Myanmar (Burma) - Travel Diary 1998
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Monday, 31 August 1998
The flight for Yangon left from Singapore on time and it was a good flight although certainly the oddest tortellini that I have ever tasted (chicken and rice!)
It was hot and moist in Yangon. On the way from the airport my guide for the whole trip Khin, gave me a newspaper cutting in English pasted to a piece of paper showing that there had been an aircraft accident on 24 August and, because of this, there were no flights to Kentung (which should have been my first stop after Yangon) despite this being my main reason for coming to Burma. There was a very feint fax from Nicholas Greenwood (the trip planner and organiser) saying that he had been unable to contact me. (He must not have tried my work fax on which he had contacted me previously; the office had been in constant touch with me during my business trip.) I would, instead, be going to Mandalay. There was nothing that I could do about it but I was devastated as going to Kentung was the premier target for my visit to Myanmar.
We went to the hotel (Mingalar Garden Hotel, No 30, Inya Myaing Road, Bahan Township, Yangon tel: 00 95 1 525493, 525717, 526436, fax: 00 95 1 532388, 513725) for 20 minutes and then out to see some temples. We went to the Chauk Hitakkyn temple which was quite a modern one. We then went to the Shwedagon Pagoda temple complex. I very much enjoyed the atmosphere of the Burmese coming to the temple and ambling around in couples or families. It was very peaceful and soothing. It was raining off and on and then the sun started to break through, catching the gilded roof of the stupas. We went down steps to one of the entrances. There were carved pillars and roof arches beneath which various Buddhist paraphernalia was for sale.
The longyi that the men wear about 80% of the men at least is very elegant - the large, hard knot looks rather like a codpiece! The longyi makes the men walk in a very graceful way.
The Botataung Paya (temple) was the third that we visited. We were able to go inside the stupa which had triangular rooms fanning out from the centre. All the walls were covered in glass mosaic. At the apex of one triangle was a grille looking out through the golden statutes of Buddhas sacred relics. We wandered around the stupa and saw where swimming tortoises were being fed in very dark water. Again it was very pleasant and peaceful in the evening with the sky getting a darker blue and the lights throwing a deeper gold on the pagoda.
We then went straight on for dinner to a restaurant where there was a traditional orchestra and dancers performing whilst we ate. The food (my choice) was Chinese. The dinner was a welcome by the tour company. I had to give in to tiredness before the end of the show! We then went back to the hotel for a very welcome shower and an early night.
The air-conditioning in the car during the afternoon/evening as we travelled around had made me feel sick as it as fumes were coming in either from outside or from the car itself. top
Tuesday, 1 September
We had to get up early to catch the 6.30 a.m. flight to Mandalay via Bagan. We left the hotel at 5.15. I took some photos coming into land at Bagan of all the many temples dotting the plain.
Our driver who met us at the airport in Mandalay was called Soh. After stopping off at our hotel the Silver Swan for 20 minutes we went out to visit a weaving factory. There were hand-operated looms with mainly silk tapestry weaving. I also saw winding of spools from skeins of dyed silk. Apparently there are mulberry trees and silk worms quite near to Mandalay. There was a foot-operated loom for bags on which only plain ones were being woven.
I bought a peach coloured cotton Shan jacket from the factory and a silk and cotton length for a mans longyi.
The temperature was getting much hotter. We went from the factory to see Winn Myint, a marionette maker who lived at 42nd St, Between 80th and 81st Road, 838 Qr, Mandalay. He was a very charming man eager to share his knowledge and skills. He carved from a block of wood a puppet head for a Nat (spirit). His father and grandfather had been puppet carvers and his son was carrying on in his footsteps.
I bought a horse puppet. He gave me a small carved wooden elephant case with a set of balance scales inside.
It was getting very hot. On the way to lunch we stopped off to book for the evening a performance at the marionette theatre and dinner at a restaurant on a royal barge. We had lunch at a Chinese Muslim restaurant Min Min I had prawn fried rice with vegetables and Chinese tea, 340K. We went back to the hotel at 1.30 p.m. for me to have a rest. I found the heat outside pretty overwhelming. I used the opportunity to send out some laundry.
We went up the Mandalay Hill to watch the sunset. There was a winding road to the top and then escalators to the temple which was built in 1990. From the temple there was a panoramic view all around of the countryside below. It was not a very special sunset. We then came down and went for dinner at the Royal Barge before going to the Marionette Theatre. It was pretty hot in the theatre as there were only ceiling fans and they gave us hand fans to use during the performance. The show was quite good. The puppet operators were the Master and his students. He looked wonderful in a white twisted head-dress when they lifted the curtains to show the puppeteers. (He had only one tooth in his head!)
It was a relief to come back into the air-conditioning. I slept well until 3.30 a.m. and then I could not get back to sleep. top
Wednesday, 2 September
We left at 8.00 a.m. to go to Amarapura and U Beins Bridge which is the longest teak bridge in the world crossing the Taungthaman Lake. As it was the rainy season there was lots of water and only the tops of the trees showed above the water. The bridge was two centuries old. We walked across two-thirds of it and then came back to the shore by boat.
We then went to the government school (a training college for girls) where a few were learning to weave. Three girls were learning tapestry hand weaving of silk. We saw some woven material in a display case supposedly from a King and Queen old patterns and old weaving. There were a few pieces of minority weaving. One girl was working on a Kalanga tapestry. The Kalanga course is 6 months; hand-weaving is 12 months; machine weaving is two years. There were very few girls at the college as it needs to support them and with all the power cuts the college is not able to operate the machines and sell the finished woven material. It was Khins first visit to the workshop. There was no dyeing taking place (probably because of the power cuts.)
We then travelled back the way we had come and, at my request, we stopped at a shop at the corner of the road at a T junction which was selling woven longyis . It turned out to have a power loom.
We then carried on to the Maha Gandha Monastery, aiming to be there around 10.00 a.m. for the monks feeding time. They are fed by donors from the local community who help to hand out the food. There were over 1,000 monks in the monastery. The buildings were attractive and there were lots of rusts and oranges from the monks clothing and the shutters at the windows. After seeing the monks having their food we travelled back to weaving shop. When we had stopped previously I had seen women in houses nearby winding hanks of thread onto spools for weaving. There turned out to be both hand and power looms in the houses.
We then walked down the road to see what else we could discover. I found what, at first sight, seemed to be hanks of thread hanging out to dry. It turned out to be cotton thread for candle wicks. Apparently with the large number and duration of power cuts there had been a considerable increase in demand for candles. I spotted water stained blue which looked like the residue from indigo dyeing running in open drainage ditches alongside the road. We followed one of these ditches down a lane between some houses. We then found hanks of dark blue/black coloured thread hanging out to dry in the sun. We came upon a family with a considerable dye workshop as part of their home with several members of the family working on the dyeing process. Next door there was an old man (who described himself as and alchemist) with a home-made bellows to heat charcoal and melt metal in a crucible. At this stage I ran out of film and had to go back to the car for more. We then set off to find the dyers once more. On the way back we found a workshop with a number of spools of thread being drawn off and worked onto a metal spool/drum which would be used for warp thread for power looms. Nearby we found a woman pulling off thread by hand onto a single spool. As we walked around we could hear the clack of the various looms in the houses around us. We passed a more primitive indigo dyeing process on a very small scale with the thread being trodden in a metal dye bath.
The woman of the dyeing family invited us back again to watch the dyeing process. The process was explained to us: first the natural cream cotton thread is soaked in a soap solution then wrung out. It is then carefully immersed in the boiling indigo dye bath. The dye bath is never emptied but just added to - the current one is 3 years old, the previous one was 38 years old. The indigo is a chemical bought from China. Two bags of chemicals are used to make the dye plus water left in the rinsing bowl. The thread is only dyed once in the dye bath. There is a lot wringing out at various stages. After dyeing it is washed until the water is clear. After dyeing, the thread is dried in the sun before being dipped in a solution of sago flour and oil which is mixed with water. The glue-like mixture is further diluted by more water and then the dyed hanks of thread are dipped in the solution. This rinsing is to stiffen the threads which otherwise would be too soft for the weaving process. The skeins of thread are wrung out again and then force put on the threads to separate and untwist them before the hanks are hung out to dry. The woman had been involved with the dyeing for 7 years but the dyeing had been in her husbands family for some generations.
Amarapura indigo dyers, Shan State
We started back to the car. I decided that I wanted to buy some woven fabric from the shop and from one of the hand weavers in the nearby houses.
The shop said that they had woven the fabric which I bought from them. I got an almost identical piece of fabric from the hand weaver in her house and where she had the identical fabric on the loom.
I was certainly feeling the heat by this time and very thirsty. We went to lunch in a Chinese restaurant. I drank water and gallons of Chinese tea. I had fried rice again. The loo was leaking and soaked my trousers!
We then came back to the hotel for me to have a rest. I am very much feeling the heat. I read, did a bit of patchwork and wrote up my notes. At 6.45 p.m. we went to the night market. There were lots of people on bicycles passing very close to us which were rather disturbing and a few beggars old women with babies; children. It was still pretty hot.
I bought a Kachin bag and a mans dark longyi.
Afterwards we went to the Min Min restaurant for supper. I had Chinese as usual and Khin had Burmese food. We were back in the hotel by 8.30 p.m. and we managed to get our laundry (170K) top
Thursday, 3 September
We had breakfast at about 7.00 a.m. and left the hotel at 7.45 for the Mandalay airport. We arrived at Heho airport at about 9.40 a .m. The road to Kalaw was winding and narrow through hills. Along the route we tried to visit a cave with a Buddhist statue but were refused access to the road leading to it as supposedly this led to where there were insurgents.
In Kalaw we stayed at Pine Hill Resort Hotel a chalet style with no air conditioning but the temperature was cooler than in Mandalay. (Pine Hill Resort, No 151, Oo Hmin Road, Kalaw, Shan State, Myanmar, tel: 081-50078/50079) On the day of arrival I was the only guest at the hotel it was out of season. It took them a long time to cook lunch although the food was good!
In the afternoon we went and visited a different Buddhist cave, the Roman Catholic church, the railway station, the Kalaw Hotel and then a Buddhist monastery where there is a panoramic view of the town of Kalaw. The sound of the monks chanting was very soothing and then some young boys in monks robes came out to play spinning and throwing small tops.
We went down to the permanent market and wandered around and then walked around the town a bit until it rained.
I bought a (reputedly) Padaung basket and a mans longyi.
We returned to the hotel and I sat on the veranda of my bungalow reading and then had a shower. The lights in my room were not very illuminating. I had dinner sitting in the dining room with Khin in solitary state and then retired. top
Friday, 4 September
At 8.00 a.m. we went by car down to the Kalaw market (one of the five day rotating markets). This was set out in a road alongside the town and not in the permanent market. During the first walk through it was not very busy and there did not seem to be many people in traditional dress. On the second walk through it was much busier and I was also lucky enough to spot two Padaung women with their neck rings the older one had her rings covered by a scarf but it was possible to glimpse the rings of the younger one under her scarf. They were working their way along the market vendors. We saw them later in the town.
We saw Silver Palaung women in red and blue woven longyis and green and maroon short jackets with embroidery and sequins on the back.
Silver Palaung - Kalaw market
We also saw a few Pa-O in dark indigo costumes with touches of red. It was quite hot in the sun of the market.
Pa'O - Kalaw market
There was nowhere quiet and shady there to watch the activity so we went to the Seven Sisters restaurant to book lunch and to have a quiet cup (or several glasses) of Chinese tea before going back into the town.
Khin and I went to visit one temple and then we went upstairs at a Buddhist hall where there was a lecture to farmers going on. Upstairs out on the balcony we were able to watch life in the street down below especially a group of Silver Palaung piling up shopping from the market. We watched them until it was time to go to lunch when we went back to the Seven Sisters restaurant. There were some French or Israelis having their lunch there and the sisters were quite busy.
After lunch we went up a steep rough track road to a Buddhist temple where there was a Buddha reputedly made from bamboo and then gilded. The temple had a very pleasant relaxed atmosphere and there were three elderly women praying and a couple of old monks, a young one and a man the latter folding pieced sheets. We were offered tea. I enjoyed the peace. We then walked around to the stupas. There was a very attractive piece of patchwork a cushion cover hanging on the washing line. We saw an old nun sitting outside a small house on the balcony and another, rougher, patchwork. A couple of nuns came up the hill with flowers.
We then went back down into Kalaw via the Anglican church. This I liked. It was built about the same time as the Kalaw hotel. It was very simple outside. I took a couple of photos of horse-drawn buggy taxis. We got back to the hotel about 4.30 p.m. and I was very pleased to have a shower! My face had caught the sun during the day.
In the market I bought a Kayah top, a longyi to go with it and a Lahu bag.
We had supper at about 7.30 p.m. I was kept awake during the night by chanting broadcast over loudspeakers from the Buddhist temple in Kalaw from 12.00 midnight onwards as it was full moon day.top
Saturday, 5 September
The driver was late picking us up at the hotel - only by about 10 minutes - but Khin was in rather a panic! We picked up Mr Chain, our guide, from his office and then were dropped about 5 minutes outside town at the beginning of an oxcart track for trek to Pein Ne Bin, a Silver Palaung village. It was pretty warm as the sun was out for the trek and, apart from the first part which took us down to a small stream at the foot of a narrow valley, it was quite a steep uphill climb. Mr Chain kept stopping for us to rest and I found these times difficult as I felt very hot and even hotter when we stopped!
The hills had once be covered by thick forests inhabited by wild animals but the villagers had cleared the steep hillsides slash and burn and planted opium as a cash crop. This was banned by the government and now oranges, maize, tea, and tobacco for cheroots are grown as cash crops but they are much less lucrative. We soon caught up with another small group of trekkers. Had we left the hotel on time we would have kept ahead of them.
Silver Palaung - Pein Ne Bin village
When we got to the village we first went into a house with a weaver, her baby and a man boiling and rolling tea (before it is dried out in the sun for two days). The hat that she was wearing was only for effect as it is the one worn by young girls and not married women who wear a turban. The weaving, on a back-strap loom, seemed to have been set up just to show tourists. The fire was smoking quite a lot.
We then went into the village We went first into the temple-come-meeting place. As it was full moon day it was a holiday and there was no work or school. There were mainly women and a few monks in the hall chanting Buddhist prayers. Some of the women were wearing traditional dress including the married ones with bamboo hoops around their waists/stomachs. There were lots of children.
We then went into the nuns room - we had originally been held back from going there because of the other tourists ahead of us. Before we had been there long we were asked if we wanted to see the monks, nuns and village elders being invited to eat their meals. Most of these people were wearing traditional dress and I was able/invited to photograph them through the window. We then went back into the nuns room and had our lunch of chapates with a filling of marrow, pumpkin and potato washed down with Chinese tea followed by some jack fruit.
a young girls hat.
I spent a lazy afternoon on the balcony writing up my notes and reading and then we had dinner and went to bed early. There was a local family in the next room so I heard their TV but luckily no Buddhist chanting over the loud speakers! It started to pour with rain and rained solidly all night. top
Sunday, 6 September
Up before 5.00 a.m. for breakfast at 5.30. The driver was late again! It was raining lightly. We drove for about an hour past Heho airport and then on for about another hour to Nyaungshwe the entrance town for Lake Inle.
We then transferred to a boat it was raining softly and set off down Lake Inle to visit the 5 day rotating market at Nampan. The market was a large one and there were a considerable number of Pa-O people in traditional clothing shopping and selling goods in the market. The market was very muddy underfoot after the heavy rain. We had to walk over boats in order to get to the shore where the market was situated.
I bought three bags.
We sat for a time on the edge of a market stall watching the action on the waterfront. Some men had tattoos visible on their lower legs.
Pa'O - Lake Inle
After visiting the market we went to a weaving mill at Innbawkon. There were 83 women working there. The mill made many varied designs and used several different colours. It was interesting to see them changing the shuttle every few rows which can be creative for the weavers. We saw the ikat threads being bound and also painted with dye colours.
Intha weaving - Lake Inle, Shan State
I bought a length of silk ikat with a plain piece attached.
We then went on by boat to the hotel (Shwe Inn Tha Village Resort, Thar Lay Village, Near Phaung-Daw-Oo Pagoda, Inle Lake, Nyaungshwe Township, Shan State, tel: 00 95 81 22077, Director: Daw Ann San Maung aka Daw Tin Tin Yee). The views of the lake before the rain came against dark grey/black clouds were beautiful. It started to rain again as we arrived and bucketed down for a couple of hours during and after lunch. Slept under a mosquito net which had been put up whilst we had dinner. top
Intha on the water - Lake Inle, Shan State
Monday, 7 September
It was drizzling with rain when we set off to a hotel half way down the lake where two Padaung women were kept in a traditional house like animals in a zoo. They were not able to do any weaving because they had run out of cotton thread.
We next visited Nga Phe Chaung Monastery with old Buddha images, a few monks and lots of cats. The monks had taught some of the cats to jump through a hoop. One monk spoke excellent English. There was one very pregnant cat which was determined to be picked up and cuddled as we walked around outside. A nice atmosphere at the monastery.
Nga Phe Kyaung, Lake Inle, Shan State
We next went on to a see a silversmith a traditional skill on the lake.
I bought a traditional silver necklace similar to one being made upstairs plus a fish with ruby chip eyes. I had the chain shortened.
We went to a weaving place.
I bought a 3 yard length of new cotton weaving.
We had lunch at a good restaurant in Ywama fried rice and vegetable soup and papaya which was ripe and sweet. We then walked to a temple the Phaung Daw U pagoda - which had been rebuilt recently on the site of a 150 year old temple. Images are carried from this pagoda by barge for the October water festival (Phaung Daw U Festival).
At a market underneath the temple I bought a blue and beige Shan jacket.
We then went to a small weaving place and I bought a length of traditional Intha cotton weaving (which looked to be quite intricate to weave) in brown and beige for 1600K.
As we had arrived at Ywama I had spotted weaving taking place nearby in the houses along the canals. On the way back we stopped at one where an old lady was winding white thread onto shuttles. We then went to the bank opposite where two ladies were weaving fabric for the bright red Shan bags on two looms under the house. We went on a bit further and found a house where woollen fabric for monks robes was being woven. An old lady was winding wool onto a shuttle. Upstairs the robes were folded up to be weighed before being taken away. People were very surprised at my interest in the their weaving but very hospitable. It started to rain heavily so we set out to return to the hotel which was very near. On the way we travelled through the floating gardens, saw leg-rowers and fishermen. There were cormorants perched on poles and flapping their wings. When we got back I read and wrote up my notes. top
Tuesday, 8 September
It poured with rain in the night and through into the morning. We should have left at 8.30 a.m. for the floating market (back at Ywama) but the rain was too heavy so we waited until about 10.00 a.m. before setting out. There were not many boats at the floating market although there were tourists and souvenir sellers. Apparently this was the first market since April because it had been dry and the water was too low.
We then went to visit a maker of Buddhas from sawdust it was very muddy! We had lunch at the same place as the day before although it was not as good. We then, at my request, returned to the silk weaving village at Innbawkon and talked to the woman owner (a widow whose husband had died on 27 September 1997 when his doctor gave him the wrong medicine) and watched more of the weaving. [There are 25 shuttles to a pattern; 12 threads (six each way) to a shuttle. There are 880 threads on each section of ikat which is going to be dyed and it produces four longyis. If a finer design is required less thread must be used. The threads are tied and then dyed sometimes the threads are dyed up to four times as was the case with a piece of weaving which I bought. The warp is almost always a dark colour such as black. It takes two days to thread up a loom with a full width of 42 inches. (Some Chinese ladies in Yangon ask for 28 inches for the shawls which they sell).
I bought a piece of ikat and a piece of plain to tone for Mummy. It was quite a new design created by the widow owner.
We came back to the hotel with the rain getting heavier all the while. top
Wednesday, 9 September
We were lucky and it was not raining when we got up at and had breakfast at 5.45 a.m. and left at 6.15. The boat ride to Nyaungshwe seemed quite long but it was dry. We then went by road to Heho airport.
I bought a Chin blanket.
We got into Yangon at 11.15 and went straight to the Mingalar Hotel before going on to Bogyoke Aung San Market (sometimes referred to by its British name Scott market).
I found an antique shop in the market which had some Chin textiles and I bought 2 Chin longyis.
I found another shop Chin co-operative selling both modern and old Chin textiles but they were in the process of relocating within the market and it was not really possible to look properly and buy anything.
I bought some lacquer ware at another shop including one cup with lacquer over a horsehair core. (Bonton Lacquerware Shop, No 149/150, Central Arcade, Bogyoke Aung San Market, Yangon tel: 289788).
We had lunch
and visited a pagoda and then went to a lake with a barge on it before
going back to the hotel. I was taken out to a farewell dinner
by Emperor Tours & Travel to the best Chinese restaurant
in Yangon and then back to the hotel by 8.00 p.m.
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