The exact dates vary from year to year, but the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival always takes place on the third weekend of January. In 2017, the Umbrella Festival ran from January 20th – 22nd and 2018 will run from 19th – 21st.
Known as the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival, this festival, which coincidentally takes place in the village of Bo Sang, features hundreds of umbrellas on display which simply explode with colours. Some of them are also intricately patterned, and all the umbrellas are painstakingly handmade. These umbrellas aren’t your typical tourist tat. They’re expertly made and of an extremely high quality.
With umbrellas being the village’s main export, the opportunities for you to buy these umbrellas as souvenirs, presents or simply parasols against the beating sun, are plentiful at the festival.
There’s plenty more on offer, however. The weekend features a full schedule of fun events, which vary from day to day. Perhaps the most famous event is the Bo Sang Beauty Pageant Bike Parade. The area’s loveliest ladies cycle along, classic Thai smiles plastered to their faces, each carrying a colourful umbrella in one hand.
You can also enjoy (or suffer through, depending on your tastes!) traditional Thai dancing and live music, cheer along the parade, check out the painting competition – which draws competitors from across the area – and even have a go at making an umbrella yourself (spoiler alert: it won’t be as good as ‘the locals’).
Somehow, in a country dominated by agriculture and manufacturing, the village of Bo Sang has carved a niche for itself as Thailand’s umbrella-making hub while also carving out a festival to celebrate the fact.
The unique thing about Bo Sang umbrellas is that the villagers specifically use Saa paper; a lightweight but sturdy material, made from the bark of mulberry trees.
It’s hard to know exactly when the tradition started, with estimates ranging from 50-200 years ago. What most people agree on is that it was all started by a local monk. The Saa paper technique – so the story goes – was brought to the villagers by a monk who traveled in nearby Myanmar, before returning home with the idea that would put Bo Sang on the map.
The villagers took to the technique, and started making umbrellas using Saa paper every autumn after the farming season was over. Their reputation and skill grew over time, and… some years later, this specific umbrella-making technique has made Bo Sang famous across the country.
The village of Bo Sang is very close to Chiang Mai, sitting around 15km north east of the city. If you’re renting a car or a motorbike, it’s an easy journey along the 1006 highway heading east (with a last minute turn left onto the 1014).
If you don’t have your own transportation, don’t worry! Songthaew (the big, red taxis that you see everywhere in Chiang Mai) leave regularly for Bo Sang from the bus stations, and the flower market north of the old city. Alternatively, there are plenty of private cars to rent which you can arrange from your hotel or the tour shops that you’ll easily
Tip: A visit to Bo Sang is always worthwhile, especially because it’s so easily combined with any trip to Chiang Mai. Even when the festival isn’t taking place, there are still plenty of beautiful shops to purchase these gorgeous, unique umbrellas from.
When the festival isn’t on however, the village isn’t up to much. Bo Sang is always bouncing during the Umbrella Festival, but the rest of the year it’s a pretty quiet place that continues its day to day life like any small village in Thailand. If you are wanting to see Bo Sang in all its festive glory, you definitely want to get there in January when the Umbrella Festival is on.