In April the thoughts of most visitors to Chiang Mai are focused on the upcoming Songkran celebrations with arrivals timed to bloat the city’s populace in the days in and around the middle of the month. Earlier arrivals though will not only have the opportunity to bag their accommodation before prices rise but also to witness the under the rader Poi Sang Long Festival.
For Shan boys, Poi Sang Long is a rite of passage when they imitate the life of the Buddha, dressing up as Princes before being ordained as monks. Practised in several temples in Chiang Mai and northern Thailand, the boys, aged between seven and 14, are carried on the shoulders of older male relatives throughout the celebrations until they enter the monastery on the third day. Novice monks stay with the monastery for at least a week but some will spend many years in service of the Buddha.
Unusually for such a photogenic festival only one other farang was around aside from us. The festival originates with the Shan tribes in Myanmar but immigration has bought the ritual across the border to northern Thailand. We saw a few reminders of our time in Burma in the flowery wide straw hats worn by both men and women across the border, along with the Myanmar flag adorned on some items of clothing.