If I hadn’t followed a Facebook group for expats in Chiang Mai, I’d never have known about the Hmong New Year festival taking place for Chiang Mai’s hill tribes. I couldn’t find any other information about it online, but there was enough in the post to pinpoint the location on land just south of the Tribal Museum (behind Lanna Rama 9 Park) and we had no other plans, so we decided to give it a go.
We decided to take a tuk-tuk. The 200 baht fare was extortionate compared with the the price of a shared songthaew, but our destination was a bit out of town and from where we were it was unlikely that a shared red songthaew would be going our way. Chartering a red songthaew would probably have cost about the same as the tuk-tuk for a safer and more comfortable ride, but we’d have had to go searching for one.
Our tuk-tuk driver of certainly didn’t know about the festival. He understood where I wanted to go but seemed a bit hesitant about taking us there – in hindsight I realised that it was because the Tribal Museum itself was closed. When he turned into to road leading to the museum he seemed quite taken aback by the hundreds of people in traditional costume milling around.
It was very obvious that the festival was no tourist event – I’d be surprised if there were more than a dozen of us there. Almost all the hill tribe people were in elaborate traditional costumes, even young guys (usually the most reluctant to give up their jeans). Many of the young women had adapted their costume to modern tastes, shortening their skirts and teaming them with platform shoes. There were food stalls of course, stalls selling CDs and tapes of traditional music, and vendors of the intricate silver jewellery and headdresses that many women wore. I’m sure that an expert would have been able to distinguish Akha from Hmong, White Hmong from Green Hmong etc by their costumes, but for us they were just a colourful spectacle.
Some people were playing traditional games, one of which simply involved a row of men and a row of women throwing balls to their partner – a kind of dating ritual for young people really, but older couples were taking part too. Then there were songs, dances and speeches on a couple of stages among the trees (thankfully the whole site was quite well shaded). Everybody seemed to be having a good time, and people were very happy and proud to pose for photos.
There were no tuk-tuks loitering in the area so we made our way through a park to the main road and, after a short wait, flagged down a yellow ‘fixed route’ songthaew that took us to Warorot Market for only 20 baht each. It was a great day out – one of my favourites in Chiang Mai.