Great Balls Of Fire!

Many of Thailand’s popular festivals are well known and draw in the tourist crowds year in, year out – think the Songkhran new year celebrations that spell out a massive nationwide water fight or Lopburi’s annual buffet for its resident monkeys. But one with less of a reputation is the Naga Fireballs festival in the country’s northeastern region, known as Isaan.

What's it about?

The Thai provinces near to the border with Laos in this part of the country, a supposedly natural phenomenon occurs once each year in which glowing balls appear to rise high up into the air from the water of the Mekong river. Supposedly, because there are those of more cynical minds who doubt the genuine nature of this phenomenon and write it off as some sort of hoax.


Bang Fai Phaya Nak

Known locally in the Thai language as bang fai phaya nak, and also referred to as the Mekong Lights – drawing parallels with the Northern Lights seen from the west – the occurrence is all the more bewildering, paranormal even, because nobody seems to be able to explain it – this is something that has baffled scientists for decades, perhaps longer even.


The Fearsome River Serpent

According to myth and legend, these famous balls are from the breath of the fearsome river serpent Naga (hence the name), a Buddhist folklore character that haunts the waters up this way – northeastern Thailand’s answer to the Loch Ness Monster, if you will. Written accounts of apparent sightings of Naga date back hundreds of years and certainly many locals are convinced.


A Freaky Phenomenon?

The closest scientists have come to explaining this freaky phenomenon is to suggest that methane gas bubbling from the river bed is responsible for the bizarre fireballs. In particular, the positioning of the earth and the sun in relation to one another at the time of Buddhist Lent around the end of October, when this all gets going (as well as in May – it’s a twice annual thing), is said to play a role.


Scientific Theories

At this time, the earth passes closest to the sun and as a result, there is a higher concentration of ultraviolet radiation and greater gravitational pull than normal. This could, according to scientists, cause unstable levels of oxygen on earth which in turn causes the methane leaving the river to essentially self-combust!


Or Is It A Hoax?

But still, others are convinced it is all one big prank. Those who disbelieve the scientific theories claim that this uneven riverbed is far from providing the world’s best conditions for methane to reach the surface. Some simply think that there is some undiscovered behind-the-scenes polytechnic work going on that has had the world fooled all this time! If you want to decide for yourself, Nong Khai is the place to go around the time of the October full moon!