Saturday, January 21, 2017
The Bosang Umbrella Festival is held every third weekend in January and I was anxious to get out of my new home city of Chiang Mai to see some local crafts people at work. Getting there was the trick. The streets that circle the city are all one way, so you have to know which side of the moat to be on to get a ride in the right direction. There are red songtaews which generally only go inside the old city and a few blocks outside, if they feel like it. You can occasionally persuade them to go out as far as the airport, but they will charge six to seven times as much as for an inside city trip. There are yellow and white songtaews that go outside the city, the challenge is knowing where to pick them up.
Songtaews are pickup trucks with camper shells on the back and a bench seat on each side. There’s a wide step bumper on the back with handrails that make it easier to get on and off, but passengers will need to assist the elderly or disabled getting on or off. There is a buzzer on the ceiling for signaling a stop and two small windows, which allow a partial view. It’s not easy to tell where you are with that limited view. So, you have to tell the driver where you are getting off and he will usually remember to stop if you don’t ring the bell. Within the city, they will take as many passengers as they can fit on the inside as they stop wherever they need to. Songtaews going outside the city will take as many passengers as possible, including standees on the outside before they leave their city stop.
Bosang is only about ten kilometers from the Warorot Market, which is a main transportation terminal in Chiang Mai. It’s a main stop for songtaews going north via the east side highway.
I was lucky I was on my own that day. Time did not really matter and it was a good thing. As often happens, the location I thought would have the songtaews on the right route was incorrect. All you can do is keep stopping different trucks until you get someone who speaks English well enough to tell you if you are on the right stop. Some times, it’s the right area, but you may get drivers who just don’t want to take you where you want to go. Other times, you have to find a specific stop to get a ride to the right location. On this day, I thought I had it figured out, but after stopping two white songtaews and two red ones at different stops, I knew I was in the wrong location. I finally found a friendly tourist agency where they told me I had to go to Warorot Market to get to Bosang.
Warorot is about a mile east of the moat, but there is a songtaew terminal of sorts there. I had to take a tuktuk, one of those three wheeled motorized vehicles that have taken the place of the pedal cabs, since I was on the south side of the city. Then I had to find the right truck. The trucks are lined up for about two blocks, so you just have to start at one end and keep asking for your destination until you find the right one. I had to walk to the far end of the line to find my ride, but the drivers were there calling out “Bosang,” so it worked out.
These were older trucks that mainly took people from the countryside into the market to work or shop. I was the only foreigner and I had to squeeze in up near the front. Once we left the city, people were getting on and off with their produce bags, suitcases, or bundles of unsold merchandise. Guys were hanging off the back while the truck whizzed down the highway. An elderly lady got on in the country and the men help her into the truck. It’s always an interesting ride going out of town. There were teenagers, mothers with babies, and elementary kids in addition to older men and women. They mostly didn’t speak English, so some people just stared and others gave me a friendly smile. The teens and younger adults, just stayed in their cell phones the whole time.
I thought I would be the last to get off, but there were several people who were going farther out into the countryside surrounding Bosang. But they knew to yell, “Get out!” when it was time for me to get off.
I made it!
It was a little before noon and many of the shops that range all along the main road were just opening, which meant no crowds. Never having been here before, I decided to stroll along the main street and take a quick preview. The main road continues with craft shops for about a half hour’s walk. So, I took one side of the street up and one back.
The reception area is there at the gate and there were already visitors enjoying the chance to paint their own umbrellas along some of the skilled artisans who were working on patio sized umbrellas. This is one of the most popular activities for both kids and adults. This is where announcements are made; and the shuttle stop is here, in case you aren’t up to walking the whole village.
This is also where the Beauty Contestants Parade starts. Every day at 1pm, all the contestants parade down the main street riding bicycles, dressed in their tribal regalia and carrying their open umbrellas over their heads to protect their beautiful complexions.
In the shops, you’ll find a lot of repetition, just as there is in the wholesale market in Chiang Mai. But there are two things that stand out on the main street. There is a temple on the far end of the street with a nice restaurant just next door. The temple is worth a look and if you are planning to eat while you are in BoSang, this seems to be the only real sit-down restaurant in the village. The other place to watch out for is the BoSang Handicraft Centre. Here you will find all the umbrellas you have seen in the other shops, plus many other handmade crafts from the area. I selected two umbrellas; a shellaced paper one with a hand painted dragon design for a sunshade, and a cotton one with a hand painted bamboo design which can also be used in the rain. The prices are a bit lower here and the money helps to keep the crafts people trained and working. So, I would recommend making most of your purchases here.
Bosang village is also a treasure trove of handwoven hilltribe fabrics and clothing. If you have a special interest in weaving, you’ll be interested to know that each tribe has a different style of weaving patterns. The textile experts can recognize the tribe by the designs woven into the fabric. Like all art forms though, this is not a static art. The artisans will make small changes to their designs over time and things are always changing. In the a future blog, I will go into this a bit more. It’s a fascinating field and one that’s worth serious study, if you’ve an interest in textile history. In Bosang, the textiles are just down the side street near the Seven-Eleven. It may look as if nothing is going on there, but it if you follow it back to the first turn, you will find a row of well kept open air shops filled with hill tribe fabric made in the local area, as well as top quality garments made from the same fabric. You can have your choice of a full length of fabric for a traditional wrap skirt, which they will teach you how to wrap; or a ready made garment that you can be sure is one hundred per cent Thai, not made in China. If you are like me and can’t buy off the rack in Thailand, just choose what you like and they will custom make it to your exact measurements.
Back on the main road, across the street there is a parking lot for tour buses, which has a large tourist shop with a quiet garden and a small snack shop in front. It’s a good place to rest. Next go into the modern, well lit shop and make last minute purchases before leaving. The prices are higher, but everything is there in one place.
You may be ready to go, but don’t leave yet. Behind that shop, in the back of the parking lot is where all the crafts people are working. During festival days, you can see the umbrellas being made in every stage. From the carving of the bamboo for handles and spokes, cutting and gluing the fabric, to painting the design and applying the shellac; it’s all there. (When the festival is over, they move back to the Handicraft Centre.)
This is, also, where you can have an umbrella custom made and watch it being painted. They will seal it with shellac and dry it while you wait. One bonus activity is the hand painting of cell phone cases. If you don’t fancy an umbrella, or you just want something small, this is a good choice. This is on my list for when I get a new phone.
The trip back was another adventure. Finding the songtaew stop is always a challenge. I tried stopping into the tourist information center, but wasn’t able to communicate. In the Chiang Mai County area and in any rural areas, these tourist stations are manned by police and are mainly for any police problems. Often times you just have to keep your eyes peeled and watch for friendly strangers. I looked around at the corner where traffic was heading back to the city and saw a group of young adults, who turned out to be Korean teachers. They were waiting for the songtaew and we all rode back to the city together. We had some good conversation about what they liked about Thailand and Chiang Mai, in particular. And I reminisced about my days living in Korea. It was a holiday weekend, so it was a good thing I had people to talk to because it took twice as long to get back as it did to get there.
Back at Warorot, I took a leisurely walk through the market and down to the old city. There, it was easy to catch a local songtaew back to Kad Suan Kaew Mall near where I live. It’s always easier to get out at a place that is familiar the driver, if you don’t speak Thai. Back home, I had time to relax and shower going out to a local Japanese or Mexican restaurant for dinner. Another fun crafty day was complete.
The small village of Bosang, located 9.7 k (@6mi) from Warorot Market songtaew stop. Fare is currently 20 bht.
Umbrella Making Center – Google Maps