Thailand's Chula and Pakpao Kites
male versus female

[Reprinted from a brochure prepared by Ron Spaulding for the Thai Kite Heritage Group describing the history of kites in Thailand]

When the southwest monsoon is beginning to stir the leaves of Thailand's flame trees, many an elderly gentleman, not to mention his grandson, lifts his eyes to the sky contemplating the excitement of the kite flying season. For in this happiest of all lands, kite season is a time of delight for everybody.

An Ancient Tradition

In Thailand, kite flying is not just a casual attempt to see how high it can be made to soar into the sky. It is an ancient sport dignified by rules and regulations and a heritage involving everyone from kings to commoners.

Before the inauguration of competitions as we know them today, the Thais were flying cargo-laden kites over their golden cities. In the late 17th century, King Petraja used kites for what was probably the first aerial bombing in history. When the principality of Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) rebelled, King Petraja tied kegs of gunpowder to kites, lifted them over the rebel stronghold and blasted the miscreants into capitulation.

Kite flying as a sport has been popular since the reign of King Ramkamhaeng of the Sukhothai period, some seven hundred years ago. The kings of Sukhothai loved kite flying so much that the sport played an important role in Thai literature of that period. The craze for kite flying reached such heights in the new Thai capital of Ayutthaya that in 1358 a Palace Decree was issued stipulating that kites were not to be flown in the vicinity of the palace.

There is also evidence of kite-fighting being enjoyed as a sport more or less in its present-day form by King Rama 11 (1809-1824). The King matched his pentagonal male kite called a "Chula" against a courtier's female kite called a

"Pakpao" from the Phramane Ground in front of the royal palace, the same area from which kites are flown today.

Kite flying contests were held during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910) and in 1906, the first contest for a royal gold cup was held at the Dusit Palace. The King presided over the competition with members of the royal family in attendance and a court orchestra provided the background music intended to spur the competitors to greater endeavours. King Chulalongkorn enjoyed these contests so much that they became the national sport and were held annually until his death in 1910.

In 1921, in the reign of King Vajiravudh (1910-1925), the game became popular as a national sport. Princes and commoners entered their teams, squaring off against each other for valuable prizes. The King himself presided over the opening battle in the skies and even sent his personal "Chula" kite stamped with his "Three Arrows" emblem to participate in the contests.

Suitors in the sky

Sex rears its head in the competition because the combatants are the "male" Chula kites and the "female" Pakpao kites. The Chula is a sturdy 81/2 foot tall kite whose bamboo frame has been seasoned for months. Shaped like a five-pointed star, the big kite has three sets of bamboo barbs attached to its string for snagging a female. A Chula team consists of at least 10 men or boys.

The Pakpao, like the female it represents, is deceptively fragile, diamond-shaped and only 35 inches from stem to stem. Its defences are a marvellous maneuverability plus a loop of string hanging beneath its' flying line and a long tail with which it attempts to snare and strangle its opponent. The flirty little Pakpao with an expert at the end of its string can dart in on its cumbersome enemy with deadly accuracy.

In formal fighting such as that seen during the annual tournament, the ground is divided across the centre with a rope. Upwind is Chula territory. From here the great male kites are launched across the border into the downwind half of the field where in a clear blue summer sky the Pakpaos flutter about in swarms like so many high-flying butterflies.

The object of the game is for the Chula to snag a Pakpao (they sometimes snag more than one) with the bamboo barbs attached to its flying line and draw it back across the line into male territory, or for the agile little Pakpao to throw its loop (a 12 meter length of string slung below the flying line) or her tail, around the male and drag him down on her side. There are two objectives in this "male against female" sport; male kites competing for the most female kites snagged; and female kites competing for the greatest number of male kites brought down.

A male kite venturing out into Pakpao territory is any female's game and vice versa. Sometimes the male is the aggressor, choosing from the pool of flirting wallflowers the Pakpao he thinks he can bring home, like choosing an unknown partner at a dance, and often with as calamitous a result. At other times, a Pakpao may find herself in a position for a Leap Year approach and will swoop down and lasso an unsuspecting male.

No male dies without a struggle, nor does any female, but the wails of anguish are greatest at the Chula end of the field when one of its members is in jeopardy. Thus, for the spectator, the best position for viewing a competition is a close as safety and the officials will permit to a Chula team.

The team members work under the directions of a captain who indicates his will by blowing a whistle. The Chula captain takes over at critical moments during a catch, with the team standing by, slack end of rope in hand, waiting for the moment when the bamboo barbs take hold. When a catch is made a specially-designed brass pulley is snapped over the flying line and, to the rhythm of his whistle, the Chula is raced home with its prey.

When a Pakpao succeeds in throwing her loop around a Chula, or when, as often happens, the agile little creative takes the wind out of the Chula's big sails by laying herself flat against his surface and causing him to loose his balance, the Chula captain immediately sounds the alarm. His whistle shrills faster and faster, driving his team to pull harder and race each other out and back on the rope for the final desperate and heroic effort to keep their ensnarled warrior in the air and bring it back to the safety of its own territory.

By Ron Spaulding

Thailand's Chula and Pakpao Kites

The tradition of kite-flying in Thailand stretches back to the very birth of the nation. Throughout the country's history the sport has been played by royalty and commoners alike. Its heritage is dignified by the time-honoured skills of kite-making and kite-flying, while competition rules and regulations have been long established. At its very least it is an age old national pastime; at its best it is Asia's most sophisticated form of competitive kite-flying.

History of kite flying in Thailand

While it is clear that kite-flying has always been common in Thailand, its precise origins and antecedents are obscure. Like many other forms of popular culture, the sport has been handed down from generation to generation largely through an oral tradition. Written references and records are few, especially prior to the founding of Bangkok as the capital in 1782.

However, although there are gaps in our knowledge and there are many tantalizing unknowns, sufficient material does exist to allow an historical sketch that traces kite-flying from the first Thai kingdom centred on Sukhothai, through the succeeding Ayutthaya period and into the present Ratanakosin or Bangkok era.

The Sukhothai period: c. 1238-1438

The first Thai sovereign state was founded at Sukhothai in the early 13th century when two Thai chieftains rallied their people and defeated their Khmer overlords' Although short-lived, this first capital saw the initial flowering of Thai culture In, all its vital forms. Right from the start kite-flying was a part of the social fabric.

If legend is to be believed, one of the first Sukhothai kings, possibly Phra Ruang or Sri Intratit, was a kite enthusiast and there is a story which tells of how his pastime led to an amorous adventure

He was flying his kite one day, so the legend goes, when the string broke and it landed on the roof of a nearby palace belonging to a nobleman called Phraya Aue. Phra Ruang decided to resolve this potentially embarrassing situation by waiting until nightfall before, disguised as a commoner, scaling the palace walls and retrieving his kite.

This he did. Or at least he so entered the palace but before looking for his kite he remembered that Phraya Aue had a beautiful daughter. The opportunity was too good to miss and so he sought out the girl and spent the night with her. The kite was recovered the next day, though the outcome of the romance is unknown.

On somewhat firmer historical ground it is known from surviving chronicles that Ngao kites (Dui-dui) were a feature of a ceremony known as Mang which was conducted by Brahmins, the priests who then-as even now-conducted royal rites. The ritual, most likely of Indian origin, involved the flying of humming kites over the city either as a form of blessing or in order to predict the weather of the coming season. In the language of the Khmer (from whom the Thai inherited Brahman rituals and other manifestations of Indianized culture) the word Hang means 'kite' or 'bird'.

The Ngao were similar to the Chula kites we know today except they were equipped with a humming bow in the nose. Although only this type is mentioned in surviving chronicles it is certain that other kinds of kite would have been flown during the Sukhothai period. This is a safe assumption as trade with China flourished in the 13th century and the Chinese would have brought paper to Sukhothai and, most likely, various forms of picture kites.

Ayutthaya period: 1350-1767

The Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 and rose rapidly to power, taking Sukhothai as a vassal state in the mid 14th century and totally eclipsing it in 1438 to become the undisputed Thai capital. It ,flourished for 400 years until it was sacked and razed by the Burmese in 1767.

Ayutthaya inherited many of Sukhothai's cultural and religious traditions, along with them the Mang ceremony which continued to be practised until the beginning of the Ratanakosin era. In his records of Ayutthaya ceremonial, poet Prince Somdej Chaofa Thammatibet Chiyachet Suriyawongse wrote of the Mang: 'In December when the winds are strong, .. the Ngao kites will fly all over the city and create musical sounds ... there will be a lot of ladies sending off the kites everywhere.'

Kite-flying was not, however, merely a matter of ritual, it was a craze enjoyed by everyone from the king down. Such was its popularity that it is recorded that kites often became entangled with the roofs of the royal palace, not only damaging buildings but also infringing on the private preserve of the monarchy. Eventually it got so bad that a royal edict was proclaimed forbidding the flying of kites over the palace; offenders, were to have one hand cut off as punishment.

Not that the Ayutthaya kings were anti kite-flying; they, like their Sukhothai counterparts, were fond of the sport. For example, Monsieur de la Loubére, French Emissary to the Court of King Narai in the 17th century, commented on how the king's kite could be seen at night with lanterns attached to it and glowing 'like a comet'. At other times, instead of lanterns, a coin would be tied to the kite and if it got lost the person who recovered it could keep the money as a reward.

Other Ayutthaya kings made use of the kite as a war machine and when the city of Nakhon Ratchasima revolted in the reign of Phra Phetracha (1688-1703), the rebels were defeated by kites. The king's army had been unable to storm the city by conventional methods and so pots of gunpowder with long fuses were attached to kites and flown over the walls. The resulting aerial bombardment set fire to houses, creating sufficient confusion to enable the Ayutthaya soldiers to enter the city and put down the revolt.

Such spectacular events aside, kites were fully a part of Thai social life during the Ayutthaya period. Poems were written on the subject and one, Klong Thawathossamat, composed in the reign of King Borommatrailokanat (1448-88), refers to the Ngao kite, comparing its sound to that of a man calling the attention of his lover, and its movement to his waiting for her.

It is also in Ayutthaya times that the Chula and Pakpao kites make their first appearance, and competitions are organized as a national sport. Undated written evidence of this is found in a book titled The Traditional Culture of Ayutthaya. Here it is recorded that the king would put up his Chula kite from the palace compound and challenge any Pakpao kite that entered his territory. When one did he would appoint royal guards to do the running-in and-so bring it down. Not only is this the first mention of the Pakpao kite, it is also the first time the fierce betting which accompanies competitions, even today, is recorded.

Ratanakosin period: 1782 to present

Despite the enormity of the defeat of Ayutthaya by the Burmese in 1767, the Thais quickly rallied and soon expelled the invaders. Their capital, however, was beyond salvaging. A temporary power base was established at Thonburi where King Taksin reigned for 15 years until, in 1782', his successor, King Rama I moved the capital across the Chao Phya river to Bangkok. This new city was modelled on Ayutthaya and was designed to reflect both the former glory of the lost capital and its lifestyle, its pastimes and traditions.

Presumably the first reign was too involved in building activities to find time for leisure pursuits, though in the reign of King Rama 11 (1809-24) kite-flying was once again a royal pastime. The chronicles of this period relate how Rama II would fly his Chula kite out from his palace and over the walls of the nearby residence of his brother, holding the rank of Second King, who would send up a Pakpao kite in competition.

From now on references to kite-flying become much more common and the subject is featured in history books and Thai literature. For example, Sunthornpu, the foremost literary figure in the early Ratanakosin period, wrote a poetic account of how a little female Pakpao kite succeeds in seducing a Chula: 'Pakpao has caught her Chula in the air .. the Chula tilts and limps to one side barely able to balance ... the Pakpao follows suit, she moves closer and closer. The big Chula struggles nearly out of control. The Pakpao takes aim and does not miss. Unable to move he cannot escape ... Finally they land and become one.'

It is not known how or when the Chula and Pakpao kites were associated with male and female roles, but it appears to have always been the case. In the 1800s a French traveller to Thailand, Ruth Benedict, described the kites as having such associations and further noted that the male Chula was always the dominant character, as was the human male in the Thai society of those days.

Being of male and female character, the Chula and Pakpao were often used by poets as metaphors of romance. Thus Luang Na, a nobleman at the court of King Rama III (1824-51) wrote in a poem about a man's* sorrow over the absence of his lover: 'The sound of the soft wind makes my heart sad and sorrowful...I cry out like the noise of the Chula struggling in a strong wind'

In the pictorial arts, Chula and Pakpao competitions have been depicted in several of the mural paintings that adorn the interior walls of temples (and commonly take scenes from daily life 8 background for the religious tableaux). But perhaps the most charming example of kites in traditional painting is to be found in a mural at Wat Phra Singh in the northern city of Chiang Mai. Executed during the reign of Rama V (1868-1910), it illustrates a fantasy written in the time of Rama III. The story relates how a prince hoped to find a princess to marry by flying kite and wherever it landed he Would seek his bride. The painting shows the kite having landed on the roof of a palace in a distant land and there, at the end of the string, stands a beautiful princess.

On a more prosaic level, a French dignitary in the 19th century wrote a letter home from Thailand in which he commented:

'In France kites may only be for children, but it is not so in Siam. When the strong winds come from the south you can see squadrons of big kites competing in the sky. Young men and boys will be screaming while their eyes watch passionately, for this is a serious betting game.'

Kite-flying obviously enjoyed great popularity by the middle of the 19th century as King Mongkut, Rama IV (1851-68), appears to have been as troubled as were his predecessors in Ayutthaya. He made a public announcement in 1855 stating that anyone who wished to do so may fly kites at the royal parade ground, adjacent to the palace (now called Sanam Luang and still the site for kite-flying competitions). But, he stated, kites could not be flown over the palace as they could damage the delicate golden spires.

In the next reign, that of Mongkut's son, King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, Chula and Pakpao competitions were established as a national sport. In 1906 the first contest for a royal gold cup was held at the Dusit Palace. The King presided over the competition with members of the royal family in attendance, and a court orchestra provided background music to spur the competitors to greater endeavours. He enjoyed these contest so much that they were held annually until his death in 1910.

Without King Chulalongkorn's encouragement the contests fell into disarray until King Rama VI (1910-25) saw the need to re-establish the sport. In the last year of his reign he appointed Phraya Bhirom Bhakdi to form a'Siam Sports Club' and authorized him to hold kite-flying competitions at Sanam Luang.

The club existed quietly for five or six years before it was finally registered in 1933. It suffered an inevitable set back during World War II when Thailand was occupied by the Japanese, but by 1952 it was back on its feet. From then on kite-fliers and the Siam Sports Club have joined forces to re-establish the annual competitions which, with the exception of 1985 when the Sanam Luang site was needed for other purposes, have been held yearly ever since.

Chula and Pakpao competitions

The big annual competition between the Chulas and Pakpaos is what traditional Thai kite-flying is all about. In the past contests spanned a two-month period during which games were held every afternoon during March and April when the warm southern trade winds are at their best.

Today few people can afford to take that much time off work to go kite-flying. Accordingly the annual contest for the coveted King's Cup has been shortened and now runs usually for 15 days in April. Dates and duration can vary, however, and the precise schedule is set each year by the organizers.

Although the scheduling of competitions has been abbreviated from past practice, they remain true to tradition in every other respect. The venue is Sanam Luang, the oval-shaped public area next to Bangkok's Grand Palace, which King Mongkut first made open to kite-fliers in 1855. And as before contests are held every afternoon at 4.00 p.m.

To constitute a competition there must be at least two Pakpao teams for every Chula team. Each game can comprise a minimum of two, maximum of three Chula teams, and from five to 10 Pakpao teams. One afternoon's game lasts 45 minutes and should there be more than three Chula teams, a second set of 45 minutes will be played. Which team plays in which set is decided by drawing lots.

The field of contest is divided into two sections by a rope hoisted at a little above head height. The Chula teams position themselves at the far end of the upwind area, while the Pakpaos stand just beyond the dividing rope in the downwind section.

Overseeing a competition is a referee plus a number of field observers (two for each Chula team) whose task it is to keep track of who has captured whom. In the event of a dispute they have the final say.

Every Chula and Pakpao team has a stable of 10-12 kites each, although only one may be flown at a time. Before the start of the contest each Pakpao team puts up one kite. Once the females are fluttering provocatively above their territory, the referee signals the start and each Chula team puts up a kite.

The object of the exercise is now for each Chula team to capture and bring down as many Pakpao as it can inside its territory-and vice versa for the Pakpaos-within the allotted 45 minutes. On average it takes about 2 minutes for a Chula to go out, capture, and bring back a Pakpao. Speed is of the essence as only two Chulas can enter Pakpao territory at any one time, and thus the third one must wait until one of the others has completed a capture and temporarily left the fray. When a team completes a catch, another from its stable will be immediately sent out.

Each team scores 10 points for a successful capture and downing of an opponent inside its own territory. The winners of a contest are the one Chula team and the one Pakpao team with the highest score.

The regulations governing the contest are complex and there are more than 50 rules which have to be followed. Of these, those governing the actions of the Chulas are pore numerous and thus the little female kite is given a slight advantage.

Each team scores 10 points for a successful capture and downing of an opponent inside its own territory. The winners of a contest are the one Chula team and the one Pakpao team with the highest score.

The regulations governing the contest are complex and there are more than 50 rules which have to be followed. Of these, those governing the actions of the Chulas are pore numerous and thus the little female kite is given a slight advantage.

For example, a Chula can bring home a Pakpao only: when, its barbs have caught the string or tall of a Pakpao in such a way as to put it out of control; when the Pakpao tail is so tangled with the Chula's as to put it out of control; when the Pakpao is damaged by a broken stick, torn paper, a ripped tail etc.; or when the Pakpao has lost its string loop.

The Pakpao, on the other hand, may do whatever she can to bring down the big Chula. She may entangle him with her tail, lasso him with her loop, or lay herself on the Chula's surface thereby taking the wind out of his sails and causing him to loose balance.

However, neither kite gives up without a struggle, and even when a Pakpao is being pulled into Chula territory, she may still by chance regain control and succeed in bringing down her abductor inside her own territory. It is all up to the skill of the team captains who give encouragement to their men usually by blowing a whistle, the more shrilly at times of jeopardy.

At the end of the day's 45-minute contest the scores are tallied and added to the previous days' total. And so it goes on every day for the duration of the contest until the final day when there is an hour-long run-off between the three top-scoring Chula teams and the six top scoring Pakpao teams. The winners of this final-one Chula and one Pakpao - receive the King's Cup. In addition trophies are awarded to the Chula and Pakpao teams with the highest running totals over the full duration of the competition.

Today's competitions are as popular as they ever were and besides attracting thousands of spectators, they also draw hundreds of more vociferous supporters whose excitement is augmented by the fierce betting which traditionally accompanies any contest. In addition the local press turns out to record the' winners, while the King's Cup finals are broadcast on national television.

Battle of the sexes

Every kite-flying competition is a battle of the sexes between the male Chula and the female Pakpao. The former is dominant and aggressive, the latter is flighty and clever. He sets out to capture her; she, though smaller, has many tricks and can ensnare her man with cunning. The outcome of the competition, as in real life, is no foregone conclusion.

No one knows exactly why and when the kites were assigned these roles, but as every existing historical reference makes mention of the male/female characteristics, it is safe to assume that a battle of the sexes was integral to the sport from the start.

So strong have been the masculine and feminine association that Thai poets of the past found the Chula and Pakpao handy metaphors for love songs and tales of romance. Trying his hand at love poetry, a royal bodyguard in the reign of King Rama 111 (1824-51) likened his elusive lover to the female kite: 'Your beauty makes me grow fonder and fonder .. But now you fly away like the Pakpao, moving so rapidly on the wind.'

Such comparisons are no mere flights of romantic fantasy. The physical components of the Chula and Pakpao have very clear parallels with distinguishing male and female characteristics.

Reference to the star-shape of the big Chula is often made in human terms-head, chest, legs and back. The Pakpao, on the other hand, is feminine in being smaller, prettier and, in most telling fashion, deceptively fragile. Then the symbolism of the kites' respective weapons-the barbs of the Chula, the tail and loop of the Pakpao-could scarcely be more explicit.

Moreover, the etiquette of the sport is male-female inspired. The Chula, for example, should avoid approaching a Pakpao from below; he is the attractive aggressor and should assume a high and proud position from which he can swoop down on his prey. The Pakpao, while she does not chase, can still play active roles by luring the Chula into an awkward position and then darting across his path, ensnaring him with her tail or loop.

In practice these roles are played to good effect. With skilful handling the big and powerful Chula can maneuver in any direction; the little Pakpao can be timid or fast, as she pleases.

The subtlety of the sport is such that neither kite is trying to destroy the other, rather he attempts to abduct her, she tries to capture him. It is precisely this intricate game, which we all know, that makes the sport as exciting for the spectators as for the players.

Thai Kite Heritage Group


Established in 1986, the 'Thai Kite Heritage Group' is a private association which aims to give traditional Thai kite fliers and makers pride and substance through international recognition.

Founded by three enthusiasts, Ron Spaulding, Siddhijai Solasachinda and Somsawat Promsiri, the Group is currently involved in a number of activities designed to promote the traditional sport overseas, and to make widely available accurate information about Thai kites.

Topping the list of present priorities is the formation of demonstration teams which will be sponsored on overseas tours. At the same. time, the Group is building up contacts with kite flying associations in other countries with a view to exchange visits and the sharing of information.

The 'Thai Kite Heritage Group' is already giving lectures on kite-flying, and this activity is to be expanded through the making of a presentation video and the setting up of a travelling exhibition.

In order to increase knowledge and understanding about traditional Thai kiteflying, the Group is now establishing an English language data bank on the sport with the collation of existing material and the inclusion of new information.

Talking about the Group's aims, co-founder Ron Spaulding said: "People are not aware that the art of traditional kite-flying is far more sophisticated in Thailand than in any other country in the region. The high degree of craftsmanship in kite-making has been perfected over centuries, while the norms and rules of competitions were established by the Royal Palace perhaps 200 years ago.

"The art has come down to us in a pure and unaltered form, but precisely because of the skill and dedication involved, it is becoming increasingly difficult for it to prosper, indeed even to survive.

"So, an awareness strengthened by international interest will, we hope, help preserve the heritage and keep the sport alive."

The Chula

The Chula is a tall, sturdy kite in the shape of a five-pointed star and with the following specifications:
Size: width 193 cm, height 254 cm
Longeron: Length 217 cm, (tapered, 13 mm-16 mm-5 mm)
Wing Spars, 2: length 215 cm, (tapered, 5 mm-13 mm-5 mm)
Leg Spars, 2: length 144 cm, (tapered, 11.5 mm-13 mm-5 mm)
A 2-point bridle.
Top bridle length: 7 meters
Bottom bridle length: 7.14 meters
In addition to its size and weight, the Chula kite is equipped to conquer a Pakpao by means of three to five barbs attached to the flying string.
Each of these is made up of six 8-inch long pieces of bamboo, curved at the ends and tied back-to-back over the string to form a starshaped hook.
These barbs are used to ensnare a Pakpao by catching her string or tail beneath their curves and so pulling her down.

The Chula kite team

The standard team to fly a Chula kite consists of at least 20 persons made up of the following:

Role Persons
Captain (also co-flier) 1
Flier 1
Catcher (with pulley) 1
Assistant Catcher 5
Stool Boy 1
Pull-in Runners 8 or more
String boy (with basket) 1
Stable Man (responsible ofr the launch,
knots and bridle adjustments
Stable Boy (for on-site repairs) 1
Total 20 persons

The Pakpao

The Pakpao is a small, light diamond shaped kite with the following specifications:

Size: width 75 cm, height 88 cm,
Longeron: length 88 cm,
(tapered, 4 mm-5 mm-2.5 mm)
Wing Spar: length 102 cm,
(tapered, 3 mm-4 mm-3 mm)
A 2-point bridle.
Top bridle length: 113 cm
Bottom bridle length: 118 cm

Although much smaller and lighter than the Chula, the Pakpao kite cannot only elude the mighty male through rapid flight, she can also bring him down through one of two feminine devices.

First there is the Pakpao's tail, a 20 foot long (seven times the length of the kites spine) piece of starched cotton tapering from a width of 21/2 inches down to 1 inch. It is attached to the kite by a piece of string three times longer than spine. The tail can wrap itself around the Chula and so bring it down.

A second feminine trap lies in the Pakpao's loop. This is a 12-metre length of string attached to the flying string by small bamboo tubes 10 metres a part.

The Pakpao kite team

The Pakpao kite is lighter, more easily manoeuverable and plays a very active role, but the standard team to fly it consists of only four to five persons made up of the following:

Role Persons
Flier 1
Catcher 1
Pull-In Runners 2
String Boy (with basket) 1
Total 5 persons

The bamboo

The spars of a traditional Thai kite are made from split bamboo and, as with the string, the material is prepared by hand in a slow, careful process.

Only one type of bamboo, that of the Sisuk variety, meets the demands of Thai kitemakers and has the necessary size, strength and flexibility. Even then it must be selected with care. It is important that the plant is mature-at least 10 years old-and it should be cut only some four or five months after the end of the annual rains, around February or March. It is then split and stored away for 10 months to allow it to dry out completely.

Split bamboo, however carefully selected, will never be perfectly straight and so, once it is thoroughly dry, it must be bent into shape. This is done by heating each joint individually over a charcoal fire and bending the bamboo into line.

In fact the heating process serves a dual purpose as it also kills the white ant eggs that are embedded under the bamboo skin. If this were not done the little creatures would hatch out and reduce the pole to powder in a matter of three months.

Once dry and straightened the bamboo is ready to be shaped as required. The work is done with wood files and demands skill and precision. For example, the wing spar is something of a challenge in that this one piece of bamboo must be filed so that it runs in thickness from 3mm at either end to 15mm in the middle. Moreover, it must be perfectly straight and give a perfect bow.

Aside from the time needed to dry and straighten the bamboo, it takes many hours to shape the spars according to specification. It is work that cannot be hurried and even a skilled craftsman will need a month to build one kite.

The string

Thailand is the only country in the world where kite string is still made by hand. The craft, like many others in which the Thai are adept, involves a time-honoured and slow, painstaking process. It starts from scratch with the raw material provided by nature and ends with a cord that will have no stretch and will be strong enough to pull an ox.

The basic material is the bark of the Ban tree which grows well only in the northern part of the country. The bark is first stripped from the trunk and then soaked in water for two weeks in order to soften the fibres. After this the pulp is pounded with a wooden mallet and combed to separate the individual strands of fibre which are about 8" to 10" long.

Now considerable patience is required as the fibres are joined and twisted together into a 3-ply cord. And so the complicated process continues, a few inches at a time until the required length is produced.

To give an idea of the time involved, an experienced cord-maker can produce up to six metres a day while a Pakpao kite will need 300 metres of string (three sets of 100m) and the big Chula, which has to do all the chasing, must have at least 900 metres (three sets of 300m).

Once the string has been spliced to the appropriate length, it must be soaked in water and then strung out between two trees so that it will shrink and tighten. If it has been well made it will last for four or five seasons.


In Chula and Pakpao competitions two accessories are brought into play-a pulley and a stool. The former is used for both kites, while the stool is employed only by the Chula team.

This is a hooked-shaped piece of wood, roughly 40 cm long for the Chula and 35 cm for the Pakpao and with a pulley wheel inside the curve. When an opposing kite has been caught, it must be quickly pulled home so immediately the pulley is snapped over the victor's string creating an angle between the kite and the runners-in enabling the haul down to be done as quickly as possible.

This is a four-legged stool with pulley wheels on each leg and two more underneath the seat. It is used to assist the running-in of a Chula. When the captain calls for the kite to be brought in, the stool-boy rushes up with the stool, places it over the string and sits on it to keep it steady while the line is raced in.

Ron Spaulding
Siddhijai Solasachinda
John Hoskin