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Nakhon Phanom to Socially Distance Epic Naga Festival

Scaled down October event to cut dancers cut from 5,000 to 1,500, limit attendance

Nakhon Phanom Naga Festival Buddhist Lent Dancers
The 5,000 dancers who filled the streets of Nakhon Phanom in 2019 will be cut to about 1,500.

The coronavirus pandemic that has changed much of life in Thailand claimed another victim on Monday when Nakhon Phanom officails announced that its epic Naga festival to mark the end of Buddhist Lent will be scaled down to accommodate social distancing.

The “Lai Reua Fai” festival, set for Oct. 2 this year, features a lighted boat procession, theatrical performances, rockets, parades through four cities and up to 5,000 dancers. The festival honors the 15-meter-tall, seven-headed Phaya Si Sattanakharat naga that is the city’s major landmark.

The highlight of the festival is the rocket show, where thousands of people watch naturally occurring fireballs above the surface of the Mekong River that, according to legend, are breathed out by the underwater nagas that no one actually has seen, although some claim to have caught glimpses of one.

The show is helped out by hundreds of rockets and plenty of theatrical buildup.

The festival also fills the streets with about 15,000 dancers in ethnic dress, with crowds packed shoulder-to-shoulder.

Nakhon Phanom Gov. Siam Sirimongkol said Monday that given the coronavirus pandemic, amassing such a large crowd would be unwise. So the number of dancers will be cut from the usual 4,000-5,000 to about 1,500 so they can be well-spaced apart.

The festival also will see aggressive crowd control, with temperature screenings and mask use required of all attending.

Planning, he said, is now underway with more details to come closer to the end of Vassa.