Fighting the Blues with Blossoms

A couple of months ago I struck up a conversation with a young man at Cozy Coffee and Bistro, my home away from home in Chiang Mai. He was surprised to learn that after 18 years of visiting Thailand and more than four years of living here, I still didn’t have a Thai nickname. Chuu Len, as the nicknames are known, are ubiquitous in Thailand. Literally translated as “play names,” absolutely everybody has one. It can take years to learn a Thai person’s real birth name. The young man cocked his head, thought for a moment, and dubbed me Bpùt-sà-baa – Blossom.

Barbara Weibel at the Bua Thong Flower Festival in Mae Hon Son Province, Thailand
Checking out blossoms at the Bua Thong Flower Festival in Mae Hon Son Province, Thailand

Many of my followers will have noticed that I haven’t published anything for quite some time. Other than a trip back to the U.S. to get my Covid vaccinations, I haven’t traveled internationally for almost two years. Initially, I worried that folks would tire of reading about Thailand rather than my normal intrepid journeys around the world. As the months wore on, I became increasingly sedentary and I got a case of the blues. But that day at Cozy Coffee, I took my new nickname as a sign that I needed to snap out of my funk by attending the Bua Thong Flower Festival in Mae Hong Son Province.

Panoramic view of Ban Mae U Kho Nuea (Thung Bua Tong Forest Park), where the most magnificent displays of Mexican Sunflowers are found
Panoramic view of Ban Mae U Kho Nuea (Thung Bua Tong Forest Park), where the most magnificent displays of Mexican Sunflowers are found during the Bue Thong Flower Festival
Mexican Sunflowers bloom during the Bua Thong Flower Festival in Mae Hong Son Province Thailand
Mexican Sunflowers bloom during the Bua Thong Flower Festival in Mae Hong Son Province in far northwest Thailand

The festival lasts for about five weeks each year in November and early December, when Mexican Sunflowers burst into bloom and carpet the hills around the town of Khun Yuam. I convinced a friend to join me and we set out early the next morning on the six hour drive. My driver, Pui, had warned me about the roads between Chiang Mai and Khun Yuam. There are two ways to get there. The southern route is longer but has fewer curves. The shorter northern route famously has 1,864 curves, which are celebrated on T-shirts and bumper stickers for those who manage it.

Marigolds and other wildflowers mingle with sunflowers on the shoulder of the road
Marigolds and other wildflowers mingle with sunflowers on the shoulder of the road
All roads lead to the sunflowers during the Bua Thong Flower Festival in Mae Hong Son Province
All roads lead to the sunflowers during the Bua Thong Flower Festival in Mae Hong Son Province

We took the road less curvy. It didn’t help. An hour from Khun Yuam I told Pui to pull over…quickly! I barely got the car door open before I chucked up every last morsel in my belly. But once my stomach was empty I was fine, so off we went again. Soon, clumps of purple Cosmos were mingling with burnt orange Marigold along the shoulder, while Mexican Sunflowers draped the shoulders of nearby hills like a soft yellow shawl. Native to Latin America and the Caribbean, this Thai sunflower variety is smaller than those cultivated for their seeds. Alternatively known as Bua Thong flowers or Tree Marigolds, the species is said to have been originally brought to Thailand by Christian missionaries.

View from the raised platform at Ban Mae U Kho Nuea
View from the raised platform at Ban Mae U Kho Nuea
Another straight-on view from the raised platform at Ban Mae U Kho Nuea during the Bua Thong Flower Festival
Another straight-on view from the raised platform at Ban Mae U Kho Nuea during the Bua Thong Flower Festival

Thirty minutes later we turned off on the road to Ban Mae U Kho Nuea (Thung Bua Tong Forest Park), where the most magnificent displays are found. We’d chosen the perfect time to visit. I climbed to the viewing platform and turned slowly, scanning the mountainside from its flanks to its tip. Vivid golden-yellow blooms burst in every direction. My gloom evaporated. The blazing yellow sunflowers were the perfect antidote for my blues. And it suddenly occurred to me that my acquaintance at Cozy Cafe had picked the perfect Chuu Len for me – Blossom.

Left-hand view of the flower fields from the raised platform
Left-hand view of the flower fields from the raised platform

Where to Stay in Khun Yuam during the Bua Thong Flower Festival

During the Bua Thong Flower Festival, be sure to make hotel reservations ahead of time, as accommodations are limited and this is a popular event for Thais. We stayed at MitKhoonyoum Hotel in Khun Yuam, a 30-minute drive from the flower fields. Located in the center of town, it offers simple but clean and well-maintained rooms for about $15 USD per night.

Right-hand view of the flower fields from the raised platform
Right-hand view of the flower fields from the raised platform

What More to See in Khun Yuam

Also worth visiting in Khun Yuam are Wat Muay Tor (the main Buddhist temple in town) and the Thai-Japan Friendship Memorial Hall. Both tell the story of the unlikely friendship that developed here between local Thais and Japanese soldiers during WWII. Additionally, be sure to stop at the roadside stands that are set up along the route of the Bua Tong fields, as they offer unique arts and craft items as well as fresh farm products.

34 thoughts on “Fighting the Blues with Blossoms”

  1. I just joined your blog ! I’m looking forward to a time soon when I can travel internationally but, until then, i will enjoy reading about your travels 🙂

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  2. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    Glad to hear from you again. As always I enjoy your photos and comments of your adventures.
    May you new year ‘blossom’ into a wonderful year with lots to see and do!
    Stay well and safe.

    Mark Gniewyk

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    • Hi Mark: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too, and thanks so much for continuing to be a loyal reader. January 12 marks the two year anniversary of my last travels for the blog and I am SO ready to resume. I may be a complete optimist, but I’ve contacted a company in Tanzania about doing a safari in Tanzania and Kenya next year. Fingers crossed that things will start settling down.

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  3. So happy you are still out there doing it. Thailand was one of my favourite countries to visit in my early twenties; so unique and the friendliness people. I am in my 70’s now. Really miss travelling! Our last trip was Egypt December 2019. Thank you for posting your travel experiences complete with beautiful pictures. I am living vicariously through your travels until we can travel again. ??

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    • Hi Joan: I hope we will be able to travel more in this coming year. On January 12, it will be two years since my traveling life can to a screeching halt and I am chomping at the bit for it to resume. With 70 approaching, who knows how much longer I’ll be fit and healthy enough to travel the way I like to. I know you can relate. Have a wonderful holiday season and here’s to more travel in 2022!

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  4. I’ve been wondering about you. Glad to hear you are staying safe in this troubled world. Here in British Columbia, Canada we have experienced huge rainstorms and severe flooding. Your new name fits you and keep on posting!

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    • Hi Irene! Great to hear from you too. Yes, I’m still struggling to keep the blog going. Trying to find interesting things to write about when I’ve been sitting in one place for two years is not easy. But I have high hopes that we’ll be able to easily travel internationally again in 2022. I’ve even started to put out feelers for an African safari. We shall see! Enjoy your holidays and stay safe. xo

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  5. Your posts have inspired me for, going on, 3 years now. You are one of the few travelers/writers that confirmed I could have more in life as a 50-something single female. Something that I now enjoy to the fullest.
    Keep writing Barbara. Our world needs more women who demand the best life can offer.

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    • Thank you SO much Sandi. Comments like yours are what keeps me going. I’m going to be 70 in April, so losing these past two years of international travel has been difficult. Who knows how long I will be able to keep doing it. But at least I’ve been able to see more of Thailand, which I’ve always wanted to do. Have a wonderful holiday season and keep the faith. One day (hopefully sooner rater than later), we’ll be able to hit the road again.

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  6. Beautiful pictures, Barb. I miss travelling to Thailand to escape our harsh winters. I certainly understand why you were feeling down but glad that you met your Thai friend at the Cozy Cafe who helped to lift your spirits and get you back to blogging. I have been struggling with keeping mine up and haven’t published anything in months. I haven’t been anywhere, and I am having difficulty with this new Block format that Word press is forcing us to use. As you know, I am not a techie wonder.

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    • Hi Betty: It took me a long time to get used to the block format and I AM a techie, so I can see how it might be a problem for you. It’s gotten somewhat easier with some of the recent changes WordPress made. At least now I can easily find my categories, tags, and the html mode. I am doing some traveling around Thailand and seeing places I’ve always wanted to see, but there’s obviously a limit to how much people want to read about Thailand. Still, I’m going to try and publish more often. Have a wonderful holiday season and here’s hoping that 2022 brings us more opportunities for travel.

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    • LOL…hi Charlotte. Cam lang rien phut pasa Thai. Phut pasa Thai daay, dtee yang fang mai kow jai. Translation: I’m learning Thai. I can speak Thai, but I still don’t understand well when people speak to me. And that about sums it up. I get better every day, but somehow I don’t think it’s ever going to “roll off my tongue.”

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  7. Yes Blossom, flowers are always the best way to cheer me up too. That’s why the winters seem so long in Colorado… I know all about the blues since my recent run-in with serious health problems Barb, but I always find a way to move on. Hope you can too 🙂 – Laura Lee

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    • Hi Laura Lee. So sorry to hear that you’ve continued to have health problems. Getting older is no fun. One f these days I’m going to need a hip replacement, at least if I want to continue to travel. We shall see. But I’m glad to hear that you’re hanging in there. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and sending loads of love.

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  8. I am also happy to see your blog again. We are currently snowbirding here in sunny Arizona but seeing other of the world is always inspiring. Four years ago we travelled to Vietnam and Cambodia, so I always like to see parts of Southeast Asia.

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    • Hi Mary: Thanks so much for taking time to leave a comment. Since Covid began, more than two-thirds of my blog traffic has disappeared. People are likely tired of reading about Thailand, since it’s been the only place I can easily travel. If I leave, there’s a good possibility I will not be able to come home, so I’ve pretty much stayed put. I look forward to the days wen I can travel internationally again. I lived in Arizona for 12 or so years, and it’s one of my favorite places ever. Enjoy the winter there and have a happy holiday season.

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  9. What a perfect “Chuu Len” for you…Your travels have allowed to reach your full self, and Blossom describes you and your journey so well.

    Stay well and safe,
    Love, Vonnie

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    • Hi Vonnie. It’s Christmas Day here in Thailand – still Christmas Eve in the U.S., I believe. I’m thinking of you and your wonderful family, and the way you all gather for the holidays. I hope you’ve all weathered these past two years of Covid with no problems. I miss getting your Christmas poems and always think of you during the holidays. Big hug to you all. xoxo

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  10. Hi Barbara(Blossom). So-o-o good to hear from you again. I’ve missed you. I moved to Plymouth, Ma. from N. Ca. 4 mos. ago and am getting acclimated. Had hoped to spend the winter in Thailand or Mexico but my dog is getting older and think it best I stay near her. You inspire me, keep it going. Love,
    Audrey

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    • Hi Audrey: Thanks so much for touching base. I, too, was hoping to travel in spring of 2022, but things are not looking good. Due to Omicron, Thailand has al but shut down its tourist entry program for vaccinated visitors, so if I leave, I have to do a 14-day quarantine. It’s only available to one destination, Phuket, which is a place in Thailand I really don’t care for. Plus, the rules change so much and without notice that I worry about leaving and not being able to come back home. So, I’m traveling domestically only. One of these days…. You take care and have a wonderful holiday season. Here’s hoping we can all start traveling again son.

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  11. Hola Blossom,

    Loved your post. I wish I had visited more of Thailand while I was there. The fields of flowers are heavenly. Reminds me of the tulips in Washington….flowers as far as the eye could see. Lucky you!!!! Your roads may be challenging….at least you don’t have to worry about cartels! Yes, am still in Mexico.

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    • Hola Paula! How wonderful to hear from you. I wondered if you were still in Mexico. I love it there but, as you say, the crime rate and the drug cartels are always a worry. It’s one of the good things about living in Thailand…it’s one of the safest places I’ve ever lived. Hope you’re doing well. Stay safe and have a lovely holiday season.

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  12. It’s good to see you again. My little blog died since Covid (and WordPress) stopped me from publishing it. But I am still traveling, still inspired by you. I’m in the 7th month of a journey around Europe and America with about 7 more months of plans ahead.

    Happy holidays and good wishes for 2022.

    Libbie

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    • Hi Libbie: So sorry to hear that your blog crashed and burned. I lost two-thirds of my traffic wen Covid began and it hasn’t recovered at all. I’m struggling to produce new content because I can’t easily travel internationally and people are rightfully tired of reading about Thailand, where I live. I also don’t know how much longer I’ll keep publishing it, but I’m always delighted to hear form readers like you who continue to follow me. It’s what keeps me going these days.

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