Wednesday 10 March 2010

High as a kite in Hua Hin ...

My plans this week are all up in the air. Not that I'm disorganised, it's just that Hua Hin -- the royal retreat two hours south of Bangkok -- is hosting the annual Hua Hin International Kite Festival and the World Kite Surfing Championships this weekend (13/14 March).

Kite surfing, for those who don't know, is where you strap your feet onto a snow board whilst your body is harnessed to a giant parachute while you desperately hang on and pray that you don't get blown all the way to Mexico. Jing jing!

I have never seen so many kite surfers on the water at once in the emerald waters off Hua Hin. Hundreds! What a festival of colour: flourescent organge, green, blue, yellow, white. Darting here and there, ducking, diving, weaving. The main fascination in watching is to see what happens when the ropes of two kite surfers get tangled? That would be spectacular in a shadenfreude kind of way (ie, bloody funny because it's happening to somebody else not me!)

I'd like to give it a go sometime. I spoke to Natsinee, a slender Thai lass, who's just completed three lessons without ending up on the tradewinds to Mexico. 'It's easy and so much fun!' she says breathlessly. Easy? Really??? 'Yes, you just turn by controlling letting the air out of one side or the other.' Does it require much physical strength? 'Yes, in the stomach,' she nods vigorously,  pointing to her abs, 'and a little bit in the arms and shoulders.' Your first few lessons you can go tandem with an instructor (sounds fun, as long as you can choose your instructor: I don't want any beefy guy in budgie smugglers strapped to my buttocks, thanks.)

A few kite surfing schools operate in Hua Hin, but one which is accredited with the IKO and carries full insurance is KBA (Kite Boarding Asia) operating from Baan Laksasubha, adjacent the Sofitel. Do not mix these guys up with Kick Boxing Asia -- you will be brought down to earth with a heavy thud and your holiday will end in tears.

Far safer then to go fly a kite, or at least watch them being flown in the annual March festival. Here you can watch dogfights (well, aerial fights with kites, not dogs filled with helium on long strings, let me make it clear to any animal lovers out there.) There are two main types in Thailand, the more classic diamond-shaped pakpao and the larger star-shaped chula.

You can also paint a kite, watch them being made, and see international kite designs too.

So drop by and join in these two events. No strings attached. Well, actually, a lot of strings attached ...

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