The Bua Tong Sunflower Festival, which celebrates the profusive bloom of the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia) on the mountainous hillsides of Northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province, is a wildly popular flower festival among Thai people. The bloom of the glorious yellow daisy-like flower coincides with the end of the rainy season in late October and lasts for about two months before the flowers wither away. In a previous post, I discussed my memorable expedition in November 2005 to the sunflower fields of Doi Mae U-Kor, located in the Khun Yuam district. Besides Doi Mae U-Kor, apparently there at least two other locations in Mae Hong Son Province, where the bloom of these exotic weeds indigenous to Mexico and Central America is celebrated and the plant is given protection.
Just the other day, I came across a very interesting article on the origins of these spectacular Mexican Sunflower Fields in Mae Hong Son Province. It seems that after colonizing Burma at the end of World War 2, the British employed some Mahout (elephant drivers) and their elephants from a small Karen village in Mae Hong Son Province to help transport teakwood logs into their new colony. After working for the British for over two years, one of the Mahouts, shortly before returning home to his rural village, was given some ‘magical seeds” by his employer. As the hillsides surrounding his village were relatively barren of big trees and were covered with weeds, which died during the hot, dry season, upon his return, he planted a handful of seeds around the area. About two years later, the bloom of this exotic yellow sunflower covered the surrounding hillsides in gold. Other villagers passing by were so impressed with the beauty of this magnificent golden floral bloom that after the flowers had withered, they collected seeds and spread them around their houses. Over time, the Mexican Sunflower spread and colonized quite a large area, as this plant was hardier and more prolific than the native plants of the region.
In 1983, when the flowers flourished beautifully over a wide quite a large area, officials declared the site a tourist attraction and renamed the Mexican Sunflower, the Bua Tong Flower. After some political dispute in the late 1990’s between Thai government officials and the indigenous people of the area (mostly Karen and Hmong), the administration of the sunflower fields was placed under the jurisdiction of the Tambon Administrative Organization.