In Thailand, half a million people gather every year to watch fireballs rise out of the Mekong River. Thousands of reddish-pink balls of light shoot up into the sky above the Mekong, which runs through five nations before flowing out to sea in Vietnam. Locals say the phenomenon has been going on for half a century. The fireballs appear during the full moon of the eleventh lunar month in Nong Khai province, 360 miles northeast of Bangkok. This year the weather was rainy, so only a few dozen were seen.
The fireballs are called “bung fai phaya naga,” or “naga fireballs,” after a mythical giant serpent. There?s never been a scientific explanation for them, but it?s been speculated that they are the result of natural gases rising from the river bottom. Local myth says they come from an ancient waterworld.
The rain disappointed the half a million people who came to Non Khai especially to see the fireballs. All 30 hotels in town were fully booked and several hospitals and Buddhist temples offered room and board. Thousands camped along the highways and the river bank. “I don’t know how they happen,” says 72-year-old fisherman Poon Matawong, who first saw the fireballs when he was 20. “But I believe that the waterworld exists.”
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