Thai women dressed in Lanna attire carry traditional paper umbrellas as they bicycle to Thapae Gate in the Old City of Chiang Mai, Thailand, during the Songkran Festival

A highlight of the Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is the cycling parade of parasol-carrying ladies dressed in traditional Lanna attire. From the top of their head to the tip of their toes, they exude elegance. Their long lustrous black tresses are swept up into elaborate buns and decorated with cascades of fresh flowers. Ankle-length silk wrap skirts and cropped, high-necked jackets are topped with a silk sash. Pearl and gem necklaces, earrings, and hair ornaments are added, as are traditional paper umbrellas, handmade for just such events.

Following a monk blessing and alms-giving ceremony that officially opens the Songkran festival, the ladies ride their bicycles onto the plaza at Thapae Gate with paper umbrellas held aloft. Later in the morning they parade on foot through the plaza and take the stage in a riot of color. I’m always amazed that the paper umbrellas they choose never seem to be the same color as their outfits; note the red parasol in this photo, paired with a hot pink top. Despite this, they always seem perfectly fitted out. Though you can see paper umbrellas being made by hand in the nearby craft village of Bo Sang, there is just no better place to see them being used in everyday life than the cycling parade of lovely ladies during Songkran in Chiang Mai.