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. 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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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 water proof 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.
My take aways
As I mentioned earlier, I have a weakness for handlooms and handicraft items. Here too, my palms were ithching to buy the huge umbrellas but I was sure that I needed to save money for further shopping at 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.
Thanks to the Umbrella village, this trip marked the beginning of my shopping in Thailand!
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 meager but it will surely encourage and help these artisans to sustain and keep the art going.