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How the spectacular Mexican sunflower fields came to Mae Hong Son

5th Nimmanhaemin Art and Design Promenade

How the spectacular Mexican sunflower fields came to Mae Hong Son

Saksit Meesubkwang

The blossoms of the Bua Tong sunflowers, the diversity of the tribal way of life on Doi Mae U-Kor, the hilly roads with thousands of curves - these all add to the charm of Khun Yuam district in Mae Hong Son.

When we imagine the wide fields of the Bua Tong sunflowers dancing joyfully in the sunshine, Doi Mae U-Kor will certainly pop up in your mind. Most people only hear the name of this place. Those who have a chance to visit this heavenly place extol its charm and beauty.

Steps ascend a hill to make viewing easier.

All the inhabitants of Doi Mae U-Kor are Karen and Hmong hill tribe folk. Their main industries are planting rice and raising elephants, horses, buffaloes and goats.

During World War 2, Japanese soldiers trying to escape passed through Thailand, especially Mae Hong Son province, camping in nearby areas. They hired local people who owned elephants to carry ammunition and the provisions.

Over 50,000 tourists have visited the Bua Tong Flower Field making the place crowded with visitors during this wintertime.

After the war, Burma (as Myanmar was then called) became a British colony. In this country full of natural resources, the British mostly wanted diamonds, rubies and jade. Apart from these precious stones, they desired teakwood. Since the colonists did not have any means to transport the huge teakwood logs, they traveled around the area and finally found a village called Baan Su Rint, a Karen village with many elephants. Here they stopped and made a deal with the elephant owners, hiring them to transport the logs.

An area has been designated for visitors’ tents and to prevent garbage from the crowds of tourists from becoming a problem.

The mahouts accordingly moved to Burma and returned to Thailand after two years. During his stay in Burma, one mahout received seeds of a kind of flower from a foreigner. He realized that the land on Doi Mae U-Kor had no big trees, only weeds. In the hot season, the weeds withered. He therefore scattered the sunflower seeds around this area.

Beautiful scenery of Khun Yuam district’s mountain can be seen at the observation area at the Bua Tong Flower Field.

Two years later, the sunflowers had spread over a wide area. Locals passing by admired the beauty of this exotic flower which they had never seen before. When the flowers withered, the tribal men collected the seeds and planted them around their houses. Before long, the flowers blossomed marvelously all over Khun Yuam district in Mae Hong Son.

However, the mahout who brought the first seeds to the village had not asked what its name was, so they named it after the European who gave him the seeds. They called it Pho Meung Neud, which in Karen language means the western flower.

In 1983, when the flowers flourished beautifully over a wide landscape, officials declared the site a tourist attraction and named the Mexican sunflower the Bua Tong Flower. The sunflower blossoms in winter, from November till the end of December.

Between 1997-2000, there was a disagreement between forestry officials and the locals in Khun Yuam district. As the officials declared the flowers area a national park, people who walked across this land had to pay five baht. This aroused discontentment among the locals. On November 15, 2000, 500 locals gathered and marched to the Mae Hong Son governor to protest against the protection under the forestry department and against the declaration of the national park. They reasoned that they were the first people who planted the flowers. The protest led to the Tambon Administration Organization (TAO) taking care of the land instead of the forestry officials. This satisfied the locals.

Mae U-Kor TAO, Khun Yuam district, Mae Hong Son province is today in charge of around 500 rai of Mexican sunflower fields, and the Karen and Hmong continue to lead their traditional lifestyle.

Two modes of transport, plane and car, are provided for traveling to Bua Tong Flower Fields. The plane departs from Chiang Mai airport and arrives at Mae Hong Son airport. The flight costs about 800 baht and takes 45 minutes. The Dok Bua Tong fields are only 70 kilometers from Mae Hong Son airport. There are three routes leading to the splendid fields: (1) the Chiang Mai-Hot-Mae Sariang route. The bus ticket is 200 baht and the journey takes eight hours because the road has many curves and the terrain is hilly. (2) Chiang Mai-Mae Taeng-Pai route to Mae Hong Son province. The bus ticket is 180 baht. (3) Chiang Mai-Chom Thong-Doi Inthanon to Mae Chom-Khun Yuam route which leads straight to the flower fields.

It is recommended that those who plan to travel as a group use private cars so that they can stop at other sites along the way, such as Mae Surin Waterfall, the highest waterfall in Thailand; or view the Paphiopedilum or Lady’s Slipper orchid, a rare and preserved species of wild orchid.

The World War 2 Museum in Khun Yuam has displays of old-fashioned automobiles, Samurai swords, Japanese soldiers’ coats of mail and arms.

5th Nimmanhaemin Art and Design Promenade

Chiang Mai’s smallest but most artistic event

Autsadaporn Kamthai

It has only been 12 months since the last Nimmanhaemin Art and design Promenade (NAP), but this event has been waited for, with much anticipation, by artists, models and Christmas shoppers.

Junnapong Saranak, director of the TAT, Northern Region 1 and Amari GM Wim Fagel open the 5th Nimmanhaemin Art and design Promenade.

Receiving great feedback from the previous four events, Jirun Siri from the Passport to Suvannaphoum, Somchai Khana-sa from HIP and Supreeda Wongsaensri decided to reorganize the NAP Street festival December 3-6.

A most unusual, probably heavy, but one of the most photographed creations from Chakkrit Chimnok.

This fifth event proved to be as successful as its forerunners, as throughout the four day festival, the tiny Soi 1 was seen crowded with shoppers stocking up on their Christmas and New Year gifts and just enjoying the experience.

The numerous trendy, exotic, and traditional arts and decoration items being displayed at over 70 stalls turned the fair into a shopping paradise for both Thai and foreign art lovers and shopaholics.

Classic Lanna, a silk creation by Sumet Phankaew.

The opening ceremony of the festival was staged on December 3. Guests included the very active American Consul General Beatrice Camp, German Hon. Consul Hagen Dirksen, M.L. Preeyapun Sridhavat, Hon. Consul of the Republic of Peru and Director of the Chiangmai Ballet Academy and the Director of Tourism Authority of Thailand, Northern Region 1, Junnapong Saranak.

Beautiful people, beautiful bodies, beautiful shows in a beautifully set promenade.

Apart from unusual art products and decoration items being available, dances, puppet shows and a number of great free fashion shows from talented, well established designers showed off each individual artists’ creativity and were presented by professional models so the community could see the province’s dream of being a ‘City of Fashion’ get a step closer to reality.

Tananan Willson leaves the stage after his most successful show.

The promenade showed its real face with great designers and institutions like Navaphuminr, Studio Naenna who showed their hand-woven Thai creations, Chakkrit Chimnok, Sompot Collection, Sangmanee Sangboon, Sumet Phankaew with their show ‘Classic Lanna Thai’, Tananan Willson who convinced the audience of his creativity with his fashion theme and items ‘Just A Peace Of Shawl’ plus the relative newcomer to the Chiang Mai fashion scene, Raffles LaSalle International Design School.

The Nimmanhaemin Art and Design Promenade may be the smallest but arguably the best loved local fair in Northern Thailand, an effervescent four day offering of arts, crafts and entertainment.

The designer from Studio Naenna, surrounded by her models, receives flowers from Dr. Chao Duangduen Na Chiangmai.

As in previous years, the puppet show was one of the highlights and Saturday night draws a huge crowd of spectators.

Tananan Willson, Haute Couture ‘Just a Peace Of Shawl’. Dramatic music, shawls wrapped around, feather-like materials in chiffon and velvet belonged to his show.

‘Mystique’, one of the superb designs by Akarat Varinsathien, designer from the Raffles LaSalle International Design School.

Are Chiang Mai’s male residents ready to accompany their ladies to outings like this? Or do they claim it is too cold during the chilly winter nights?

Over 70 stalls full of shoppers.