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The Passion Fruit Festival

Gymnastic stunts are the Passion Fruit Festival are sure to impress.These days Chiang Mai has plenty of razzamatazz, high-rise buildings and the clamor of a business center. It seems that finding a hideaway village in the tall trees of the mountains, is getting more difficult. We recommend a one day trip to enjoy “Sweet Passion Fruit” organized by the Royal Project Foundation in Chiang Mai to be a delightful break that would be an adventure all will enjoy.

The village just south of Wiang Pa Pao (Route 118) is an example of rural villages where the majority of the population is Thai tracing their roots back for generations. These villages are where everyone knows everyone else, where employment and income stems from the land. These villagers are not tribal but lowland people who have grown tea for many generations. They carry on the tradition of producing “miang” preserved tea leaves taken as a snack taken as a part of daily mealtime.

The location of the village is in the interior of the mountains out there. Just south of Wiang Pa Pao, we turned right as noted on an English sign reading “Health Station 14 kms.” From the photos in this article, you will see the condition of the 14 kilometer road is mostly dirt and ruts. Drive slowly and view the beautiful scenery with many trees, greenery and numerous passion fruit vines on trellises. The drive took 45 minutes in one direction. Of course, when you are not driver, as a passenger one can just sit back (between the jostling sessions) to view the scenery.

We drove through a few clusters of homes that were older, teak-built houses among an infusion of brick and concrete dwellings as the old gives way to the new. Some timber-built houses were relatively "new" as they had been faithfully restored, or constructed, in traditional Thai style. Each and every household had a good measure of chickens, cats and dogs. The village lacks mobile phone connection service and the area does not have steady 24 hours electricity. Such is country life!

Though the village was high on a hillside at a height of about 1400 meters, the residents were not hilltribe villagers but lowland Thai who have lived in the area for nearly 200 years. The present day generation was raising tea and making the snack known as “miang” processed tea leaves for chewing after a meal instead of drinking hot tea.

Now thanks to the Royal Project Foundation program, the villagers grow highly marketable produce such as Sweet Passion fruit, mulberry, and as well as tea. Though the villagers have lived there for many generations, the national parks management is denying them their livelihood there. For example, not allowing them to construct their own stable electricity source.

The opening ceremony of the festival took place at the village school. The festival venue was a short walk to the soccer field. Many booths were filled with passion fruit for sale and also one booth was manned by the experts from Royal Project Foundation to test the fruit for residual substances.

There was a procession with school children performing traditional dances and modern dances.

An agriculture expert took us into a field of passion fruit on the vine where he explained how the fruit is grown and cared for.

In the early afternoon, the villagers and Royal Project experts had a round table discussion about the benefits and problems in the sustainability of the villages.

Then a contest followed to see who could wrap the most packages of  Miang leaves with think bamboo strips. This was a definite crowd pleaser and all the villagers crowded around shouting encouragement to their favorite.

We boarded the van and headed back to town repeating the hilly 45 minute drive back to the main road. The day was a happy fun outdoor event spent in the fresh mountain air with friendly shy smiles throughout.

Why not visit this village or all of the thirty Royal Project sites by contacting the Royal Project Office (053-810765 ext, 104, 108) to make travel and overnight arrangements.

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