Poi Sang Long occurs across three days in early April each year. In 2016 it took place from 2nd – 5th April, and it’s scheduled in for the same dates in 2017. These dates are liable to change, however, so keep checking back for further updates.
Poi Sang Long is a rite of passage for young boys in northern Thailand, aged between 7 and 14, who wish to be ordained as monks. On the first day the boys take part in a parade to the temple, where their heads are shaved and they are cleansed.
On the second day – Krua Lu – there’s a bigger parade. The boys are dressed in incredibly ornate Sang Long (‘jewel sons’) clothing and jewellery, before they proceed from one temple to another to take part in various ceremonies. They are also given lots of offerings from well-wishers.
The third day is the most special of all. The boys have lots of makeup applied to them, and dress in extremely fancy clothes. There is another parade, throughout which the boys are carried on their own personal thrones like young kings, before arriving at the temple. There they will hand over their fine clothes in exchange for traditional, plain robes, before finally being ordained as novice monks.
Poi Sang Long is one of many examples of the heavy Burmese influence in northern Thailand.
The festival is specifically practiced by the Tai Yai people, who originated in neighbouring Burma. They are a devoutly Buddhist people, who believe this more ornate ordination ceremony to be more worthy than the standard ones practiced elsewhere in Buddhism.
The festival of Poi Sang Long takes place in Mae Hong Son province, which is located right up in the north-western corner of Thailand, and borders Burma. Compared to nearby Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son has remained relatively undiscovered by tourists, and retains a more authentic, traditional feel.
The event is celebrated all across the province, but the main festivities take place in the city of Mae Hong Son. Every temple in the city gets involved in Poi Sang Long, but our specific recommendations for observing the occasion include Wat Don Chedi and Wat Pa Pao.
Mae Hong Son is extremely easy to get to from Chiang Mai; in fact, some tourists start from Chiang Mai before embarking on the scenic ‘Mae Hong Son Loop’ on motorbikes. If you’re not feeling quite that adventurous, you can simply catch a bus there from the Arcade bus station for around 250 baht.