Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Photos from the Soppong Festival of Mae Hong Son, Thailand

The pick-up truck sped forward into the dark and narrow mountain roads. There were five of us huddled together at the back. We had to hunker down and shield our body from the wind which at that point can only be described as icy. I was so preoccupied with protecting myself from the cold that I almost missed looking up at the trees. Once in a while, the canopy cleared out, and what I saw was the clearest of the clearest night skies I had ever seen.

Mae Hong Son, Thailand
The clearest of the clearest night skies in Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son

We were driving through Pang Mapha, a smattering of mountain villages in Mae Hong Son, Northern Thailand, and we were on our way to the district center. Many of the area's local residents had come down this cold night for some food, music, a beauty pageant, Thai boxing matches, and fair games.

Having lived in Chiang Mai for a few months, there was still one thing I had not yet done. That was to visit a hill tribe. Most of the hill tribe tours and even the hill tribes close to Chiang Mai violated my ethical rules for travel. (It's a controversial topic I'd rather not gloss over here.) Suffice it to say, I was glad I held out as long as I did. I didn't have to visit any hill tribe after all. I just had to go to the Soppong Festival.

Here are a few photos from the Soppong Festival in Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son province.

Thailand: Soppong Festival, Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son
Good ol' fashioned fair games in the Soppong Festival of Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son

Thailand: Soppong Festival, Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son
Local teens try their luck at winning a toy at the fair. I didn't know why I had expected fair games to be different in this far corner of Thailand.

Thailand: Soppong Festival, Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son
A pageant showcasing the highly elaborate traditional clothing of the hill tribes of Northern Thailand

Thailand: Soppong Festival, Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son
A woman from the Lahu tribe and a woman from the Kayan tribe (if I'm not mistaken)

Mae Hong Son, Thailand
A Lisu woman who, judging by the number of ribbons on her, was winning this pageant.

Thailand: Soppong Festival, Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son
Apart from the pageant, there was also Thai kickboxing matches that night. Notice the jackets and beanies worn by the spectators. It was below 10°C out here.

Thailand: Soppong Festival, Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son
Red corner was quick, aggressive ,and skillful. He certainly had the spectators rooting for him.

Thailand: Soppong Festival, Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son
And the crowd went wild. Well, almost. But that was impressive.

Thailand: Soppong Festival, Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son
What is a fair without shopping? Here, where nights can get unbearably cold, jackets were valuable commodities.

Thailand: Soppong Festival, Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son
Finally, before leaving, there was the matter of food. Sold at the festival were khanom bueang (sweet pancakes), pad thai, and big pieces of grilled chicken. All cheap. All delicious.


Which festivals in Southeast Asia have you attended?


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