Last week we spent the Chinese New Year break in Myanmar. I can’t express to you what an incredible week we had. I didn’t want to leave! It’s wet, cold and horrible in Hong Kong this week. It’s been colder this week than London and Sochi, and without heating, it’s impossible to get warm no matter how many jumpers and pairs of socks I put on. I’m already dreaming of my next travels, wishing I was back under Myanmar skies, dreamy blue in the day, burning with stars at night.
We arrived after dark, and got our first real glimpse of Myanmar as we left the hotel the next morning. Instantly you realise this place is a little different from the rest of South East Asia. Men wear the traditional Longyis, loops of cloth they wear wrapped around themselves and tied at the front. Women and children have faces painted with stripes and circles of thick, white, Thanaka makeup.
In Yangon, mornings take place on the street.
Traffic circles around Sule Paya, a temple that has been wrapped in shops and become the centre of a traffic island. All along the cracked, pot holed pavements hawkers set up shop. Corn cobs are steamed, huge pans of oil fry thin slices of vegetables into crisps. Big round trays of tomatoes, and sacks of cinnamon, turmeric and garlic are sold next to piles of electronics and shoes. One man sits carving vegetables into intricate, beautiful shapes, delicate spirals and blooming flowers.
All along Pansodan Street, in the shade of run down, colonial mansions, books are stacked up and displayed on sloping wooden shelves.
We pop into Bogyoke Aung San Market and browse endless rows of gem stalls. Ducking into the back passages, we squeeze through piles and piles of fabric. Every design imaginable appears to be here, plain, patterned, glittery, sequinned. Nearly every stall contains a woman being measured, or wrapped in swathes of material, trying out the length, the feel, the colour.
Mornings at Inle Lake are cold. We watch our frozen breath mingle with the steam from our tea as the sun pops up over the hills.
We took a boat out onto the lake. As we walk down to the water, we cross paths with lines of red-robed monks, silver bowls tucked under their arms, heading to collect their alms. The tiny young novice monks are shivering in the cold, heaped under piles of bright fabric.
The mist hangs thickly over the water, obscuring the hills behind. Shilloetted against the morning light we catch sight of the local fishermen. Most dressed in the traditional Longyi, they row in a way that is unique to the men of Inle Lake. Tucking their oar under one arm, they hook an ankle around the it and row using their legs. Ingenious if you think about it. Rowing and steadying their one man canoes, all the while leaving two hands free to work their nets.
We cross the lake and head down narrow, reed-lined river ways to the village of Inthein.
The 5 days market is here.
Although you’ll find a crop of tourist stalls selling puppets, paintings and carvings, this is very much a local market. Sun wrinkled women in brightly coloured fabrics pay us no heed as they go about their shopping, their purchases, vegetables, spices and flowers, carried in woven baskets worn on their backs. Mothers sling their sleeping babies over the backs as they haggle the price of the freshest produce.
Purchases are weighed on scales strung up on tripods made of sticks.
A man shows me how they make the parcels of Betel nut we see chewed all over Myanmar. The pavements and pathways are stained red with the blood coloured spit it produces.
The betel leaf is painted with lime, then the chopped nut and tobacco are added. The whole thing is rolled up into a parcel and put whole in the mouth. The men chew with bulging lips. When they smile their teeth and gums are stained bright, disturbing, red.
At another stall a lady with a beaming smile gives me her peanut candy to try. She snaps off slabs to sell and wraps it up in dried bark and string.
Delicious smelling things fry and bubble.
These doughnuts were beautifully soft and warm, they left our hands sugary and greasy in the way all the best doughnuts do.
From Inle Lake, we took a 10 hour bus ride up through the mountains to the plains of Bagan, One of the best mornings of our trip, arguably one of the best mornings ever, came towards the end of our trip high up in the skies over the temples. That, however, is another story!