Trip to Mae Hong Son for the Poy Sang Long festival

The Poy Sang Long festival is a novice ordination ceremony that takes place in Mae Hong Son at the beginning of April every year. Young boys from the Thai Yai ethnic group have their hair shaved and then they are dressed in princely garments complete with flashy jewelry. They are then hoisted on the shoulders of male family members and paraded around the town ahead of the ordination ceremony. The following photos were tweeted live during the five day trip.

Trip dates: 2-6 April 2018

DAY ONE: Good morning from Don Mueang Airport. Today I’m flying up to Mae Hong Son. I’ve been invited by TAT (Northern Division) on a five day trip to take pictures at the Poy Sang Long festival. I’ve been wanting to go to this colourful festival for a long time.

Boarding Air Asia FD3447 from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Flight time is about one hour. We will then change to a Bangkok Airways flight to Mae Hong Son. Won’t arrive at the final destination until 4:30pm (if lucky).

Eating lunch at Khaosoi House restaurant in Chiang Mai airport while waiting for our flight connection to Mae Hong Son. Chicken version is 139 Baht and beef 149 Baht. Expensive of course as it’s in the airport. Taste is good but I prefer my local 35 Baht version.

Boarding Bangkok Airways PG239 from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son. Flight time is 45 minutes. The smog is usually clearer in the afternoon, and so hopefully we won’t be delayed. First ceremony of the festival is this evening.

Views of Mae Hong Son through the smog as we came into land. Apparently it is better than the last few days. Flight time from Chiang Mai was only 30 minutes.

We arrived at Wat Klang Thung in Mae Hong Son just as they had finished cutting the hair of the boys. They were then hoisted onto the shoulders of their fathers and paraded out to the car park for the journey home.

Eating dinner at Krua Kru Nuch restaurant (ร้านครัวครูนุช) in Mae Hong Son. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/ZJzeGRDsAqJ2

There are about eight media on this TAT trip to Mae Hong Son. A mixture of TV, photographers and online travel media. I’m the only foreigner. My room-mate works for Sanook Travel.

We’re staying at B2 Mae Hong Son Premier Resort. Looks nice but it is outside the town center. Nothing much nearby. And they don’t even have a breakfast room. A hotel in the town would be more convenient for exploring on foot. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/C2DCJrHQtCv

The room at the hotel looks comfortable but there’s no bathroom as such. Just a cubicle for the shower and another for the toilet. Not the best of arrangements as I have to share the room with someone. The TAT budget is not enough for our own rooms.

DAY TWO: Its 4am and the young boys who will soon be ordained as novice monks start to arrive at Wat Klang Thung. They are carried on the shoulders of male elders as their feet cannot touch the ground.

It’s now 5am and most of the boys have finished putting on make-up and dressing in colourful clothing. The young boys, or Sang Long, will soon be ordained as novice monks at Wat Klang Thung in Mae Hong Son.

There are 51 young boys (Sang Long) who will be ordaining as novice monks at Wat Klang Thung in Mae Hong Song. Over the next three days there will be parades to places like local shrines, the provincial Governor, and then to the homes of relatives.

The first parade for Poy Sang Long festival in Mae Hong Son is to the local shrines in the city.

I have been to many ordination ceremonies, but this Poy Sang Long festival in Mae Hong Song is not only the most unique, but also the most colorful as the boys are wearing make-up, bright clothing & jewelry. But when they ordain on Friday, they have to shed all of that.

Lunch at the well known Khao Mun Gai Jay Ell restaurant (ข้าวมันไก่เจ๊แอ๊ว) in Mae Hong Son. We had red pork, crispy pork and chicken. I particularly enjoyed the red pork. Very different from versions I’ve tried before. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/nMZW2hhsAZS2

Photo of me reading the newspaper while waiting for the next event in the Poy Sang Long festival to start. Smog levels in Mae Hong Song peaked at 162 (PM2.5) this afternoon which is considered dangerous to your health. I’m already showing symptoms of coughing and throat irritation.

The Sang Long have been going around Mae Hong Son visiting shrines and making it known, to both living and dead, that they intend to ordain as novice monks. They’ve now reached the Residence of the Governor to receive his blessing.

The view from Phra That Doi Kong Mu, which is on a hill overlooking Mae Hong Son. At 174 the Air Quality is dangerous for everyone. Particularly those people who are out exercising by climbing to the top of the hill. I also heard some Thais refer to the beautiful mist. It’s smog!

Phra That Doi Kong Mu in Mae Hong Son lit up at dusk.

A popular place to eat in Mae Hong Son is at Bai Fern Restaurant. My favorite was Miang Kham, a do it yourself leaf wrap of things like lemon grass, garlic, and chili. I also liked the chicken cooked in a pandanus leaf wrap. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/oeWfXAwYv8q

DAY THREE: Good morning from Mae Hong Son. Temperature is 22°C. Air quality outside is a very unhealthy 167 (PM2.5). Inside is not much better. It is 141 in my hotel room! I will be wearing my smog mask today for sure. I will also probably be the only one.

Exploring Mae Hong Son Food Market. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/vRYN671CZjK2

The Living Museum in Mae Hong Son is a good starting when exploring the city. They also have a good bilingual map which is free. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/55XoWi63aGL2

Novice monks cleaning the 12-meter long Reclining Buddha at Wat Phra Non in Mae Hong Son. The image was cast in 1875.

Today, the Sang Long boys, who will be ordaining on Friday, are visiting relatives, elders and monks at their local temples to receive blessings. It must be exhausting for the kids but at the same time they must be loving it as they are treated like little princes.

The feet of the Sang Long boys are not allowed to touch the ground and they are carried everywhere. Literally. Their apparent wealth and beauty matches Prince Siddhartha who gave up everything to become the Buddha. The boys will do the same when they ordain.

Two Sang Long boys receive a blessing from monks at Wat Kam Ko in Mae Hong Son ahead of their ordination as novices on Friday.

Eating lunch at Ban Song Thai restaurant (ร้านอาหารบ้านทรงไทย) in Mae Hong Son. My favorite was Khanom Chin. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/vT13ULVJYmt

The Phraya Singhanatracha Memorial is situated st the foot of Doi Kong Mu in Mae Hong Son. This Thai Yai native from Burma was the first governor of the city when he was appointed in 1874. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/GyzJxmjbDmA2

The Mae Hong Son Ethnics Cultural Festival is taking place from now until 8 April at the Tai Yai’s Studies Center in Mae Hong Son. As well as food and local products, there are also cultural demonstrations from each ethnic group. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/nJg38PwjZ2A2

Nice reflection on the lake at dusk of the stupa at Wat Chong Kham in Mae Hong Son. We had some rain this afternoon and it helped clear the air.

Nice selection of dishes tonight at Khao Tom Nai Pen (ข้าวต้มนายเพ็ญ) in Mae Hong Son. Served quickly and good taste. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/nPheu5mb9vj

DAY FOUR: It’s 6am and the young Sang Long boys are starting to arrive at Wat Klang Thung in Mae Hong Son. They are now getting ready for the big parade through the town at 7:30am. Tomorrow they will ordain as novices.

During the Poy Sang Long parade in Mae Hong Song, relatives of the young boys carry everything that they will need while novices in the temple. The parade is due to start around 8:00am.

8am The Poy Lang Song festival parade is about to start in Mae Hong Son.

The colorful Poy Sang Long festival parade (ปอยส่างลอง) that took place in Mae Hong Son this morning. Fifty one young boys on their summer holidays dress up as little princes in advance of being ordained as novices on Friday.

The Sang Long boys are mimicking the Lord Buddha who was once a prince but gave everything up when he became enlightened.

When the Sang Long boys become ordained as novices on Friday, they, like the Buddha before them when he sought enlightenment, will have to shed these colorful clothes, jewelry and makeup for robes and the simple life in the temple.

The annual Poy Sang Long festival in Mae Hon Song is definitely one of my favorite Thai festivals. It’s a very unique and colorful parade of young boys who will become novice monks during their summer holidays.

A delicious Isaan lunch at Laab Phet Chai Thung (ร้านอาหารลาบเป็ดชายทุ่ง) in Pha Bong, Mae Hong Son, Northern Thailand. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/XxpEKwkMco82

Rice learning center and bridge across rice field (สะพานข้าว ๙ เพื่อสุข) in Pha Bong, Mae Hong Son. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/UqreaNZaQkz

We’re back at Wat Klang Thung for the “Hong Kwan” ceremony (พิธีฮ้องขวัญ). In this ritual, the spirit is called to come back to its host. It’s conducted when people have a big change in their lives. In this case, the Sang Long boys will be ordained as novices tomorrow.

The “Hong Kwan” ceremony is over and the Sang Long boys are now being served 12 different dishes by their parents. Literally, as they are being spoon fed.

Tomorrow morning, the Sang Long boys will be ordained as novices which means donning the robes of monks and then living a simple life with no material possessions. Their princely lives will then be over.

Eating dinner at Kai Muk Restaurant in Mae Hong Son. Map: https://goo.gl/maps/UjAzDvfKk722

DAY FIVE: Good morning from Mae Hong Son in Northern Thailand. The Air Quality has been good over the last few days mainly due to the rain, but the reading this morning was 220 (PM2.5) when I woke up but has now settled on 185. This is still smog mask level.

Locals in Mae Hong Son offering alms to monks as part of their daily morning ritual. To offer alms, you should take off your shoes and offer alms with your right hand. Afterwards, pour water into a bowl to pass the merit onto absent loved ones.

Breakfast this morning near the market in Mae Hong Son was Kai Kra Ta and two bread rolls for 40 Baht.

A Northern-style 7-Eleven in Mae Hong Son.

The Sang Long boys are arriving back at Wat Klang Thung in Mae Hong Son for their ordination ceremony. Once they become novices, they will have to live a simple life.

Before the ordination ceremony starts, there’s time for one last dance. It’s obvious that the Sang Long boys are really enjoying the attention they are getting.

I’m not sure if we will be able to stay for the entire ordination as we have a flight to catch. The ceremony hasn’t started yet. It’s like they don’t want to stop dancing. It will be a shame to miss the actual ordination after being here for five days.

Unfortunately we cannot wait any longer for the ordination ceremony to start. We have a five hour drive to Chiang Mai and then a flight to Bangkok. They tried to change the flight but all seats taken.

That’s a wrap. I hopeyou enjoyed my photos.

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