A beautiful cover for rains

A beautiful cover for rains

Art has no geographical boundaries and traditional Thai craft like hand-painted umbrellas would surely tempt weary travellers. A tour of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market at Ratchaburi is incomplete without a look at the colourful, hand-painted Thai umbrellas that exhibit exquisite Thai craftsmanship.

The umbrellas are not only used for practical purposes in rains, but they also serve as sunshades. Hand-painted umbrellas make for great souvenirs back home. At Ratchaburi Floating Market, the umbrellas are a great bargain, and are offered at prices that will fit almost every pocket.

The skill of crafting these umbrellas has been passed on from generation to generation within communities. The local craftsmen create these fascinating umbrellas using Sa paper that is made out of soft wood from Sa tree. This kind of paper is made from Sa bark and processed from mulberry bark. Sa paper is generally used in making umbrellas, lamps, candle wicks, paper boxes, artificial dried flowers and photo frames.

The craftsmen initially prepare bamboo struts that form the support for the umbrella and cover the struts with paper that are then dried and eventually hand-painted meticulously. The strut is usually painted in black. The borders of the umbrellas are done up with intricate silk laces in white to give the finishing touches. In order to make the umbrellas more attractive, the laces are woven to make them hang like tassels from the umbrella borders.

To protect the Sa paper from rains, umbrellas are coated with special oils. The paintings on these umbrellas mostly comprise fabulous floral or bird motifs that spread out on the surface. The umbrellas come in one soothing colour with multi-hued paintings comprising flowers like orchids. One can pick up miniature umbrellas that are used in home decor. Besides umbrellas, these craftsmen also paint purses, hands bags, fans and hats.   

Apart from Ratchaburi Floating Market, there are night markets in the major cities of Thailand that are the common features of Southeast Asian destinations. One can visit any shop for hand-painted umbrellas at Cicada Night Market and Chat Chai Night Market in Hua Hin and prices are quite reasonable.

Most craftsmen involved in making hand-painted umbrellas live in Bo Sang in the Chiang Mai Province of north Thailand. There is the Bo Sang Handicraft Centre at a distance of 8 km southeast of Chiang Mai. Interested tourists can watch the entire process of crafting umbrellas, paper lamps, hand fans and parasols at the handicraft centre.

The annual Bo Sang Umbrella Fair is held every January, where a huge array of hand-painted umbrellas is on display.   

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