Learn to Make Handicraft Umbrellas in Chiang Mai

After Peter had left Thailand to go back home to California, leaving me a solo traveler, I scheduled some of the bucket list things that I thought he would have little interest in; seeing a ladyboy show in Phuket, riding in a long boat to James Bond Island and taking a handicraft tour in Chiang Mai. The later of the three was a blend of crafts and shopping. Definitely not for him.

On the handicraft tour we would be visiting four creative shops where crafters are making handmade goods on premise, such as ceramics, cotton, silk and paper umbrellas. Perfect. I’m crafty.

The van came to pick me up at my hotel and I turned out to be the only one on the this tour. Every other seat was vacant. Was that a sign?

We started at the ceramic factory, where they took me into a room with half a dozen workers and swiftly showed me the precise painting technique. There was no in-depth explanation, just a simple “here’s some people painting some ceramics”. Then I was rushed indoors to the Ceramic Store where the sales person followed me around the entire time. I felt obligated to buy something, so I selected one of the smallest things I could find, a mug painted with an elephant for $18.00. The cost of a nice dinner for two in Chiang Mai. But, hey, I have a mug. Yipee.
Chiang Mai Handicraft Tour

Well, that’s not gonna happen again. I will not purchase anything else on this handicraft tour unless I really want it. And that is what I was thinking as I walked into the cotton factory. Out front they had a few ladies perched on a raised platform spinning cotton, which seemed more for show than for production.

I managed to walk away without purchasing a thing. Not a shirt, a scarf or an apron. Yay, to me. Chiang Mai Handicraft Tour

The lacquer factory was the worst handicraft demonstration of the bunch, with a small podium as the presentation area. A woman half-heartedly picked up pieces of lacquer art, each at different stages in the process, and preached a spiel which she had obviously recited hundreds of times before.

Just like at the ceramic factory, we were taken to a small room to witness the workers painting the pieces, which was quite detailed and impressive, but brief.  Then it was off to the lacquer shop where you can purchase thousands of trinkets, that I would have a hard time believing was produced in that little production room we just came from. No purchases made. At least by me.

I had high hopes for the silk factory, I heard they had live silk worms there.

And they did. It was actually the most impressive shop so far with women on their looms making scarves and such.  A bit showy, but not as much as the past two. It actually looked like they got some major work done here. The store was loaded with a variety silk products, none of which came home with me.

Chiang Mai Handicraft Tour Silk

Lastly on this tour, we were headed to the Bo Sang Handicraft Centre to see the art of paper umbrella making. By this time, I was not too excited about this last stop. But, as soon as we pulled up in the van, I could tell it was different than the rest.

The umbrella factory at Bo Sang actually looked like a production factory, with workers scattered about making every part of the umbrella, from start to finish.
Umbrella Factory Chiang Mai

I was particularly impressed with the woman who was making the bamboo struts base of the umbrella by holding part of it in her toes. I doubt my stubby digits would have been any help at all.

Umbrella Factory Chiang Mai Thailand Umbrella Factory Chiang Mai Thailand Umbrella Factory Chiang Mai Thailand

Even the paper was created on premise and meticulously applied by a single woman. If I had to choose one position at this shop it would be that of the paper maker. Not only to be able to check off “making paper” from my bucket list, but the former graphic designer in me still has a fascination with craft papers.

When the paper has dried, the handicraft umbrellas are exsquisitely painted, mostly with colorful floral designs.
Umbrella Factory Chiang Mai Thailand

Umbrella Factory Chiang Mai Thailand  Umbrella Factory Chiang Mai Thailand

After walking through the production facility and seeing the amount of work that was entailed, I wanted to buy an umbrella, so I headed to the Handicraft Centre’s store and bought an intricate pink one for my niece.

Though the entire handicraft tour was not bucket list worthy, the umbrella factory definitely was.

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Helpful Resources

Map of Chiang Mai

2018-12-27T13:22:56+00:00July 28th, 2013|Categories: Asia, Thailand, TRAVEL|Tags: , |


  1. Angela July 28, 2013 at 11:59 am - Reply

    The umbrella factory sounds like something I would LOVE. I love seeing other people practice their craft, especially when all of it is done by hand.
    How is the incredibly expensive elephant mug? Still in one piece?

    • Annette White July 28, 2013 at 1:14 pm - Reply

      The elephant mug is still in one piece, but I have yet to use it for anything!

  2. Heather July 29, 2013 at 7:05 am - Reply

    Bummer, it’s always disappointing when things aren’t as interesting as you’d hoped! I have a hard time saying no, but I’d like to think I could have been strong after the mug too O:-)

    At least the umbrella factory ended things on a positive note. I’m impressed with the lady holding it with her toes too!

    • Annette White July 29, 2013 at 7:10 am - Reply

      The umbrella factory did make it all worth it!

  3. Simply Paul July 29, 2013 at 7:55 am - Reply

    I guess you have to experience the lows to appreciate the highs. Shame.

    • Annette White July 29, 2013 at 2:57 pm - Reply

      Ain’t that the truth.

  4. The Yum List July 29, 2013 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    When you do it yourself you truly appreciate the time and skill that goes into it, right.

  5. CeCe July 29, 2013 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    An $18 mug! Wow….not sure how many locals would be buying that.

    I went to a rug making demonstration in Egypt, and they desperately tried to sell me $1000+ rugs, and telling me that I NEEEEEEEDED it. I told them, “No way dude…I can use that money on another trip! I like my $100 rug at home thank you very much!”

    Good on you for not being pressured to buy things you didn’t want in the other shops!

    • Annette White July 29, 2013 at 10:56 pm - Reply

      I think I could have passed on the $1000 rug, I definitely would be happy with 100 buck one too!

  6. AY July 30, 2013 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    The umbrellas are definitely cool! I like the silk stuff myself, but perhaps I’ve always been fascinated with silk.

    • Annette White July 31, 2013 at 10:22 am - Reply

      You probably would have loved the silk store. There was one of everything in there!

  7. Mike | Earthdrifter August 2, 2013 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    Those umbrellas appear exotically photogenic.

    • Annette White August 7, 2013 at 1:53 pm - Reply

      I wish I would have taken more photos of them!

  8. Arianwen August 11, 2013 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    This looks really interesting. People often stock up on souvenirs without taking the time to get to know the people behind the scenes.

    • Annette White August 12, 2013 at 7:53 am - Reply

      I am typically not a souvenir girl, yet after seeing all the work they put into these, I needed one!

  9. Jeska September 17, 2013 at 8:59 am - Reply

    This is something I would LOVE to see! Its so intriguing to watch how things are made let alone made by hand still.

    • Annette White September 18, 2013 at 7:55 am - Reply

      I have always been fascinated by the way things are made and this was no exception!

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