The Unsolved Mysteries of South-east Asia Podcast: The Mekong River's 'serpent' fire

Statues of two Naga, the mythical serpent, line the Thai bank of the Mekong river in Nong Khai province. ST PHOTO: TAN HUI YEE
In this episode of The Unsolved Mysteries of South-east Asia, ST Indochina bureau chief Tan Hui Yee delves into the unexplained phenomenon of Naga fireballs rising above the Mekong River. PHOTO: THE NATION THAILAND

Synopsis: In this special series, The Straits Times dives into some of the greatest unsolved mysteries in South-east Asia, and examines the underlying issues that they exposed.

In this episode, we investigate the source of the red and orange fireballs that emerge from the Mekong River once every year.

ST Indochina bureau chief Tan Hui Yee speaks to Dr San Sunthornthanakul, mayor of Phon Phisai municipality, and biologist from Chulalongkorn University Dr Jessada Denduangboripant.

She also interviewed Mr Thanavorakit Kounthawatphinyo, a Laotian filmmaker based in Bangkok, Mr Sompop Khamsawat, a civil servant who is convinced that Naga Fireballs are a hoax.

Highlights (click/tap above): (Headphones recommended)

01:53 The annual Naga Fireball festival draws large crowd

05:20 The Naga is seen as a celestial guardian, a symbol of abundance and a patron of water

06:30 Dr Jessada dismisses the theory of chemical reaction giving rise to the fireballs

09:00 Mr Thanavorakit traces the fireballs to Laotian soldiers firing bullets into the sky

13:36 Mr Sompop petitioned the authorities for an investigation into the phenomenon

15:45 Dr San says the term “Naga Fireball” is a modern creation

17:38 The health of the Mekong River is failing

Produced by: Tan Jia Ning (, Tan Hui Yee (, Magdalene Fung (, Ernest Luis and Teo Tong Kai

Edited by: Teo Tong Kai

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