A TRIP to Chiang Mai is never complete without bringing home a hand-painted Thai traditional umbrella that is designed by the locals.
An umbrella has its practical use, especially in a tropical country like Thailand, where it may be too hot at certain times of the year but may experience intermittent rains during the monsoon.
The umbrella or parasol in the Kingdom of Thailand, is a symbol of royalty. Legend has it that a monk that goes by the name of Phra Intha journeyed to Burma and saw people making umbrellas out of mulberry bark or sa. He brought it back to Bor Sang Village and showed the process to his town folks. Thai artisans added their own touch of craftsmanship and the industry flourished.
The Bor Sang Umbrella Making Centre shows the whole process of making the traditional Thai umbrella. The center is an open-sided workshop where each station features every step from the beginning until the finished product.
The first step is building the frames, which are a combination of bamboo and strings. The wood is carved and put together for the umbrella handle and struts. Although the process still uses the traditional method, you may be surprised by the speed of the local craftsmen in building the struts.
The next stage is the preparation of the paper, which comes from mulberry tree barks, but at times the artists use cotton or rice paper. Some of these papers are dyed in varying colors. A persimmon fruit secretion and layers of lacquer are applied to make the paper waterproof. Workers turn the umbrella handle with the use of their feet as they attach the paper on the struts. These are then left under the sun to dry.
The final part is the most exciting and attractive to the visitors. It is the designing of the umbrellas. Artists bring to life the images of animals, flowers, nature, and scenery. Apart from the umbrellas, the artists also paint on clothes, shoes, and bags of guests. One artist painted on my hand, which was done in a short span of time.
The Umbrella Making Centre also has a souvenir shop where you can choose beautiful products you can take home to your friends and loved ones. There you will find umbrellas of different sizes.
I tried designing my own umbrella, but not at the Bor Sang Umbrella Making Centre. Our tour host held a special activity so we could experience it ourselves. It was a bit challenging, yet we had so much fun.
Come January, Bor Sang will celebrate its annual Umbrella Festival. It is a grand time to showcase the talents of the locals and appreciate their creativity. It is the best time to make your own umbrella and give tribute to these artists. After all, these parasols are not only a symbol of royalty, but also they reflect the talents and skills of unsung artists, who build these objects that protect us from sun and rain.
Next time you’re in Chiang Mai, or if you plan to visit this northern Thai city, make sure to take a stop at the Bor Sang Umbrella Making Centre. It is located at the San Kamphaeng Highway, about eight kilometers from the city center. It is open from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. It is nice to witness the whole process and appreciate the hard work of the artists.