“Do you believe in the Naga?” the hotel receptionist asks me as I checked in to my room in Udon Thani, Thailand.
“I don’t know,” I reply. “I’ve never seen one. Do you?”
“Oh yes!” She says, and the clerk behind her nods as well.
Across Asia, the Naga is a mythical serpent-like creature. It plays a role as a snake in the Mahabarata, takes the form of a dragon in China, and in northern Thailand and Laos along the Mekong River, the Naga is a waterborne serpent that protects residents from danger.
Once a year along the Mekong, this Naga spits fireballs into the sky. The phenomenon always occurs at the end of Buddhist Lent, on the 11th full moon of the lunar calendar. In Thailand’s Nong Khai Province, festivities are full-on, with hundreds of thousands of spectators lining the river’s banks in front of temples. Nong Khai town is the most well known spot for festivities but sees the fewest fireballs – it’s best to head out of town to either Phon Phisai or Rattanawapi, 50 and 80 kilometers downriver from Nong Khai, respectively.