Jan 152013

We left Chiang Mai under cover of darkness for the hill tribe village of Mae Sa Mai where a dozen Hmong tribes would gather for the big festival day. As we wound our way up the hill, a man stopped us in the road well before the village explaining that all the parking already was taken two hours before. So much for being early.

We walked up the one lane road, busy with celebrants, vendors, and pickup trucks, to Ying’s house. Not only would we have chicken soup for breakfast, but rice and two pork dishes. I nibbled a safe quantity. Fortunately, no lychee spirits were administered this morning.

After breakfast, we each were dressed as Hmong. Depending on height, girth, and other considerations, there were a wide range of potential costumes. Safety pins were critical to keeping my waistband closed. Keeping it up on my belly covering my t-shirt was a bit more problematic. After a few pictures of one another, we headed out into the fray. We passed a large number of “street vendors” setting up on fresh bamboo foundations along the edge of the road over a steep hillside. A Hmong man from Minnesota approached us to investigate these pale-faced members of the tribe, then after photographing us with his iPad, he hurried off to cover his green polo shirt with something more appropriate to the occasion.

After a short wait, there was a parade of fancily dressed girls, boys, women and men. Some carried objects symbolizing activities of their tribes, including crossbows, giant tops, bamboo poles, and buckets. Dress ranged from the raucously colorful to the delightfully over-the-top. We fit right in. Actually, we stuck out, and were invited to appear in many photos. We took many more pictures than necessary, probably 3000+ all told. Sorting will be a chore, but I’ve gone through mine and uploaded the least bad ones.

View the entire album: Hmong New Year 2013 in Mae Sa Mai (Chiang Mai) – Thailand Photos 2013

We observed various games and competitions. On the main stage, in addition to traditional music performances, there were pop performances by celebrities (or at least celebrities within the Chiang Mai Hmong community). Two girls from Mae Sa Mai danced to the KPOP song Abracadabra by the Brown Eyed Girls (id’d with SoundHound) which seemed slightly scandalous. Judge for yourself when this video finally finishes uploading:

Leaving the village was a challenge because our vans were blocked in by four or five pickup trucks. Hmmm, time for some coconut ice cream. We waited about 45 minutes for the opportunity to thread carefully down the one lane road along which numerous other pickup trucks had parked, some perilously close to the cliff. Once the road cleared, we hurried back to our hotel to prepare for an early dinner.

Dinner at Baanrai Yarmyen Restaurant

Another slightly upscale restaurant, another feast of Northern specialties. It’s hard to beat this trip for the food. Our first plate featured roasted beef, green beans, an Asian vegetable, and kabocha squash with a dish of bright red crushed chillies. But a substantial portion of the chilli paste was fresh galangal, which gave it an herbal, slightly medicinal quality that both moderated the heat and nicely seasoned the beef slices. Pork starred in hunglay curry and in an unusual sour sausage that contained a generous quantity of tender pork skin. The latter was incredibly delicious and I will need to find a source. Fish was present in a Northern style larb (very moist and flavorful) and a whole deep fried fish topped with fried lemongrass shreds and served with a spicy green dipping sauce. I wasn’t up to full strength at the table, but pulled my weight (figuratively speaking) so we could finish almost everything. I skipped dessert.

I returned to the night bazaar to a hand-painted shirt shop I’ve purchased from on my previous two trips. I found a shirt I like and although they were stingy with the discounts, it wasn’t too bad. I headed down to Anusarn marketplace and got a one hour foot massage at one of the cheap places. Not up to my usual standards, but I’ll spare you the details. Better massage back in Bangkok.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Chiang Mai and we have some ground to make up. Two temples in the morning, a great lunch spot, then the wood carving museum in the afternoon. I almost splurged on a very fancy piece there 3 years ago; will I actually lay down the plastic this time? Hmmm…

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