Just outside the tourist paradise of Chiang Mai, Thailand lies the small craft village of Bo Sang (sometimes spelled “Bor Sang”), famous for its handmade paper umbrellas whose brilliant designs are mysteriously, magically impervious to rain.
A trip to Bo Sang allows visitors a rare glimpse inside the delicate process of making these brilliant, artfully decorated umbrellas that have become instantly recognizable the world over. Once coveted by fair-skinned, delicate ladies for as protection from the sun, today none of their value has been lost even as tanned skin has grown to dominate the fashion world.
For the wary, let it be known that a trip to Bo Sang is anything but an Upton Sinclair-esque look at the harsh reality behind something beautiful. Rather, the curious can wander through a town whose entire purpose seems to have united in the proud creation of lovely paper umbrellas. By the end of the day, a portrait emerges of how these meticulously hand-painted final products are assembled from piles of bamboo struts and sheets of paper made from mulberry bark.
Of course, visitors are given the option to purchase umbrellas from the village gift shop after wandering around. A further, additional opportunity exists for one of the skilled, local artisans to hand-paint a customized design of your choosing on various items such as fans, mobile phone covers, purses, etc.
The Bor Sang Umbrella Festival, held every January, enlivens the village with festivities. A parade streams through the village’s narrow main street, led by dancers and bicyclists (all wielding umbrellas, obviously), including the cycle-mounted contestants competing in the Miss Bo Sang Beauty Pageant, whose winner is crowned at the culmination of the festival.