Getting set on fire isn’t everyone’s idea of a party, but this rocket festival attracts tens of thousands to Tainan each year, even though it’s one of the most dangerous parties in the world. Best described as participatory fireworks, the missiles at the Yanshui Beehive Rockets Festival don’t light up the sky – they detonate into the audience.
It all began after an outbreak of cholera in 1875 caused the population to waste away. Fearful of the demons believed to have unleashed the epidemic, survivors lit lanterns to welcome Guan Di, the god of war, then added firecrackers to banish the baddies. The illness disappeared and the town continues the fiery festival to keep further catastrophe at bay.
On the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, shelves of the double-storey pao cheng (artillery fortresses) are stuffed with millions of red bottle rockets, ready for action at dusk. Once the sun sets, volunteers carry palanquins sporting deities around the streets, which they rock over fires before lighting the rockets arranged on beehive-shaped launchers.
The rockets bite into the crowd and scream past spectators who take to hiding behind cars and buildings. ‘Sensible’ participants dress like astronauts, bundling into non-flammable protective wear, complete with earplugs, gloves and helmets – the rockets may be made of paper but they’re more than capable of leaving a juicy bruise – while the most pious wear nothing but towels and faith for protection. Revellers dance in the ash and slap one another’s backs to shake off smouldering rubble. After counting fingers and toes players either head to a street stall for a beer and a breather or join the mayhem at the next wall and battle on until dawn.
Fly to Taipei with EVA Air. Then from Taipei it’s less than a two-hour trip to Tainan on a high-speed train.
If you don’t deck yourself out in full padding you’re risking serious bodily harm.
Invest in a roll of duct tape to seal any holes in your attire and put extra padding, like cardboard, inside your clothes to shield your best bits. Nearby shops sell survival supplies and many will sew protective canvas onto your helmet and clothes. Don’t take off your protective gear until you’re far, far away. Unruly rockets seem to pick up speed and a stray hurtling down the street is the most likely to hurt you.