 

Scientists are undecided as to the cause. One theory is that the orbs are caused by methane which explodes when it comes in contact with oxygen.  Another theory is that the correct alignment of the sun, moon and Earth is required to cause the spectacle and that the Mekong River is uniquely placed to cause this effect. 

Scientists working for The Thai Government have suggested that the fireballs are caused by an inflammable gas called Phosphine which is created by the Mekong River’s unique marshy environment. 

Whatever the real cause, the Naga Fireball Festival is certainly worth experiencing. Before the natural fireworks, the local people set off fireworks, fireboats, rockets and balloons to encourage the fireballs to start shooting from the water. 

As each fireball appears, the crowd cheer and roar in celebration. It is impossible to resist joining in and whether you believe in the sleeping serpent or are fully grounded in science, this spectacle is something that cannot be fully explained and will never be forgotten. 

When: The Naga Fireball Festival takes place each year at the end of the period known as Buddhist Lent or Vassa. The exact dates of Vassa depend upon the lunar cycle and the phases of the full moon.