Unfurling the colours of Umbrella Village in Chiang Mai

“Everyone wants happiness, No one wants pain. But you can’t have a rainbow, without a little Rain“

Well, what if you are embraced and protected from rain by a whole Umbrella village and are still shown a vibrant rainbow! It indeed would be wonderful, right? I exactly found something similar in Chiang Mai on my Thailand trip. Intrigued to know more? Then, come along with me on a virtual tour to the Umbrella village in this post…

As a traveler , if one is yearning to get a glimpse of Thai art, culture, and traditions apart from the verdant and picturesque landscapes, then he/she must indeed move away from the bustling metropolis of Thailand and head towards the northern parts of the country. I was fortunate to visit North Thailand and what a contrast Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai proved to be from Bangkok!

Chiang Mai is beautifully serene, flanked by mountains hugged lovingly by floating clouds and blessed with a perfect weather complimenting the overall scenery.Not surprised that it is a favourite honeymoon destination for many. On the penultimate day of our departure from this wonderful city, I got to visit the Umbrella village or Bo Sang Village/Bor Sang on San Kamphaeng Road, around 10 km from Chiang Mai.

Umbrella Village
The Umbrella Handicraft Centre

San Kamphaeng Road can rightly be termed the home of Thai handicraft and handloom industry. The handmade Thai umbrellas are wonderful souvenirs and to get a glimpse into its making is indeed a treat for an Indian travel blogger like me who loves handmade stuff. Back home in India, umbrellas made of colourful cloth are used for religious processions and adorning the Sanctum Sanctorum of certain temples. However, I have never been to the area of work of making these umbrellas. So, this trip seemed like a perfect opportunity to learn the art of making umbrellas.

Umbrella Village
Unfurling the umbrellas

History of the umbrella village

The history of Bo Sang umbrellas is all the more intriguing. A folklore says that hundreds of years ago, a local monk named Pra Inthaa of Wat Bo Sang (Wat=temple) went on a religious trip to Burma (Myanmar). During his tour, the monk noticed the production and usage of colorful umbrellas and thought that this could very well be taught back home to the farmers who could utilize this skill during the off-season to earn a steady income.He knew that his village had an abundance of bamboo and other required materials. So, he learned the making of these umbrellas, brought back a few samples and taught the farmers. To ensure that many villagers benefitted out of this handwork, he divided the production procedure and assigned them to different surrounding villages. As a result, an umbrella making cluster of many villages emerged with Bo Sang as the headquarter.

The Process of Parasol making

The umbrellas here are made of silk, cotton, saa (paper) depending on the usage. The process of making these vibrant beauties is quite laborious which the men and women in the handicraft center pursue with a smile.

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I have tried to put across the making of the umbrellas into two stages.

Stage 1: Making of Paper from Saa tree and

Stage 2: Making of handmade umbrellas. I captured  the pictorial steps that were displayed on a board in the premises of the handicraft center and they are as below:

Stage 1

The stages of making Sa paper

Stage 2

Paper umbrellas
The process of making the Umbrellas from Saa Paper

The umbrellas are coated with a kind of oil, persimmon extract or lacquer to make them waterproof. Some traders claim that the waterproof umbrellas are not made of Saa but of cotton while some differ over this!

Before buying do check if the Umbrellas are waterproof or not. You may also get them personalized with a painting of your choice, logo or slogan. Though bamboo is an environmentally sustainable material, the artisans do not waste even an iota of it. The longer bamboo sticks are used for umbrella production while the shorter pieces are used for making colourful hand fans.

Thus the handmade products available here range from vibrant fans to colourful lanterns and parasols. The artisans of Bo Sang also showcase their skills by painting on virtually anything you want them to – from mobile covers to handbags to backpacks to caps! The paintings are intricate with beautiful strokes done in a short time and are quickly dried with a hair-dryer to be delivered to us!! I got patterns painted on my backpack, camera pouch, and mobile case.

Painting in Chiang Mai
Artisans at work
Backpack
The pattern on my backpack
Mobile
A new mobile case!

My takeaways

As I mentioned earlier, I have a weakness for handlooms and handicraft items. Here too, my palms were itching to buy the huge umbrellas but I was sure that I needed to save money for further shopping in Bangkok. Hence, bought just 4 packs of small-sized paper fans with each pack containing 4 pieces. With this trip, my official start to souvenir shopping began!

I  was later informed by my driver that Chiang Mai celebrates the ‘Bo Sang Umbrella and Sankamphaeng Handicrafts Festival’  on the third weekend of January each year for 3 days to honour the efforts of the artisans. Do check the Thailand Tourism website for the exact dates and plan your trip during this colourful extravaganza to the city. While in the city, do not forget to visit the beautiful Doi Inthanon National Park.

Thanks to the Umbrella village, this trip marked the beginning of my shopping in Thailand!

A request

Always buy what you can afford (at least a small souvenir) when you visit handloom/handicraft centers of any country.The money you pay may be meagre but it will surely encourage and help these artisans to sustain and keep the art going.

Handpainted umbrellas
An array of unfurls

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34 Comments

  1. Oh my, this is such a lovely post! I would love to have one of these as a souvenir. When we travel we always collect things but rarely do we know the story behind them. Thank you for this!

    1. Yes, they make for great souvenirs, Nadalie.Thanks for reading 🙂

  2. I love this post and all of the beautiful pictures here! I always try to buy from the local craftsmen when traveling!

    1. That is wonderful to know,Angela 🙂

  3. Wow! The umbrellas look so pretty. Thanks for sharing this information about umbrella festival in Thailand. Would love to visit there someday.

    1. Hope you get to visit the place soon,Deep 🙂

  4. Marjie Mare says:

    Everything is so pretty and colorful. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post with us.

    1. Absolute pleasure knowing that you liked the post,Marjie 🙂

  5. There is so much history and beauty with all of these umbrellas! Thank you for sharing and reminding us to purchase from handmade sellers. This helps us to support their craft and often their families.

    1. Indeed…Meg. Thanks for dropping by 🙂

  6. I have to add this to my places to visit when I do visit Thailand. It looks like such a fun experience.

    1. Chiang Mai is a must-visit place in Thailand. Thanks!

  7. Thialand is my lefgit dream! I will just add this to my collection of things I want to see when going there.

    1. Hope you get to visit Thailand soon,Jasmin 🙂

  8. My goodness! This process is so impressive! The way you broke how these beauties are made helps me to appreciate them a lot more. I am certain these craftsmen and women don’t get nearly as much as they deserve for all their hard work. Thank you for sharing this post.

    1. Yes, and that is the sad part of their living,Ola. Hope their economic conditions improve.
      Thanks for reading the article 🙂

  9. This post and pictures are absolutely stunning. I love travel and learning about other parts of the world. Those homemade umbrellas are stunning. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Glad you like it,Nakeya. Thanks fo reading 🙂

  10. I love your article so much! I find it so interesting to enter in the intimicy of these persons. Their craft are really inspiring!
    Keep it up!!

    1. Glad you liked the article,Mihoki. Thank you 🙂

  11. This is incredible and so beautiful. I went to Thailand in January but didn’t make it to Chiang Mai. I definitely need to visit someday.

    1. Hope you get to visit Chiang Mai soon.It is a beautiful place 🙂

  12. Such a beautiful post! Makes me want to visit Thailand even more, it’s definitly on my bucket list

  13. I have seen the colorful umbrellas of Thailand almost always when reading about the place. They are like signatures of Thailand. And why not, so much of history and effort is involved in their making. Never knew there is so much that goes behind the scenes. Thanks for capturing the steps with such precision. It was really interesting to learn about the process.

  14. I remember buying a paper umbrella more than 20 years back when I visited Thailand. I did not know then that it has such lovely story behind it. Chiang Mai is still evading me. Want to go there for the Unesco world heritage sites.

  15. I have always loved these umbrellas but I never knew they were such a work! I salute these tireless artisans for keeping this art alive and thank you introducing us to them. If I ever get to visit Thailand, I’ll make it a point to get one for myself.

    1. Indeed..Thanks for dropping by!

  16. How beautiful. Need to add this on the travel list. How true, we should buy to encourage such wonderful art. <3

    1. Thank you 🙂

  17. I absolutely loved the colourful umbrellas! Umbrella-making is hard work and I’m glad to have understood a bit of it from the information you provided.
    I agree we can motivate local artisans anywhere by buying handmade products from them.

  18. Love the detail and the photos. I like umbrellas, so this post was right up my street!

  19. These are so pretty, and it is wonderful that you also explained the process.
    With the rate at which handicrafts are dying, it is up to travelers to keep them alive.
    Thank you for sharing this 🙂

  20. Lovely colors, and I will definitely visit here should I go to Thailand anytime. Thank you for sharing the information and your experience. 🙂

    Also liked the request… I usually do that, buy from artisans when I visit someplace.

  21. Oh these are simply gorgeous; I loved the way you chronicled the process in a series of pics which were further enhanced by the graphic work – very neat M!
    I totally agree about buying something from the craftsmen while visitng them ; no matter how small – it goes a long way for them!!

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