Chiang Mai’s annual Bo Sang Umbrella and San Kamphaeng Handicrafts Festival from January 19 to 21 celebrates the creativity that goes into the famed Thai paper parasols made from the bark of the saa (mulberry) tree.
Legend has it that a Siamese monk travelling in Burma came across these unusual saa umbrellas, which offered protection against both sun and rain. He learned how they were made and shared the knowledge with the artistic elders of Bo Sang village, who embellished the technique and created a distinctive colourful but very practical umbrella of their own.
At first it was just a profitable hobby to supplement earnings from rice, but the parasols proved so popular that in 1941 the villagers formed a handicraft cooperative – the same body that now organises the annual Bo Sang Umbrella and San Kamphaeng Handicrafts Festival.
Bo Sang umbrellas are today made from silk and cotton as well as saa paper.
During the threeday festival, lanterns illuminate the streets and hundreds of umbrellas are hung from the rafters and beams of houses and shops. Bands play and villagers compete to design the most attractive umbrella.
The Bo Sang Beauty Pageant Bike Parade puts the young contestants on two wheels and there are concerts and lots of great food.