Across Thailand, thousands of small craft villages dot the landscape. Each one specializes in the manufacture of a particular handicraft. Especially in northern Thailand, the choices seem endless. In tiny Ban Ton Pao in northern Thailand, everyone in the villages is involved in the production of handmade paper from Mulberry bark. In nearby Baan Tawai, the focus is on handmade furniture. Other villages produce lacquerware, silk clothing and linens, indigo dyed material, hand-woven baskets, hammered silver, jewelry, and more. But my all-time favorite is the village of Bo Sang, which specializes in handmade paper parasols.
I had an up-close view of the process during this year’s Umbrella Festival, held every year during the third weekend of January. For three days, local artisans demonstrated every step of the process, from shaving down bamboo strips for the ribs of the umbrellas to painting the parasol tops. In addition to umbrella making classes and demonstrations, bicycle parades featured elegant Thai women in traditional attire, each holding a gorgeous parasol aloft as they pedaled down the main street. The town was decked out as well. Multicolored parasols decorated the facades of buildings. Riotous umbrella arches spanned the streets. Even mosaic murals created from mini-parasols were scattered around town.
When I grew tired of walking the hot asphalt streets I fled to the shade of a canopy in front of a stage, where youngsters performed traditional Thai dances. Fon Lep dancers wearing long brass fingernails on the tips of their fingers bent their hands nearly backwards as they minced across the stage. King Ka-La dancers, bedecked in spectacular fan-shaped costumes, mimicked the movements of birds. But my favorite was the umbrella dance. Performed with a rainbow of twirling parasols, it was a fitting end to my day at the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival.
Author’s Note: The best way to attend the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival is to use a Grab Taxi. From the city of Chiang Mai. It’s about a 20 minute drive and the fare should run somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-250 baht (~$6-8 USD). Those with a more adventurous spirit (and a smaller budget) can catch a white songthaew (a local form of transport that is basically a pickup truck with a cap and bench seats) from Wororot Market, next to the Ping River in Chiang Mai. These trucks run up and down Sankanphaeng Road, which leads directly past the village. The fare should cost 20 baht (about 65 cents USD). Make sure to ask the driver if he or she is going past Bo Sang Village before climbing in!
Thinking about traveling to Thailand? I’ve been coming here since 2003, wintered here for five years, and am now living permanently in Chiang Mai. I’ve also written prolifically about the country. To read more of my stories about Amazing Thailand, click here.
9 thoughts on “Bo Sang Umbrella Festival in Northern Thailand”
Oh, wow! I’ve been to Thailand several times, but somehow I missed this amazing festival. It looks beautiful, thanks for the post!
You’re welcome Oona!
You’re welcome Oona. I hope you are able to attend one day.
Thanks, Barbara for putting this amazing guide on umbrella festival.
Thanks for giving the nice information…..
Barbara: This was such a lovely video and a wonderful glimpse into the culture. I noticed that it was only men doing the painting on the umbrellas…and how talented they are! The dancing and costumes and music gave me a flavor of the people that was very special. Thank you!
You’re very welcome Nancy. So happy you enjoyed the video.
Sorry I just got around to reading this and watching your video. I love traditional customs. The umbrella painting segment reminded me of my visit in Kuala Lumpur to the Jadi Batek factory several years ago.
I watched and did a couple of short videos where as the material rolled out, the artists drew their designs on the material by free hand. Up until then I always figured it was done by a machine. I was astounded by their talent.
Hope all is well and your are still enjoying living in Chiang Mai! I also hope now that my wife is retiring that we can finally visit your city in Thailand. I love the country and its people!
Hi Mike!So glad you enjoyed the video. I still love living in Chiang Mai, although there are some issues of late regarding changes to the visa rules that may require me to think if I wish to stay. For now, I’ll manage, and hope that the election and the King’s coronation will turn things around. Love hearing from you and hope all is well. I look forward to the day I can show you and your wife my adopted home, Chiang Mai. It’s time we finally met!