Ducking through the door, we enter a small round thatched roof house with a dirt floor – this is Myanmar. It is smoky and dark; the only light is coming from the doorway, and the cook fire in the center of the room. A little woman bundled in layers and a sock hat greets us with a ready smile and a sparkle in her 70-year-old eyes. She is insistent on making us tea and a snack of fried strips of mashed rice powder cakes. We sit on makeshift wooden stools, as she starts chatting and we begin the dance of communication with help from our guide.
This is why we travel. We have come to Myanmar, looking forward to new cultural experience. Another one of those trips our family and friends ask, “and why are you going there”? It’s all about stepping outside of our comfort zone and appreciating life unlike our own.
Before we begin our story we must thank Teri Goldstein at TG Travel Group LLC, www.travelswithteri.com , for designing an incredible cultural trip for us. Teri created a trip including markets, spiritual sites, villages of local tribes and the people of Myanmar. We traveled through Yangon, Loikaw, Kayaw villages, Bagan, Mandalay, Mingun, and Amarapura absorbing the riches of Myanmar.
We began our trip in Yangon, once the capital of Myanmar. Wondering through the streets of Yangon, we make our way to the old Chinese street market where locals shop for their daily foods and engage in social connections. We get our first sighting of women and children with a chalky paint on their faces. It is a cream made from Thanakha bark that is ground with water on a stone plate, then applied mostly on the face for a sunscreen and moisturizer.
As we turn a corner into the market area, the streets are overflowing with an abundance of goods washing our senses with the color, smells, sounds and textures of the region. An excellent start to our trip, lighting was perfect, and people were happy to have their photo taken. Our visits to various markets were enhanced by our guide who fostered interaction with the venders sharing information about the unusual produce of the area, including trying local snacks, and of course the tea.
A common site in almost all cities are monks and nuns walking through the streets often carrying donation urns for their afternoon meal. We visited several monasteries and nunneries observing their daily life and traditional calling to the afternoon meal. The monks lined up outside and waited for the wooden gong that signaled time to enter. They made their way into the eating hall with their donations of the day. Sitting on the floor at the low tables and after a group prayer they shared their meal.
Other spiritual sites were the beautiful Pagodas and temples with their opulent golden Buddha’s and stupas. These are popular areas not only for tourists but also for families coming to share meals, give offerings, and pray.
While in Laikaw, we traveled into the hillsides to visit Kayaw villages with traditional dress and homes. The village was alive with women and children hiking up and down the hillsides carrying food, water and other necessities. We were weary just walking from house to house. Many women in the villages were widows taking care of grandchildren and household chores because the sons and daughters were out in the fields or in the larger towns working. Some still wore the traditional dress, with huge pierced earlobes, layers of necklaces and bracelets, and the famous longneck woman with the rings of brass lengthening their necks, and brass rings around their arms and legs. These traditions are fading for the younger women; some wear the traditional rings and dress only for celebrations.
A visit to Myanmar would not be complete without the balloon trip over Bagan. An early morning start arriving in an open field with giant red, green and yellow balloons laying flat on the ground. With the roar of the fires and fans starting to fill up the giants began to expand and rise. We climbed into the basket and slowing floated high and low over 1,000’s of ancient stupas and temples glowing as the sun and our balloon rose above them. The temples weren’t the only sights, from our aerial view we witnessed the countryside come to life, animals being fed and some being herded to grazing areas, wagons carrying goods to town, or people to work. And when we didn’t thought it couldn’t get any better, we land and gather for a Champagne toast. Life is good.
Story by Alice Law and photos by Dennis Law