Photo: Rockets for the whole family.

Introduction

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Most of the time Yasothon is a quiet provincial town attracting very few travellers to its old quarter and giant toad king. But on one weekend in May it explodes with parades, parties and rockets that climb into the clouds.





The town’s rocket festival, or Bung Fai, is the best known out of many rocket-launching parties held around the same time of year in provinces all over Thailand’s northeastern “Isaan” region. They’re all rooted in the animist belief that the god of rain might need a jab or two before he’ll wake up and produce the precipitation needed to grow rice. It’s a perfect excuse to play with fire.

Yasothon’s giant toad is just the best. Photo taken in or around Yasothon, Thailand by David Luekens.

Yasothon’s giant toad is just the best. Photo: David Luekens

Yaso, as it’s often shortened in local speech, is otherwise a sleepy town serving as capital of one of the smallest provinces in Isaan. Tourists are extremely rare outside of festival time and this is expressed by a crummy selection of hotels. There are no expat pubs or travel agents, and many of the streets have so little traffic that kids can play on the pavement without a care.

We enjoyed the Ban Singha part of town with its languid lanes lined by potted plants, napping cats and century-old Sino-European houses. One of them still displays the signage advertising its original function as an opium den. Some great eats can be scored in this area, including no shortage of fiery Isaan food and the sun-dried mango jam that Yaso is known for.

Escape the heat at Wat Maha That. Photo taken in or around Yasothon, Thailand by David Luekens.

Escape the heat at Wat Maha That. Photo: David Luekens

At the centre of this heritage area sits Wat Maha That, an 18th-century temple sporting a sacred chedi, Phra That Anon, along with the province’s principle Buddha image and a beautiful old scripture hall built on stilts above a pond. Neighbouring Chinese shrines and Vietnamese eateries hint that these groups have some prominence in an area mainly settled by Lao/Isaan people.

The rest of Yasothon town hosts unattractive cement structures and a couple of markets to go with Phaya Thaen Park on the eastern edge of town—this is where the rocket mayhem unfolds. Just north of the park, you can’t miss the toad king, Phaya Khan Khak, standing as tall as a 10-storey building. Walk inside its belly to take a lift up to the mouth for a view over a reservoir.

Outside of the festival, the pace of life is slow. Photo taken in or around Yasothon, Thailand by David Luekens.

Outside of the festival, the pace of life is slow. Photo: David Luekens

Elsewhere in Yasothon province you’ll find little more than water buffaloes and rice paddies stretching to the horizons. Around 10 kilometres north of the capital off Highway 2169, the villages of Ban Thung Nang Ok and Ban Na Samai are known for their bamboo basketry and miniature ox carts. A lot of the rockets are crafted in Ban Sa Kaeo, a village set 20 kilometres west of town in Phanom Phrai district, which hosts a large rocket festival of its own.

Booking a room ahead of time is essential if you want to stay in Yasothon during the rocket festival. Accommodation is limited in town so quite a few revellers stay in Ubon Ratchathani or Roi Et, hitting the festival as a day trip.

Orientation
The Chi River cuts through the western edge of Yasothon town and forms the border with Roi Et province; a scenic road runs alongside it and leads to a small riverfront park. Chaeng Sanit Road (Route 23) is the main drag running through town from north to south, and it continues 70 kilometres northwest to Roi Et town, and 100 kilometres southeast to Ubon Ratchathani.

Best hope your rocket doesn’t explode. (2003) Photo taken in or around Yasothon, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Best hope your rocket doesn’t explode. (2003) Photo: Stuart McDonald

East of Chaeng Sanit is Yasothon’s modern commercial area, which looks like any generic provincial Thai capital with its bank branches and small businesses run out of concrete shophouses. The photogenic old part of town, Ban Singha, is found west of Chaeng Sanit and will be most interesting to travellers. At the east edge of town stretches Phaya Thaen Park and the giant toad king, known as Phaya Khan Khak Museum, at nearby Yasothon Public Park.

The police station is found on the north side of town next to city hall off Chaeng Sanit Road. The largest of three hospitals is probably the public Yasothon Hospital situated just east of Phaya Thaen Park, also on Chaeng Sanit. There’s also the Dr Harn International Hospital set right downtown near Ban Singha.

Dr Harn International Hospital: Chaeng Sanit Rd; T: (045) 720 793
Yasothon Hospital: 26 Muu 7, Chaeng Sanit Rd; T: (045) 711 061 ; (045) 712 581
Yasothon Police: Chaeng Sanit Rd; T: (045) 711 572

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 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Yasothon.
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