Bo Sang Umbrella Festival
Each winter, the traditional Northern Thai village of Bo Sang blossoms with bouquets of exquisitely-painted umbrellas in every imaginable shape and size. The Bo Sang Umbrella and Sankampaeng Handicrafts Festival, held on the third weekend of January, has been celebrating the town's cultural history since the 1980s. A sea of umbrellas with hand painted designs depicting local flowers, birds and Buddhist themes line the main street, dazzling visitors at this three-day event. Art-lovers from all over the world make the journey to Chiang Mai to celebrate with Bo Sang's proud residents.
Bo Sang and the surrounding craft villages in Northern Thailand were once part of the ancient Lanna Kingdom. Populated by traditional wooden homes, lush rice fields and serene temples, each town specialises in a different craft. Ban Tan Pao produces handmade paper, and Ban Tawai specialises in intricate wood carvings. In Bo Sang, modern umbrella-makers offer traditional saa paper models alongside innovative designs made from silk and cotton from the nearby villages in the San Kampaeng region.
Umbrella Festival Events
The laid-back festival packs cultural performances, children's activities, delectable street food and much more into three colourful, fun-filled days. Highlights of this year's festival, which starts on January 17th, include daily events such as:
- Opening Ceremony- Dressed in traditional Lanna attire, bicycling villagers greet visitors at the opening ceremony on Friday at 7 pm. The Governor of Chiang Mai usually presides over the Opening Ceremony.
- Miss Bo Sang Beauty Pageant- Smiling contestants holding parasols parade through the main street riding bicycles equipped with handcrafted bamboo baskets. Later the elegant young ladies take the stage for the judging process. At the end of the festival, the newly-crowned queen waves to the crowd from her throne on top of an elaborately-decorated float.
- Live Music and Cultural Performances- Starting at 7 pm, the stages host Lanna music, traditional Fon Lep and King Ka-La dance, Thai drumming and other cultural presentations. The performances continue until the festivities end around 11 pm.
- Traditional Crafts Market- Shoppers can choose from a dizzying array of cocktail umbrellas, parasols and enormous patio umbrellas. Additionally, artisans offer beautifully adorned fans and lanterns made with the same techniques. The crafts market runs from 3 pm until closing time on Saturday and Sunday.
- Artists Demonstrations- During the three-day festival, local artists leave their normal workplaces to show visitors how they craft their unique umbrellas. Festival-goers can also participate in umbrella-making workshops for a small fee.
- Painting Competition- Contestants come from all over the world to participate in the painting competition which takes place on the third day of the festival.
History of Bo Sang Umbrellas
A local monk named Phra Inthaa initiated the production of Bo Sang's umbrellas. According to an inscription on his statue in Bo Sang, the monk lived over a hundred years ago. A Burmese host gave Phra Inthaa an ornate paper umbrella to shelter him during one of his pilgrimages. After realising that his hometown already had all of the ingredients necessary to make the umbrellas, Phra Inthaa taught his beloved community to make them. Creating and selling these magnificent umbrellas was an ideal way for the local farmers to supplement their income between harvests. The economic importance of the umbrella-making craft remains today in Bo Sang.
How are the Umbrellas Made?
The craftspeople of Bo Sang make these magnificent umbrellas through a series of intricate procedures. In assembly-line fashion, each artist specialises in one phase of the umbrella-making process, such as:
- Creating the bamboo armature- Seated on handwoven palm mats on the floor, artisans individually carve bamboo strips for the umbrella's inner skeleton. A second group of artists uses strong twine to weave the strips into wooden axles creating the finished umbrella armature. The intricate thread work around the central spokes completes the look of these spectacular umbrellas.
- Making the saa paper skins- While the artists assemble the armatures, other villagers pound mulberry bark into a pulp to handcraft paper for the sails of the umbrellas. The artists then place the pulp into enormous vats with water, dye and a solvent. Next, the workers dip large screened frames into the vats to capture a thin skin of the mulberry pulp. The coated screens are then hung to dry until the finished saa paper can be peeled off.
- Attaching the skins- Artists adhere the saa paper skins to the bamboo and seal the edges with a strong glue. Some designs include the addition of fringe around the umbrella.
- Painting the umbrellas-Before the umbrellas can be painted, they must be sealed with white gesso. Historically, artisans used natural pigments to paint designs. Today's artists use acrylic paints for more efficiency and durability.
- Sealing the final designs- The artists seal the umbrellas with natural varnish so that they can be used for both shade from the sun and protection from the rain.
Bo Sang Umbrella Center
If you can't make it to the annual festival, you can still discover the joys of Bo Sang's umbrellas by visiting the Bo Sang Umbrella Center. Experts who have spent their entire lives making umbrellas specialise in each part of the process. For a couple of extra baht, you can end your tour by painting your own umbrella. Many of the talented artists in Bo Sang also paint elaborate scenes on canvas. They offer the paintings at remarkably affordable prices and can help you with shipping arrangements. The Bo Sang Umbrella Center is open every day from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.
Bo Sang village lies around 10 kilometres southeast of Chiang Mai. The drive usually takes approximately 30 minutes. The friendly staff at the akyra Manor Chiang Mai Hotel will be happy to arrange trips to Bo Sang and the surrounding craft villages. If you would like to go on your own, take the white songthaew from the Chiang Mai Warorot Market. The cost of a one-way trip is around 20 baht.
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