Bill and I had a chance to escape the big city and head to the hills this past weekend. After dealing with a week of high levels of pollution hovering over the city, it was nice to spend a couple of days surrounded by green! We flew north into Chiang Mai, the 4th largest city in Thailand, but we spent all of our time in the surrounding rural areas.
I had read about an annual Umbrella Festival in a small village called Bo Sang, just south of Chiang Mai. There is actually an umbrella factory there, where the umbrellas are made and painted by hand. None of Annie’s Thai friends nor Bill’s colleagues had ever heard about it, so Bill was a bit skeptical but willing to take part in another “adventure with Perry” (he is such a good sport!). I found accommodations halfway between Chiang Mai and Bo Sang, just in case the festival didn’t live up to expectations. Upon arrival at the Oriental Siam Resort (not the kind of resort you’re thinking about, but a nice little nature paradise with maybe 10 cottages and a pool), we were welcomed by the staff and offered refreshing drinks before being taken to our Orchid cottage. The landscaping was beautiful, with tropical flowers blooming everywhere, a koi fish pond, and cute spouting elephant statues tucked away in the shrubbery. It was hard to believe that the land was a rice paddy just 12 years ago.
Although the pool was enticing, we decided to head to Bo Sang right away to catch the Umbrella Festival Parade! We were dropped off just in time to catch a bevy of beauty contestants – about 20 young ladies steering bicycles with one hand while holding umbrellas in the other. And, oh yeah, they were dressed in traditional Thai tops and skirts. They basically pedaled their way down the Main Street of Bo Sang, and after a 30-minute break, pedaled back up again! We’re not sure how many times they had already done that, but we witnessed four lovely pedaling parades!
In between parades, we wandered around taking in the sights and the creative umbrella displays.
Just before our scheduled pickup time, we walked into the umbrella factory/shop. Bill meandered around chatting with some of the painters while I picked up a few souvenirs, but neither of us felt like we had enough time to explore everything there. We decided to return to the Festival the next day rather than go into Chiang Mai as planned. I mean, the Festival only happens once a year, so why wouldn’t we want to take in more of the colorful and unique Cultural event? Chiang Mai would have to wait!
During dinner by the pond (and by the way, tropical ponds attract tropical-sized skeeters almost as well as I do🙄), the owner stopped by to chat, spray my legs, and discuss our plans for Saturday. When we told her we wanted to go back to Bo Sang, she suggested we also visit a local cave (really? I swore I wouldn’t go into any Thai caves after last year’s big rescue) and a natural hot springs (who knew?). Sounded like another great day ahead! I fell asleep inside my lovely mosquito netting dreaming about umbrellas!
In the morning, after a yummy breakfast of the local noodle soup, our friendly guide Udom and his nephew Noit picked us up for a half hour drive northwest to the Muang On Cave. Udom explained that he brought along his very fit nephew because his leg was hurt and he didn’t think he could make the trek into the cave. (Hmm…no one had mentioned “trek” before, I thought, as I looked down at my sandals and Bill’s espadrilles!) Well, it was a trek alright, but one of many, many stairs up a mountain and many, many stairs down into the cave (and then the reverse), as opposed to rough terrain. Noit was kind enough to go at our pace, and in the end we were “wowed” by what we saw.
Then, on to the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs for a much needed rest and revitalization. The springs were in a beautiful public park where local families were picnicking, playing, and just relaxing with friends. I bought some eggs in a basket that I actually cooked in the hot springs (how fun is that?!) while Bill took a little swim in the mineral bath. We then soaked our legs in a stream fed by the springs. The further away from the springs, the ‘cooler’ the water became, obviously. We ended up in the 45°C area (a mere 113°F). It was actually very nice for awhile, but I preferred hard boiled eggs to legs! So, we retreated from the water and had a nice chicken and egg picnic lunch in the park. Yum!
We made it back to Bo Sang by 3:30 and spent more time in the factory before walking down the closed-off street, just like any good festival in North Carolina. Lots of good eats, lots of performances (from Thai dancing to fire breathing), and lots of pretty umbrellas. The umbrella painters even decorated our phone cases and my Baggallini travel purse, which is now one of a kind!
All in all, a nice respite from the city. I’m already looking at options for our next weekend getaway…
And, speaking of spray paint, we watched an artist at the street fair start with this on our first day…
And end with this on the next… An unexpected treat!
Until next time…