Muang Sing

Right: Rocket Festival

When I rolled into Muang Sing I was hoping to sign up for a three day trek leaving the next day as my visa was winding down and I would have to leave the country within a few days. My trek would have to be delayed a day however as I was informed I had arrived a day before the Annual Rocket Festival (Bun Bang Fai). I wasn't too put out however, it sounded like fun and fun it most certainly was.

The festival is designed to bring on the rains. The phallic analogy of the event is evident, indeed one reveller appeared to be masturbating one of the rockets before it was fired though I'm not so sure this is a prescribed ritual.

Preceding launches were song and dance routines involving a good deal of noise and consumption of liberal amounts of Beerlao. Beerlao was also used to christen some of the missiles before being sent on their journeys.

rocket festival

rocket

rocketeer

Suang Sing

Left: Ethnic Minorities in Muang Sing

As I had lost a day due to the rocket festival I had to be content with an overnight trek to the Akha village of Sopee Kao. It was probably just as well as my knee started giving me trouble on the downhill sections on the second day, a legacy of several motorcycle accidents and foolishly continuing to play rugby past my 40th birthday! Regretably my camera died the day before we left so no pictures from that particular episode. In comparison to my earlier treks in Phongsali province this appeared to be reasonably well trodden ground.

Near Muang Sing we passed through another Akha village, much lower down than the Akha generally live. Evidently an example of the government's relocation initiatives whereby they are encouraging hill tribes to build villages at lower levels and grow cash crops such as rubber (and as an alternative to the opium). The wisdom of this programme will remain to be seen. I was keep to try the betel-nut often chewed by the Akha and other hill tribes an one of the villagers obliged me. It was different to what I've tried in Taiwan where you get a betel seed, wrapped in the leaf of the betel piper climber with lime added. I was givern a strip of bark, a lump of tobacco, some lime, a piece of some other harder bark and a leaf. The effect was much the same. More research is required.....