Creating a Thai Inspired Paper Flower Garland (Phuang Malai)

If you have ever been to Thailand, you will have seen the fragrant Thai flower garlands adoring cars, houses, temples and people’s wrists! The Phuang Malai is an iconic piece of Thai tradition and today we are creating something really simple that replicates this amazing garland that you can do at home! 

Thailand is filled with these amazing little secrets that can be really obvious, but the meaning behind them might not be found until later!

Did you want to see our other Thailand posts? Check out how to create an amazing Thailand spread in your bullet journal!

How did I discover these floral garlands? 

In my last post you would have read or heard how I traveled to Thailand on holiday before moving there, when I got back from the holiday, a couple months later was my 21st birthday and as part of the theme, I wanted everyone to bring their favorite flower. Why? I had been so inspired by seeing all the amazing florals in Thailand, that I wanted to replicate some of it for my birthday. 

When I first moved to Thailand, I saw these amazing floral garlands every day when I left for work, the smell was amazing, to this day it is still my favorite smell, and there was this little old lady who used to sell them outside my villa for 5baht. I decided that it should only be logical that I bought from her daily, because she was bringing my home, car and office so much joy with the smell of these garlands! 

When I started learning more about Buddhism and spending more time at temples I found I ended up buying a lot more from her, and participating at ceremonies. I felt an odd connection with her. I finally asked her to show me how she made them, I spent a Saturday just watching her weave the flowers onto the string. Finally I gave it a go, and I WAS TERRIBLE! It was fun spending the time with her, she spoke no English, so the entire conversation relied on my poor definition of conversational Thai. I learnt that she was 85, and she had learnt how to make the Malai from her grandmother. I never tried making them again, but ended up paying her far more than 5baht for a garland because she was amazing and I wanted her to know that! 

What is a Phuang Malai? (A Thai flower garland)

What is interesting about the Phuang Malai, is that is it actually more intricate than people might think! There are in fact 6 types of garlands that are created and each ones has special meaning!

  1. Creature malai resembles animals. Flowers are arranged into animal shapes such as mouse, rabbit, squirrel, and gibbon.
  2. Chained malai is a series of rounded malai connected together which resemble a chain.
  3. Braided malai two rounded malai connected together, decorated with pine-shaped malai on each end.
  4. Vine malai is a series of semicircular malai arranged in a vine shape.
  5. Laced malai is a malai fully decorated by inserting golden and silver laces all over the malai both inside and out.
  6. Orchid malai is made only from orchids.

What are Malai used for? What is the cultural significance?

There are 3 main uses of the Malai; they are mainly used as a form of respect and to show the importance of something;

  1. Malai chai diao  is usually used as an offering to show respect. In temples and cemeteries, these malai can be seen hanging from the hands of Buddhist monk statues along with votive candles. Chained malai and braided malai are examples of malai chai diao.
  2. Malai song chai is usually draped around a person’s neck to show importance. In the Thai wedding ceremony, both bride and groom often wear malai song chai.
  3. Malai chamruai or souvenir malai ), the smallest form of malai, is usually given as a souvenir to a large group of people. These malai are customarily given by a host, for instance, in wedding ceremonies, housewarming ceremonies, birthday parties, and baby showers. 

What you will need to create these paper lei/garlands

For our paper garland we have created a really simple Chained Malai, there is not much you need to create these! This whole process is to help you bring Thailand and the Thai experience into your home. This is the perfect kids craft as it takes ages to get some good length on your garland, and it is so insanely simple! 

  1. Crepe paper streamers is a variety of colors
  2. String
  3. Needle

If you are making the little rose buds, you will need some glue and some scissors

The entire process is insanely simple! You will simply weave your needle in and out of the crepe paper until you have enough to make a garland. 

Once you have enough of length you can tie it into a circle

We then move onto the rose colored part of the garland! This time we use red and white to create the fun effects!

From here we are going to combine both the circle and the hanging section we just made and connecting the two! How stinking easy is this!?

From here you can make more colors or different flowers! All are really easy to make! For me I decided to create the “rose” style chain garland which is incredibly fragrant! 

I made this by taking both red and green streamers and weaving them together at the same time

Once I had enough to wrap around the circle I was able to create what I thought looked similar to a traditional phuang malai!

By using some different colors and hanging some extra goodies off your base garland you can create a ton of different colors and styles. You can tie a long string together to make a chain style malai! 

I can’t wait to see how you create this for yourself!

Want to watch how we did this? Here is the full video!

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