October, 2002, from Nondu, Thailand

Looking for Naga Eggs

Last night was the last full moon of the rainy season. There have been all kinds of celebrations around here. School is out and soon the rice harvest will start, so people are blowing off steam before rolling up their sleeves.

Last night I went out to look at the Naga Eggs. Naga Eggs are reportedly luminous balls of colored light that rise up out of a stretch of the Mekong going from Nongkhai about 100 km East, into the air, then disappear. Opinions are divided among those that think its a natural phenomenon, those who think its something supernatural or magical relating to the Nagas that figure prominently in Buddhist folklore, and those who suspect it the work of people either playing a prank or trying to boost tourism. People come into the area from all over Thailand so be part of the experience of seeing them.

Its also a big event here among the locals. Reports had it yesterday (October 20) that the towns along the Mekong river were mobbed. Traffic jams paralyzed the streets and there were hardly places to stand, let alone park a car or motorbike. Chances of making it to the Mekong looked grim.

As evening drew on, I heard that some of the villagers were going to go to a river near town -not the Mekong, but a large river that has Naga Eggs. I'm not really sure whether the "river" is actually a river or a lake. It was referred to as a river, but I had only seen it once and to me it looked like a large lake. Its in an isolated part of the countryside and the only access to it was a very poor dirt road that ran along the side. There was very little traffic on the road the time I was on it -only one or two other motorbikes, as I recall, and from the appearance, the road hadn't been maintained for a number of years.

As dusk drew on, villagers (yours truly included) filled two pickup trucks that had been waiting at the edge of the village. Maybe 20 villagers of all ages -mostly women and children dressed for the warmish evening and palpably tingling with excitement that we were going to see something significant, whatever it was.

As the trucks forged across the countryside toward the river, the sunlight grew faint and I became aware of lightning constantly flashing all over the clouded surrounding skies. Great fingers of lightning traced kilometers horizontally, describing gigantic semicircles seeming to surround us. The scene became even more remarkable as the last bits of sunlight disappeared and the lightning appeared even brighter as it continuously and incessantly flashed several times a second, bright enough to read by. It was almost as if the sun was flickering intermittently. I had never seen anything quite like this before and it was both awesome and spooky at the same time.

The tucks lumbered slowly down the very poor and bumpy dirt road along the river -slowly so as not to toss out any of us riding in the back. As we reached about midway between the two highways that the road connected, the truck I was riding in suddenly stopped and everybody started chattering excitedly (in Thai) and pointing out into the river. "There were four of them!" The passengers in the cab and the driver jumped out and stood on the riverbank, staring intently across the river. "Did you see that?" exclaimed the driver. "No." "Look over there!" I stared into the darkness down the river a little ways. It was hard to tell if there was anything shooting out of the water because of the constant lightning flashes all around.

The second truck had stopped behind us and everyone stood on the riverbank scanning for Naga Eggs, the scene still eerily lit by the lightning. A moment later the crowd let out a collective "Aaaaaahhhhh!!" and "da..da..da..da..da.." (which I guess means "look! look!". I hadn't seen anything, but apparently everyone else did. "Look over there." I was told.

Then, across the river, a dim orange-yellow light noiselessly shot up perhaps 10 or 15 meters over the river before disappearing. That was it. It was a Naga Egg! The crowd exclaimed and chattered animatedly. I had the impression of it being some sort of a sky rocket -but it had happened way out here in the middle of nowhere -kilometers from the nearest village, and only us two trucks full of people to witness it. "Who would have bothered to fire a rocket way out here as a prank?" I wondered to myself.

We watched a while longer and more eggs rose in the distance then faded quickly. These were bright red and nearly spherical about 75 to 125 meters away from us. The crowd responded to each "egg" with great excitement. I was fascinated but couldn't decide what it was that I was watching.

After a while, everyone started getting back into the trucks. I thought it best to follow suite since I'd be there until the next day if they left me. The trucks continued to trundle along the riverbank, all of us keeping our eyes on the river for more eggs.

Before long, we approached a small village with perhaps a couple dozen small cinderblock houses along the road. The road itself was lined by small oil lamps mounted on waist-high poles. The flickering yellow flames along the road were quite beautiful as lightning illuminated the road from above. Just as we drew into the village, several red Naga Eggs rose up into the sky from beyond a line of trees between us and the river. I remember clearly seeing three eggs drift silently upward above the trees, one chasing the other, moving to a 10 to 20 meter height in about a second.

Again the trucks stopped and the villagers pointed to the spot in the sky where the eggs were and talked excitedly. We all got out of the trucks and stood on the side of the road, searching the skies for the next egg. We had stopped in front of a small cinderblock house -the residents of which had been sitting on their porch watching Naga Eggs themselves since the sun went down. They had counted 62 eggs so far.

All those clouds and lightning had brought more than just a fantastic light show. As the first few large tentative drops landed on our heads we all instinctively made for the shelter of the nearby porch. As I reached the porch, the few scattered drops turned into a wall of water. The owner of the house, who didn't know any of us beckoned us into the house. I stayed outside for a little while, enjoying the power of the storm and the fact that this was the first time all day I hadn't been hot. I was also hoping to see more Naga Eggs, but the wind was so strong that the rain was coming down sideways and the roof of the porch wasn't helping me any, so I went inside.

Inside the house, twenty to thirty people sat on the floor, except for one child sleeping in his mother's lap and another bored young girl watching the door, all of them were staring at a small television screen (Television has inexplicable hypnotic power over the Thai). Someone had put on a CD of Night of the Living Dead and they couldn't take their eyes from the hacking, screaming, and bloody body parts.

After the movie was over, it was still raining like mad. One of the truck drivers disappeared for a few minutes, returning with a couple of pounds of cooked sticky rice, dried and canned fish, and cookies. All of which were devoured as quickly as it was laid on the floor.

When the food was all finished, and the wrappers cleaned up off the floor, the rain let up and we went back out to the trucks and headed home. I didn't see anymore Naga Eggs that night, but I don't think they would have been nearly as impressive as that family's hospitality at taking in and entertaining over 20 strangers who happened to stop in front of their house just as rain started to fall.

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