Monks In Makeup


Continuing our bittersweet farewell tour of Chiang Mai, we decided to hit some of recommended tourist hangouts in the old town.

We found overpriced and underwhelming food in most cases, showing us how lucky we are with our street food finds, which are tastier and far cheaper.

But our mission was not a total bust. We got a tip-off, which led us to more Chiang Mai magic.

A friendly chat about how we stumbled on a novice monk initiation ceremony prompted a cafe owner to mention another part of the initiation ceremony involving makeup and fancy robes. It sounded fascinating. And then she told us that a nearby temple was having one of these ceremonies that very night.

At dusk we headed for the Shan temple known as Wat Pa Pao. The Shan are an ethnic group originating in Myanmar and known as Tai Yai people in Thailand.

There was a market underway (and we tried an excellent noodle soup with smoky-tomato broth). There was music, there was dancing and there were boy monks in makeup and fancy robes.

Novice monk initiation ceremony Chiang Mai

According to our knowledgeable cafe owner, novice monks are carried around the temple by older relatives as part of the initiation rites. For three days, she said, the feet of the novice monks aren’t allowed to touch the ground.

We certainly saw a lot of young monks being carried around the temple. And I felt really sorry for the men carrying the older monks. The small monks, some of whom looked as young as five, were an easy load.

Poy Sang Long Chiang Mai

But some of the initiates were BIG.

And so it seems completely forgivable that this monk-bearer decided to set down his burden so it could have a go at the remote control cars at one of the market stalls.

Sang Long Festival Chiang Mai

Sang Long Festival in Chiang Mai

We were incredibly lucky to stumble onto the Poy Sang Long at Wat Pa Pao. Further research showed it’s a once-a-year event in Chiang Mai, where novice monks are dressed up like Burmese princes for a three-day party inside a wat.

Have I mentioned how much I love Chiang Mai?

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6 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Currently on a year-long World School adventure with my two kids, seeing what this wonderful world can teach us.

1 Comment

  1. Michi says:

    I’d never heard of this novice monk initiation ceremony! I love learning about these little tidbits from bloggers. Chiang Mai is on my top places to visit, I’ve been aching to go for years. I’m saving as much as I can and hoping to make it a dream come true.

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