Bo Sang Umbrellas

A photo of red and white umbrellas drying in the sun, in Bo Sang, Thailand.

Written by ian robert knight

Travel Photographer, Bangkok

A short distance from Chiang Mai, there is a small town called Bo Sang. This town is like most towns that surround large metropolitan centers like Chiang Mai – except for one thing. Bo Sang is known the world over for producing beautiful paper umbrellas.
The umbrella industry has been around for about 50 years or more. Although it’s become a bit more automated over the years, you can still find small private operations that produce one-of-a-kind items. And in January of every year, the village holds the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival, complete with a beauty pageant.
A photo of red and white umbrellas drying in the sun, in Bo Sang, Thailand.

Umbrellas drying in the sun

It’s pretty easy to get to the village from Chiang Mai – any taxi or tuk-tuk driver will know of it. But when you go, aim for some of the smaller shops, where you can watch the artisans construct and paint the umbrella in front of you.
Since these are hand-made umbrellas, every part – including the pole, the stretchers, and the canopy – are constructed one at a time.
The last few times I’ve been to the village, I was lucky enough to come across a family-run operation that’s been working on umbrellas for several generations. In their fairly large yard, they have sheds where they build each of the individual umbrella parts. Since these are hand-made umbrellas, every part – including the pole, the stretchers, and the canopy – are constructed one at a time.
A photo of multi-coloured umbrellas drying in the sun, in Bo Sang, Thailand.

Multi-coloured umbrellas

From what I’ve learned, it can take several weeks to build a paper umbrella. This makes sense, when you consider that each canopy is painted in a unique manner and then waterproofed. It’s possible that there are no two umbrellas alike, when made in this fashion. And most umbrella makers will custom paint anything you want on the one you buy. I’ve even had my camera bag painted while I wait.
A photo of opened paint cans that are used to custom paint umbrellas, in Bo Sang, Thailand.
A photo of a man stacking umbrella parts in a factory in Bo Sang, Thailand.
A photo of a woman applying finishing touches to a stack of purple umbrellas, in Bo Sang, Thailand.
A photo of a woman stacking purple umbrellas, waiting to be finished, in Bo Sang, Thailand.
Next time you’re in Chiang Mai, be sure to spend an afternoon in this charming village. Take the time to learn a bit about the craft, and buy one or two custom umbrellas. If you’re adventurous, they will even ship a large patio umbrella back to your home. That’s definitely a unique souvenir from Thailand.
Photo of a beauty pageant contest at the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival, in Thailand.
A photo of a woman crafting umbrella ribs in Bo Sang, Thailand.
A photo of a woman that's trimming excess paper off a newly made umbrella in Bo Sang, Thailand.
A photo of a dirty-faced kid in an umbrella factory, in Bo Sang, Thailand.

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