Umbrellas made for more than just the rain
Thailand is noted for firstly the food, then the sights and also in the north of Thailand, the great umbrella village. Wherever it rains, there will be an umbrella but few are as pleasing to the eyes as those made here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Umbrella making has become an art form and the Bor Sang Umbrella Village in Chiang Mai can proudly claim that it is the pioneer of the “sa” paper=based waterproof umbrella that is even made fit for a princess. By that we mean the special umbrella made for the late HRH Princess Diana.
The Bor Sang Umbrella Village which is located in Kampaeng District, Chiang Mai is the only one of its kind umbrella-craft village, making its products a signature trademark of Chiang Mai and around the world. Inside the village is an area where you can see the umbrellas being made, a retail shop and a quaint little refreshment café. Once a year in January, there is an Umbrella Festival that highlights the craft and a variety of food and beauty pageants.
The Bor Sang umbrellas start as a water soaked mulberry bark, force beaten with heavy wooden mallets until it becomes a fine malleable mixture. Each person in the umbrella assembly line has a given task which for many, has been a lifelong job for generations. Once the pulp mixture is fine enough, it is put into a vat of water and starch mixture.
The pulp and liquid is thoroughly mixed with large wooden paddles and then sieved through a fine mesh tray. The fibers of the pulp stick to the fine mesh and when it is dried in the sun can be peeled off the mesh much like a sheet of handmade textured paper known as “Sa” paper. This paper has many uses and not just for umbrella making. You can often find this paper in specialty paper shops in various colors and textures, some embedded with beautiful dried flowers or leaves and made into little gifts such as note books, paper packaging or more.
Other parts of the umbrella are made from slivers of bamboo. Each part is intricately crafted by various people. A person could be tasked with making the small rib joints, where they do nothing but cut sticks of bamboo into thin sliver of sticks.
These thin slivers of sticks are then joined with cords and glue to form the shape of the umbrellas from tiny cocktail umbrellas to large garden parasols. It requires the skill of an artisan to create this form or the umbrella will fail to open correctly. It is a simple mechanism consisting of a bamboo structure held with a slide pole and catch system to keep it opened in use.
Once the frame of the umbrella is complete, pieces of the “sa” paper are glued to the bamboo frame in layers and sealed with a final layer of glue and resin mixture as a primer for painting. At this stage the umbrella has been formed and is an off-white color, ready for painting.
The umbrellas are painted in a variety of floral designs which are the signature of the Bor Sang umbrellas. Each umbrella is painstakingly hand painted and you can even have customized designs made just for you. The display of finished umbrellas are a delightful splash of colors for any occasion or place. Once the painting has been finished, it is coated in a special water resistant resin which makes it waterproof and these umbrellas have been known to last for decades with hardly a sign of water coming through even in the heaviest downpour.
The painters in this village are also more than pleased to paint customized hand phone covers for those who would like a touch of individuality for their phones. The price of painting these items are inexpensive at THB100 apiece.
The retail shop offers a variety of souvenirs that make beautiful mementos and gifts. The variety of umbrellas would make one spoil for choice or you could always try painting one yourself. There are also blank primed umbrellas of various sizes for the artistic visitor to bring home and be crafty.
Getting to the Bor Sang Umbrella Village is easy if you join one of the many tours that go there. Alternatively as it is about 9 kms out of the eastern side of Chiang Mai old city center, you could hire a tuk-tuk or nowadays get a Grab car to bring you there.
There is no entrance fee to this place but you can get souvenirs or refreshments at the retail shop with reasonable prices and at the small cafe for a cool drink.