Burma – Myanmar #17 Floating Gardens and School

Our final trip on the long tail boats on Inle Lake took us through yet another Intha village to visit a school on poles and then some floating gardens before we turned north to retrace our journey back up the river to the dock at the town of Nyaung Shwe.

( P1020955 © DY of jtdytravels)

( P1020955 © DY of jtdytravels)

Before we said goodbye to our new friends the Inle Princess Resort Hotel, we had another delightful breakfast on the deck which provided yet more photographic opportunities.

It was a perfect morning, crisp and clear with great reflections on the water.

(P1020965  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020965 © DY of jtdytravels)

A superb red dragonfly gave us a few problems in getting the light just right to film those delicate, gauzy wings.

Our boat journey that morning began with a slight problem when we got snagged in the weeds.

Sometimes a short cut takes sooooo much longer!

Click on the video to share the experience.

P1100890 © JT of jtdytravels

P1100890 © JT of jtdytravels

Weeds encroaching on waterways between houses make them quite narrow.

P1100905 © JT of jtdytravels

P1100905 © JT of jtdytravels

This man was painting his house with what appeared to be creosote.

P1100906 ©  JT of jtdytravels

P1100906 © JT of jtdytravels

A relatively wealthy Intha family must live in this house with its glass windows and a satellite dish or two!

P1030069 © DY of jtdytravels

P1030069 © DY of jtdytravels

Several hearts were won by this little chap who blew kisses our way.

(P1030001  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1030001 © DY of jtdytravels)

Our main aim for the morning was to call in at a local school to leave some books, pens, pencils etc.

There’s no playground here!

Children and teachers (and visitors like us) arrive and leave by boat.

(P1100884  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1100884 © DY of jtdytravels)

While a small delegation from our group went in to deliver our donation to the teachers,

the rest of us waved to the children who hung out of the windows.

(P1030004  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1030004 © DY of jtdytravels)

More children crowded into other windows to check out the visitors.

(P1030023  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1030023 © DY of jtdytravels)

We were waved a cheerful goodbye.

At times like this, we wish we could speak the local language!

Our next visit was to a floating vegetable garden where they grow superb, very tasty tomatoes.

On the way, we saw several long boats full of weeds cut specially from the deeper parts of the lake and brought back to the village to help form the floating gardens of Inle Lake.

P1100892 © JT of jtdytravels

P1100892 © JT of jtdytravels

The floating gardens are built up of decomposing weed supported on wooden trellises anchored to the bottom of the lake by bamboo poles.  These gardens rise and fall with changes in the water level, and so are resistant to flooding.

The Intha farmers paddle up and down between the rows to tend their crops of tomatoes, squash, other fruit and vegetables and flowers.  The nutrient-laden water results in these gardens being very fertile.

P1030057  ©  DY of jtdytravels

P1030057 © DY of jtdytravels

Produce is collected into bamboo baskets or boxes for transportation to market.

Finally, after a very interesting morning, it was time to go back north up the river to Nyaung Shwe, the town that serves as the vegetable market hub for the lake farmers.

P1100939  ©  JT of jtdytravels

P1100939 © JT of jtdytravels

Here, in Nyaung Shwe, the produce is packed and transported to major cities like Mandalay and Yangoon.

P1100944  ©  JT of jtdytravels

P1100944 © JT of jtdytravels

At the marina in Nyaung Shwe our wonderful experience on Inle Lake came to an end. I do hope we go back some time.

P1100946  ©  JT of jtdytravels

P1100946 © JT of jtdytravels

After a delightful Intha lunch at View Point Restaurant,we drove to Heho Airport for our flight to the famed city of Mandalay.

And we’ll visit that city next time.

Jennie Thomas

All photographs © Jennie Thomas and David Young of jtdytravels

Burma – Myanmar # 16 Ancient Pagodas and Festivals

Shwe Indein Pagoda, a crumbling, jungle clad ruin, is a photographer’s delight.

(P1020741 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020741 © DY of jtdytravels)

Not even the people of the village of Indein know its real story.

(P1020725  © DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020725 © DY of jtdytravels)

This pagoda’s history is shrouded in mystery. Myanmar historical records make no mention of its construction. One theory puts its beginnings at 300 – 200 BC but there’s no archeological evidence to support that theory.   A now very rusty covered walkway was built at some time in the past to lead up to the ruins but for many Burmese people, these crumbling buildings are still unknown.

(P1020759  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020759 © DY of jtdytravels)

But the locals have recognised the importance of tourism to their local economy and are trying to make the most of the ancient site.  There’s always someone ready to part a tourist from their dollars.  These hats were really rather special.

(P1020811   ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020811 © DY of jtdytravels)

The community is working together to recover and restore the pagodas – to regain the structures from the jungle.

( P1020764  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

( P1020764 © DY of jtdytravels)

 Quite beautiful ancient carvings can now be seen and enjoyed once more .

(P1020818  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020818 © DY of jtdytravels)

However, one wonders, how far should this restoration go.  With so many pagodas in this country, perhaps the only reason that tourists will venture to such an out of the way place is the very fact that these buildings are so photogenic because they are crumbling and  jungle clad.   It would be wonderful to see, and photograph, these ruins in the early morning or late afternoon golden light.

(P1020813  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020813 © DY of jtdytravels)

But for the Pa-O people and the villagers of Indein, these pagodas, or payas in Burmese, have another importance – not just the tourist dollar.  For them these are places where their ancestors worshipped. They are sacred places and should be revered. They were built to hold relics of special monks and of the wishes of people past. It is good karma to restore them.  Restoration is a balancing act.

(P1020841 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020841 © DY of jtdytravels)

Back down in the village of Indein, more small souvenir stalls try to induce the tourists to buy.

(P1020843  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020843 © DY of jtdytravels)

The stall holders are very friendly and happy to have their photos taken.

(P1020831  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020831 © DY of jtdytravels)

Back down at the river, the locals are still going about their daily tasks.

It was time to re-board the long boats and head back along the Indein River; back to the main lake.

(P1020860  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels)

(P1020860 © DY of jtdytravels)

The Shwehintha Restaurant provided a delicious Intha style lunch for the group.

(P1020649  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020649 © DY of jtdytravels)

A more modern group of payas adorns this village.  Most such pagodas were built when Burma was a wealthy country – before it began its long history of subjugation by foreign powers and then by the military junta.  Each one of these stupas, or payas, has great meaning for the local people whose faith is such an important part of their every day life.  They really live their faith.  There are some important festivals held each year around these payas. One is the robe weaving contest held in villages and towns throughout the country on the evening of the full moon about 16th -17th November.  On that night, young women sit on the platforms of the pagodas and weave robes. The robe is to be finished flawlessly overnight and offered at dawn to the Buddha images around the pagodas.

(P1020875  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020875 © DY of jtdytravels)

Near the centre of Inle Lake is the large and quite beautiful Nga Hpe Chaung Monastery. It’s the biggest and oldest monastery in the area, built around the end of the 1850s. This wooden structure, built on stilts over the lake,  is home to a wonderful collection of ancient Bagan, Shan, Tibet and Ava-style Buddha images. Unfortunately, however, it is much more famous for some cats which an abbot trained to jump through a hoop.  It appears that tourists come to see the cats and then leave without even venturing further inside to see the real treasures of this monastery. Our group did not even stop here – the cats were not performing that day!  Some group decisions are indeed a mystery to me!

(P1020881 ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020881 © DY of jtdytravels)

The monastery has a large golden boat that is used to parade some of those famous statues around the lake on special festival days. The boat stops at each village in turn for the people to enjoy the statues and pay homage to them.  They also have leg rowing competitions on those festival days. Boats the size of ‘dragon boats’ are propelled by teams of Intha leg rowers. That would be quite a sight!

(P1020885  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020885 © DY of jtdytravels)

Next time we go to Inle Lake, we’ll go inside the monastery to enjoy its artistic treasures. And maybe we’ll visit this lake area at the time of one of their numerous and famous festivals. The Pa O people work hard but they apparently also really enjoy the fun of their festivals. One such festival is the Lu Ping or balloon flying festival held in the main town of Taunggyi about the 12th to 17th November each year.  The word Lu Ping means eliminating all evil by giving alms and offertories to Buddhist monks. But its also a time of fun when the people hold firework launching competitions. There are also hot balloons competitions during both the day and the night.  I thought they meant the hot air balloons you fly in. But not so. These are huge paper balloons.  The balloons launched during the day are usually in the form of Pagodas and animals such as elephant, dragon or ducks. The night balloons are often in the shape of rugby ball; huge elongated paper balls with small lighted multicoloured paper lanterns hung around their sides. As they rise into the night sky, the balloons are set to let off fireworks. There are several videos on ‘You Tube’ that show this festival. Just google Lu Ping Balloon Festival. It looks like fun.

(P1020902 ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020902 © DY of jtdytravels)

Back on the lake, women wearing those sensible bamboo hats, were collecting weed for compost for their veggie gardens.

( P1020907  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

( P1020907 © DY of jtdytravels)

The next stop for the group was at the cheroot ‘factory’. The main cash crop of the Pa O farmers is the leaves of the cordia trees which are used for rolling cheroots. Although not everyone smokes, it appears that Burmese men like to smoke the smaller cheroots whilst the larger ones are enjoyed by women.

Sitting on the floor rolling cheroots all day is not an occupation I would enjoy!

( P1020912 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

( P1020912 © DY of jtdytravels)

The finished products.

(P1020917  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020917 © DY of jtdytravels)

Even after working all day rolling cheroots, this young lady was still full of smiles.

(P1020997  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020997 © DY of jtdytravels)

With the day drawing to a close, it was time to head back to the hotel for our last night at delightful Inle Lake.

Jennie Thomas

All Photographs ©  DY  of jtdytravels

Burma – Myanmar # 15 Inle Lake; Community at Indein

While I had a quiet day at the Inle Princess Resort, David went off again in the long tail boats to explore more of Inle Lake and its villages. They left the resort quietly and sedately with the help of one of the Intha leg rowers.

But it was not long before the noisy motor was cranked into life and they sped off across the lake.

(P1020645  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020645 © DY of jtdytravels)

Their destination, on the other side of the lake, was the village of Indein.

On the way they went by a couple of other villages built partly on the land and partly over the water.

The sun shone and it was obviously washing day for this family.

(P1020650  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020650 © DY of jtdytravels)

This restaurant is clear evidence of the growth of tourism in the area. It also shows that those providing for the tourists are learning what is important to visitors.  The sign above the door reads:

“Sterilized tube well water is used for cleaning and cooking. No MSG is used”.

(P1020652  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020652 © DY of jtdytravels)

This family has one of those tube wells for their water.

They don’t need to wash themselves and their clothes in the river.

(P1020688  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020688 © DY of jtdytravels)

But the majority of people do not have tube wells

and many people still use the river to wash both their clothes and themselves.

(P1020653  ©  Dy of jtdytravels)

(P1020653 © Dy of jtdytravels)

One enterprising lady met the group’s boats with bamboo cone hats for sale.

They are light and certainly good for shade against the hot sun.

(P1020677  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020677 © DY of jtdytravels)

The boats were well equipped with blue umbrellas for shade.

To get to Indein, the boats travelled up a narrow river.

(P1020682  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020682 © DY of jtdytravels)

Finally the group arrived at their destination.

Judging by the various coloured chairs, a couple of groups had arrived in the village.

For now, the noisy motors were quiet while the visitors explored Indein.

(P1020810 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020810 © DY of jtdytravels)

A small market at the dockside sold such local necessities as longyis and shirts.

(P1020696  ©   DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020696 © DY of jtdytravels)

Another necessary item that almost every Burmese needs is a bamboo woven basket.

(P1020700  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020700 © DY of jtdytravels)

Inevitably,even at a fairly quiet tourist destination, there are stalls selling souvenirs –

like bangles and beads and necklaces.

(P1020711  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020711 © DY of jtdytravels)

While wandering through the stalls, David was surprised to see a small army of women walking towards him with hoes and bamboo baskets over their shoulders. These were women of the Pa-O ethnic group;  the second most numerous tribe in the region who mainly live in the hilly areas in and around Taunggyi.  These women wear dark plain coloured lungyis with long sleeveless shirts and cropped long-sleeved black jackets. They also wear distinctive brightly coloured turbans, often in a red check weave. They are mostly farmers who come down from their villages on market days to sell their produce.  But this was not a market day and these women had come into the village of Indein on a very different mission!

It soon became apparent that this was another incidence of community activity.  The Pa-Os are very religious, and although previously animist, most are now Buddhist.  They were coming together to clean up the approaches to Indein’s ancient Shwe Inn Tain Pagoda, the site our group had come to this village to see. (Photos of that in the next episode.)

Men were already hard at work repairing the road –  in what seemed a time consuming way. But lots of hands make light work!  There’s no earth moving machinery here; not even a wheelbarrow.  A bamboo cane ‘stretcher’ was used to carry the soil.  What was amazing was what a short distance the soil was moved!

(P1020729  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020729 © DY of jtdytravels)

A group of boys stood in the shade waiting for their instructions to also begin work.

They wore the traditional Shan bags over their shoulders.

(P1020808  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

(P1020808 © DY of jtdytravels)

While Mums and Dads worked, little ones found simple games to play.

No fancy toys or video games here!

(P1020803  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020803 © DY of jtdytravels)

The women who had just arrived waited for their instructions.

 It was a well ordered, planned community activity.

(P1020773  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020773 © DY of jtdytravels)

Faces in the crowd always fascinate David.  This girl wears her traditional Pa-O ethnic check cloth headwear and her face is painted with a mixture made from the bark of the tamarind tree. This is not only traditionally for beauty but also to save the skin from the sun.

(P1020717  ©  DY  of jtdytravels)

(P1020717 © DY of jtdytravels)

And it wasn’t only the young ones who had come to help.

All ages were represented.

Down on the river there were other activities to watch.

Children are the same everywhere –

 give them some water and they’ll make their own fun!

When everyone in our group had had plenty of time to enjoy watching the village activities, they began the walk up to the ancient Shwe Inn Tain Pagoda (or Shwe Indein) Pagoda.  We’ll go there in the next episode.

Jennie Thomas

All photography in this episode ©  DY of jtdytravels

Burma – Myanmar # 14 Inle Lake Princess Resort

Inle lake Princess Resort is a special place right on the edge of a very peaceful arm of the lake. It was such a delightful place to just ‘be’ that I decided to forgo the next day of exploration in favour of a quiet day in the gardens of the hotel – and I had a massage!  So good.

View from Inle lake Princess Resort (P1100750

(P1100750 © JT of jtdytravels)

After long days of travel, this place offered peace and quiet.  It was somewhere just to have a lazy day!  David had time for a quiet walk with me before he set out on another day of exploring.

Individual cottages by the water (P1100822

(P1100822 © JT of jtdytravels)

Individual cottages are spread out along the waterfront. Ours was the very last cottage meaning that we were about a kilometre from the central area with reception and restaurant. But the walk was delightful with water on both sides of the long peninsular like dyke on which the cottages were built.

Cheerful lady gardeners  (P1020618

(P1020618 © DY of jtdytravels)

Along the way there was always someone to stop and chat to – even in sign language. We stopped to say thank you to these lady gardeners who make the gardens a delight. Their wheelbarrow was a wooden dray they pulled along with them.

The inner pond (P1020598

(P1020598 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Some larger cottages are built over an inner pool that’s filled with waterlilies.

Water lily reflections (P1020973

(P1020973  © DY of jtdytravels)

There was no shortage of water lily reflection photo opportunities.

Beautiful water lilies (P1020978

(P1020978 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Beautiful water lilies are like a magnet to a photographer.

The gardeners keep the lily pond in good condition, using one of the local dug out boats to negotiate the weeds.

The weeds were taken out and added to the field that lay between the hotel and the village.  In this way, arable land is added to the village fields.  A stand of corn was growing in the field while we were there.  All the vegetables we tasted were really very good.


(P1100768  ©   JT  of jtdytravels)

Cattle egrets found the newly added earth and weeds a good place to look for food.

Restaurant deck (P1100752

(P1100752 © JT of jtdytravels)

The deck of the restaurant was bedecked by flowers such bougainvillea in large pots.

Breakfast on the deck (P1100641

(P1100641 © JT of jtdytravels)

The long walk was rewarded by the pleasure of joining others to enjoy a delicious breakfast on the deck.

Watching a leg rower glide silently by (P1100776

(P1100776  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

The deck is a great place to watch boats go by and in the early morning the reflections were a delight.  No boats are permitted to use engines in this zone so it’s all very peaceful. This long tail boat was coming in to the hotel dock to pick up guests for a day out on the lake – hence the blue chairs.

A local dugout boat (P1100778

(P1100778  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

No engines, no noise on the local dugout boats – just ‘person power’.

There’s no rush or hurry for those using these boats.

This boat is bringing people who work at the hotel.  They come from the nearby village – no chairs for them.

Wood carved 'statues' (P1020952

(P1020952  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

The edge of the deck was decorated with a delightful array of wood carvings – something for which Burmese craftsmen in Mandalay are famous.

Another beautiful wooden carving (P1100784

(P1100784  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

Every few metres along the deck there’s another fascinating wood carving.


(P1020958  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

 This wooden lady in a hammock looks as relaxed as I felt.


(P1020986  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

The roofs were adorned with beautifully carved end pieces.


(P1100690  ©   JT of jtdytravels)

Back near our cottage, a bridge crosses the lily pond.


(P1100704  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

That bridge leads to the massage rooms. I did enjoy my massage later in the day.


(P1100692  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

In the pond beside our cottage I found this beautiful lily surrounded by air bubbles. Perhaps a frog was nearby.


(P1100724  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

I know there were frogs around. I heard them in the evenings and I found several clusters of eggs.


(P1100739  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

Next to our cottage was a rather romantic fairy tale cottage covered in purple /pink Bougainvillaea.


(P1100711  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

And finally – our cottage right at the end of the path.


(P1100628  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

The deck with its tranquil view was most welcoming for a rest before that massage.

It was such a wonderful, restful day.


(P1100735  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

Birds wandered around and foraged for food below the deck.


(P1100681  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

Our cottage had an outdoor shower area, the privacy walls painted with yet more waterlily motifs.


(P1020582    ©   DY of jtdytravels)

The bedroom, bamboo lined of course, was simple but very clean and comfortable.


(P1100608  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

Before dinner at night, we enjoyed a wine tasting in the “wine cave”.  A long boat formed the table. The ceiling was painted with murals and the walls were just clay with holes to hold the wine bottles.


(P1100615  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

The wine was kept cool in the walls of the “cave”.  A great idea.


(P1100614  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

These marionette puppets were used as decorations in the wine cave.  We’ll talk more of the importance of puppets in Burmese culture later, but these puppets are just decorative because they have golden faces instead of white as in the traditional “working puppets”.


(P1100627  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

And when we’d had a delicious dinner and wandered back to our room, there was the bed ready for us, draped in a mosquito net, even though we hadn’t seen any of those pesky little insects.  Still this is a malaria area so it was good not to take any risks.

And that was my day at the hotel. David’s day of exploring will be covered in the next episode of this armchair travelogue.

Jennie Thomas

for jtdytravels.com

All photographs © JT and DY of jtdytravels

Burma – Myanmar: # 13 Villages of Inle Lake

Leaving the weavers village of In Paw Khon, we retraced our journey by long-tail boat, at a much more leisurely pace, back through some of the water villages of Lake Inle.  The impact of tourism became more obvious as we went by several restaurant cum guest houses lining the wider water ways.

(P1100505  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

Now we had time to look at the many different styles of pole houses and to go slowly along some of the smaller waterways. Even for those whose economic circumstances have improved because of the new growth of tourism, the Intha people choose to stay living on their lake. They just build larger houses.  They are born, raised, live and die on the water.  It’s their life.  The only life they know.

Born to a life on water (P1100531© JT of jtdytravels)

(P1100531© JT of jtdytravels)

Children are born to a life on and by the water. There are no protective railings anywhere on these houses. A sense of personal responsibility is learned very early in this country.

(P1100523  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

Children are born to water life and are very used to getting around in the local dugout boats. This is just the normal way of getting to and from school! Some of the houses here are built more substantially with bamboo timbers rather than plaited bamboo matting.

( P1020555  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

The kids were always just as interested in us as we were in them.  Smiles and waves were the order of the day.

(P1100521  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

It seems that children are never too young to help Mum paddle the boat.

One never forgets how o paddle one's own canoe! (P1100516 © JT of jtdytravels)

(P1100516 © JT of jtdytravels)

One never forgets how to paddle one’s own canoe!  No driver’s licence is required here – and no tests that might take away your independence when you get a bit older.  She’s been doing this all her life.

(P1020562  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Construction of a local boat.

Imagine having a blacksmiths – and that most necessary very hot fire – in a pole house style building. At least they don’t have a thatched roof!  The fire is kept red hot by pumping mop like bellows up and down in a chimney like structure. The men’s rhythmic hammering of the iron was a real tourist drawcard!  But it also helps them to make lighter work of a hard job.

One type of prayer bell  (P1130362

(P1130362 © JT of jtdytravels)

These blacksmiths don’t make horse shoes – there’s not a lot of call for those on the lake!  They do make metal objects needed by the lake people. And, among other things, they make traditional, flat, personal prayer ‘bells’ rung by hitting with a wooden ‘donger’.

Another type of traditional prayer bell. (P1130365

(P1130365 © JT of jtdytravels)

Another type of small traditional personal prayer bell is made to have its own donger inside.

(P1100529  © JT of jtdytravels)

Floating through these villages in the golden glow of late afternoon was a delight.

(P1100539  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

A coconut frond thatched mat covers this fisherman’s store house. The next door neighbour has used rather a fancy plaited bamboo for the walls.

Different styles of houses (P1100519

(P1100519  © JT of jydytravels)

Although the houses were all made of wood and bamboo, there were many different styles of houses. This larger house had a matting privacy wall around the kitchen platform and the toilet.  With more and more tourists up and down these waterways, that’s probably a good idea!

 A golden afternoon (P1100528 © JT of jtdytravels)

(P1100528 © JT of jtdytravels)

It was a peaceful, golden afternoon after the rain.

There never seemed to be an end to the village waterways.

(P1100541 2  © JT of jtdytravels)

It was a surprise to see that this rather fancy building was the village library. Education is so important, even here on the water. I’d love to have a look inside. Next time maybe I can have a chance to read to some children there. They do learn English at school.

(P1100548  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

The village festival boat is a prize community possession and is kept in a protective mooring.

(P1100544 ©  JT of jtdytravels)

Wherever we floated in that golden afternoon light, there were abstract water refections. I loved them.

(P1100562  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

It was getting late and time to return through the main lake to our hotel.  It was not this pole house hotel – but it did look interesting.

(P1100567  © JT of jtdytravels)

Darkness falls quickly in the tropical countries.  As we hurried down the lake, the skies kept our interest, changing constantly against the deepening blues of the hills.

(P1100573  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

Eventually we turned from the main lake towards the hills and to our hotel on the lakeside shore.  To get there, our driver had to navigate through narrow, hyacinth choked waterways. From our seating, low in the boat, we could often only see the plants. We trusted that he knew his way via the wayside poles and the odd white flag or two.

(P1100580 © JT of jtdytravels)

As we neared our hotel, “The Inle Princess Resort”, the noisy engines were cut and a leg rower joined us to take us into the hotel jetty. This is a much more peaceful, if slower, way to travel on Inle Lake.

(P1100588 © JT of jtdytravels)

Arriving at the hotel dock after a long day, a very friendly welcoming group of men greeted us as we pulled into the jetty.

(P1020590   © DY of jtdytravels)

It was all but dark when we finally arrived at our hotel room which was really a lake side cottage.

T’was a very peaceful evening view from our balcony at Inle Lake Princess Resort

We would enjoy this delightful place for the next two nights.

Jennie and David

Photography  © Jennie Thomas and David Young of jtdytravels

Burma – Myanmar; # 12; Inle Lake; Lotus Silk Weaving

There’s just one village in the world where ‘silk’ thread is extracted from the fibres of the lotus plant stem and then woven into the finest, soft scarves and shawls. That village is In Paw Khon on Inle Lake in Burma. Here, they also weave silk and cotton, but their speciality is ‘lotus silk’.

(P1020982  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

As we travelled towards In Paw Khon, we passed several traditional wooden lake boats carrying lotus stems to the weaver’s workshops. There are a few different workshops but all are in the same village.

( P1100479 ©  JT of jtdytravels)

Although some of the village families do grow lotus plants, many more than these are needed to support this growing business. And as tourism increases and opportunities grow to sell to other countries, this specialised business will surely expand to meet the demand.

(P1020981    ©  DY of jtdytravels)

The part of the plant that is used to make the ‘silk’ is the stem. The deeper the water, the longer the stem, the stronger the fibres, and of course, the more fibre available to use.  Compared to the well known water lily leaves which lie flat on the surface of the water, lotus leaves rise well above the water – and make for good reflection photos!

( P1100432 ©  JT of jtdytravels)

The workshop we visited is housed in these wooden buildings with rusting tin roofs. The prospect of anything beautiful emerging from here seemed rather remote… but never judge a book by its cover!

(P1020520   ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Leaving our long-tail boats moored beside the rather rickety boardwalk, we made our way towards a large, three story building.

( P1100438 ©  JT of jtdytravels)

I looked below and was surprised to see that there was still bark on the supporting poles of a newer boardwalk.

( P1100439 ©  JT of jtdytravels)

This was the largest of the village workshops and  the noise of the click- clacking of many looms greeted us through the open windows. About 100 people work here, mostly women. They work here in the weavers workshop whilst their husbands are mostly fishermen or boatmen, ferrying goods and people to and from these villages of watery ‘roads’.  Other men are builders, expert in working by hand to build the pole houses of these water villages.

Just inside the door, we met a woman whose job it is to extract the very fine fibres from the lotus stalks.  That’s the very first task in the ‘lotus silk’ making process.  Taking four or five stalks at a time in a bunch, the lady carefully cuts the outer edges of the stalks about three cms from the end.  She then gently twists and pulls the two bundles apart to tease the fibres from the stalks. From each small cut bundle, she extracts about a half meter of the raw fibres.

The fibres are rolled together on a damp board. The process is repeated three or four times, each time adding more fibres to the thread. When thick enough, she lifts the thread and adds most of it to the white bowl leaving about ten cms on the end of the table. The next bunch of fibres is rolled into that end piece so joining one piece to another and gradually making a continuous length of thread.

( P1100441 ©  JT of jtdytravels)

When there’s enough thread in the bowl, it’s wound onto spools – seen here on the floor in front of her. The thread is then ready for washing, dyeing and weaving.  It’s a time consuming process and I really felt for that woman, sitting on the floor day in, day out, extracting the fibres from lotus stalks.  I think of her every time I wear the beautiful scarf I bought from these ladies.

There’s a good blog site written by one of the weavers of this village with many photos that show the process in more detail.

( P1020523  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

We didn’t see the washing and dyeing process which is done in another building where they need a fire to boil the water. The weaving loom rooms are far too valuable to have fire near to them!  But I do know that the lotus silk thread in my precious red scarf was died from pots of dye like these.  Its coloured threads are blended while weaving along the length of the scarf from fuchsia pink at one end to red at the other.  It’s very soft wearing against the skin and drapes well.

My red scarf (P1130478

In another section of the workroom some older women were spinning large skeins of pure silkworm silk onto spools.  They were sitting on the floor in what seemed to me to be a very uncomfortable position. This is a very traditional Burmese way of sitting, with the souls of their feet facing away from anyone who might be in front of them.  Feet facing forward is considered to be very rude.


( P1100465 ©  JT of jtdytravels)

This lady was so warm hearted and friendly.  She asked me to sit beside her.  How I wished that I’d had the ability to sit on the floor like that – and the time (with no tour group timetable pressure) to be able to sit with her and talk about her life and work.  She just smiled acknowledgement and went on to show me what she was doing. These older women have been expert weavers throughout their lives but can now no longer sit at the looms all day. Their weaving was originally done using cotton and later, silk. Then, one old village lady, just before she died, had passed on her special skill of extracting the ‘lotus silk’ from the stalks to some other village women – and so began this village tradition of ‘lotus silk’ weaving.

( P1100466 ©  JT of jtdytravels)

At times the fine silk thread gets into a tangle and its an awful job to sort it out – not easy!  This silkworm silk thread is brought in from China and Thailand. Buddhists don’t believe in killing by boiling, so they won’t boil the silk moth larvae in the cocoons to extract the silk. But they will weave the silk thread they buy in from other countries into beautiful scarves, shawls and longyis.

The threads need to be made ready for the looms by tensioning the threads on this hand wound roller, a younger women’s job.

Some of the other ladies showed me how their looms were set up and how they worked them manually. The first lady was weaving purely in ‘lotus silk’ thread. All of these threads have been painstakingly extracted from lotus stalks! When finished, this scarf will be six times more expensive than the ones woven from regular pure silk – lotus silk is such a rare product and so time consuming to make. Many of these very special ‘lotus silk’ scarves and wraps are made from thread dyed a golden colour. They are then used to drape onto Buddha statues for very special occasions.

The other three ladies in the video were using a mix of silkworm silk and lotus silk. That gives a different textural feel to the material. The photo below is my other scarf.  Three types of thread were used resulting in a stiffer material than the pure lotus silk scarf.

Scarf woven from two types of thread (P1130471

Many of the weavers took a break while we were there because, with the noise of so many looms all clacking away together, we wouldn’t have been able to hear any explanations!  And also, it was getting later in the day and some of the women had gone home to do their family chores and collect their children from school. We’d see some of them later as we motored along the village waterways.

( P1100457 ©  JT of jtdytravels)

The only man I saw working here was painstakingly tying the silk threads with off cuts of cotton threads ready for the ikat dying process. If we’d had longer time, I would love to have watched this whole process through to the making of the intricate materials as seen in his pattern piece.

( P1100477 ©  JT of jtdytravels)

This is an example of threads ready to be dyed using the ikat method. (I think it would make a beautiful wall hanging just as it is!) In this method, the patterns are created by binding the threads of silk with cotton before the weaving process. In the more commonly known tie dying process, the fabric is woven first, then the resist bindings are applied (or wax is used)  before the dying process.

After dying, the ikat patterns will be clearly visible in the warp threads as the loom is set up for weaving.  The weaver will then introduce plain coloured weft threads as the fabric is woven ( weft – weft to wight! the left to right threads.)  This is an extremely time consuming process as you can imagine.

( P1020529  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Of course there is a shop! And having seen these beautiful pieces in the making, I could so easily have bought many of them as gifts. Two things were against that hope. One was time. We were being called back to the boats – I had spent too much time with the ladies in the workrooms; not that I regretted that for a moment. And secondly, Burma still doesn’t have any way of using credit cards. We had to take any money we were likely to need into the country as cash in crisp new US Dollars. As this was still early in our journey, I had to be careful. But I do have two lovely scarves as my special memory of these ladies and their painstaking work. I’ll just have to go back – I think I’ve said that before!

( P1100454 ©  JT of jtdytravels)

There were several buildings in this weavers complex and I believe it is growing in scope. I understand that some of the village women have had the benefit of United Nations Development Programme  micro – finance loans to help them develop their small businesses.


I am a great advocate of micro loans. They have been very successful in many countries, helping the poor to help themselves. These are loans – not handouts or donations. The philosophy behind such loans is one of ‘teaching people to fish rather than just giving a fish”.  Helping them to help themselves. First loans may be rather small, about $80; however, that’s enough in these poor countries to make a real difference to people who, although they are struggling, are prepared to work to get themselves out of poverty.  Most loans have been given to women or a group of women and well over 90% of such loans are repaid in full. After repaying the first loan, as the the business grows, a larger loan may be granted.

I also understand that, gradually, NGO’s are being permitted to set up micro-loan programs in Burma. This is a much needed. According to some reports, only 10% of Burmese who would benefit from such small loans have access to them. It will be interesting to watch future developments. It was good to see so many women in this village gaining the skills they need and working in a business that will surely increase as Burma has more opportunities to sell to other countries – and satisfy a growing tourist trade.

( P1100478  ©  JT of jtdytravels)

I would love to learn so much more from women such as these –  learning more about their work, their lives and their hopes and aspirations for the future – for themselves and for their children. Perhaps we could chat over a cappuccino! I was fascinated to see this small cafe in the weavers workshop area. But we had no time to stop and chat. We had to move on. It was getting late and our hotel was right at the other end of the lake. So, it was back to the noisy, long-tail boats. At least the sun was shining again and there was still so much to see and enjoy!

Jennie and David

Photography  © JT and DY of jtdytravels

Burma / Myanmar #11; Inle Lake

Our next destination was Inle Lake in the heart of the Shan Plateau. It’s a beautiful freshwater lake, 900 metres above sea level, the second largest in the country. It’s 22km long and 10km at it’s widest point.  It’s a relatively shallow lake with an average depth of just 2 metres but can be deeper in the rainy season. The whole lake and the surrounding villages belong to the Nyaung Shwe Township. Approximately 70,000 people live in either the four small towns and numerous small villages that border the lake, or in pole houses on the waters of the lake. Although several different ethnic groups live in the area, most are devout Buddhists of the Intha ethnic group.

(P1100290 © JT of jtdytravels)

The lake is about 35 km from Heho. For much of the way, the road is bordered on both sides by water. Small bridges give access to the houses – and also provide the clothes line! Many fences are made of woven bamboo slats. In this area we were to see just how important bamboo is in this country.

(P1100306  © JT of jtdytravels)

The Shan Hills rise behind the water ways. These are the main watershed for the lake. As more and more of the hillsides are turned into farm land, more run off threatens the lake with silt build up.

Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery  (P1030203 © DY of jtdytravels)

One interesting ‘photo opportunity’ along this road is the red painted, teak-wood building of Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery.  Over 150 years old, it sits in the water on strong stilts. An interesting architectural feature is the oval windows, some covered with stained glass but mostly open or shuttered. Peeking through the windows we could see some mirrors, mosaics and ornate carvings, some gilded with gold.

( P1030211 © DY of jtdytravels)

These young novices are celebrating shinbyu, a special rite of passage when a boy enters a monastery for about a week as a novice monk. While there, they learn the discipline of a monk’s life and the basic tenants of Buddhist faith. Just as regular monks do, they have to wake up early and wash with cold water.  Their beds are mats unrolled onto the wooden floors.  They have just two meals a day, and eat only food that has been given as alms. But, as Sunshine told us from his own experience, a boy gets hungry. He told us of running home one afternoon to raid the pantry and of being caught in the act by his mother. She didn’t scold him; she just asked him to think before he acted. He went back to his monastery chastened – and still hungry!  Most of these boys will go back to their homes at the end of the week, although some may stay on in training as full time monks.

Sunshine suggested that this week spent away from their families in a monastery teaches young boys the values of their society, the need for them to embrace responsibility for their actions and the ’cause and effect’ of their actions upon themselves and others around them. It is an important tradition.

Nyaung Shwe; Mirror-tiled stupa  (P1100949  © JT of jtdytravels)

We soon arrived at the small town of Nyaung Shwe, the main ‘gateway’ to Inle Lake for tourists. It has a river channel running through it that connects it to the main lake some kilometres away.  Near to where a bridge crosses the river channel, is an impressive mirror-tiled stupa. The boats lined up by the edge of the channel are the commonly used, local long-tailed boats. These boats are driven using a very, very noisy single cylinder diesel engine connected to a thin, lengthy rudder that resembles a long tail.

(P1100951  © JT of jtdytravels)

It was quite amazing to see, in such a small town, this intricately decorated stupa using mirrors and glazed, coloured tiles .

Nyaung Shwe (P1100315 © JT of jtdytravels)

Nyaung Shwe consists of one main road with many side streets and a few parallel roads. Its a popular destination for back packers and ‘budget’ tourists who can’t afford the ‘higher end’ lakeside hotels.

Long-tail boats at Nyaung Shwe dock.  (P1020469 ©  DY of jtdytravels)

Nyaung Shwe serves as a marina for the numerous long-tail boats that carry tourists across the lake. We were soon to experience riding in one of these not very comfortable and very, very noisy boats. But we did have a modicum of comfort. Unlike the boats the locals use, the tourist’s boats have small chairs and take only four passengers in each boat. Riding in one takes a little time to get used to the balance.

Riding through the channel to the lake  (P1100342 © JT of jtdytravels)

There’s a few kilometres to travel along the channel towards the main lake.  Because of the constant wash of small boat traffic, there are wood and bamboo and pole fences between water and houses.

A river side laundry!   (P1020472  ©   DY of jtdytravels)

All along the channel, we saw women doing their washing, and having a chat. While I don’t advocate changing my washing machine for this method of doing the laundry, we do miss out on the neighbourly chat!

A lovely old building by the river (P1100928 © JT of jtdytravels)

I wondered what stories this old building could tell.  My love for renovation was rekindled when I saw it. With some TLC and skill….

Dredge boats in their dock (P1100931 © JT of jtdytravels)

Because the channel is the major ‘road’ between the lake villages and the town, it needs constant dredging to keep it open. These are the boats used for that task. We saw one in operation but no photos.

A ‘floating garden builder’ with a load of weed. ( P1100930 © JT of jtdytravels)

This was the first ‘leg rower’ that we saw on our visit to Inle Lake. The men of the lake villages row their long dugout boats by standing on the back and curling a leg around the pole to paddle. The reason for this is that there are many patches of rather tall grasses and water hyacinth in the lake and the men need to be able to see over them. It looks extremely tiring and not too good on the back! This man has a load of water weed that will be used to help build up the floating gardens in the lake.

Fishing; Inle Lake style  (P1020491  © DY of jtdytravels)

When we finally reached the main lake, the water was flat and still, perfect for the fishermen to try their splashing technique to bring fish to the surface and move them towards the nets that have been cast.

Part of our group whizzing by  (P1020498  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

This long boat has four of our group on board. As it was beginning to look like rain, they had donned their rain ponchos while the water was relatively quiet. They are not easy to get into while sitting down!

Rain clouds on the horizon  (P1100364 © JT of jtdytravels)

Rain clouds gathered ominously over the hills as we motored passed floating rafts of water weeds.

(P1020477  © DY of jtdytravels)

This building just seemed to rise out of the floating weeds. The hills were now lost in rain.

Inle Lake pole rowing fisherman  ( P1100350  © JT of jtdytravels)

We slowed down so that we could get quite close to this fisherman without disturbing his work.

(P1020503  © DY of jtdytravels)

One of the lake’s small villages, built on small islands and surrounded by water and water weeds.

A local long tail boat  (P1020485  ©  DY of jtdytravels)

As the rain begins to fall, a local long-tail boat whizzes by. There are quite a few more passengers on the local boats than on ours – they don’t have the benefit of chairs! They are born to life in boats.

(P1100375  © JT of jtdytravels)

Sunshine finally gave in and put on his bright pink poncho. Ours were blue – a much less exotic colour.

(P1100383  © JT of jtdytravels)

As the rain began to clear, we went by the bamboo and thatch houses of another pole village. Beyond, you can see just how far up the hillsides the farms have gone – more run off and silt for the lake.

Rain gone – time to do the washing!   (P1020506  © DY of jtdytravels)

In this village, the ‘laundry’ is a small bamboo platform just above the water level underneath the house.

Floating veggie gardens   (P1100409  © JT of jtdytravels)


(P1100394  © JT of jtdytravels).

As we neared the further end of the lake, there were some larger, restaurants and guest houses.

A pole house restaurant   (P1100424  © JT of jtdytravels)


The Golden Kite Restaurant   (P1100402  © JT of jtdytravels)

This was our lunch stop – a rather late lunch, to be sure. We were in for surprise. Around Inle Lake, the Golden Kite Restaurant is considered to be the best to place to come for pasta and pizzas!   The owner is really proud of his Italian cooking – and it does make a change from Burmese cooking. The majority of the staff here speak some English well and we enjoyed our stop off here. From the deck I took some video of the various water craft going by.

Typical bamboo and thatch pole house   (P1100399   © JT of jtdytravels)

Back on board our boats, we continued further south towards the end of the lake. This house is typical of the houses we saw. Sturdy timber poles lift the houses out of the water. The flooring is bamboo, the walls are woven bamboo and the roof is thatch. The walls need renewing about every fur years. This one has a few new wall patches or sections. The roof looks like its ready for renewal.

A bamboo pole laundry   (P1020509  © DY of jtdytravels)

In almost every house, the laundry is a couple of bamboo poles set just above water line. There’s no running wear or electricity in these houses. Cooking is done on a small pottery brazier on the floor. People in these villages are born here, live here and die here. They are real water dwellers.

Along narrow water ways to the next village  (P1100426  © JT of jtdytravels)

Towards the end of the lake, the open waters give way to narrow ‘lane ways’, between grassy, reedy ‘hedges’. These are the village roads and need to be negotiated with some care. There are signs of electric it being added to some areas here but the supply is quite sporadic and unreliable as yet.

A small museum and art gallery   (P1100427  © JT of jtdytravels)

I was surprised to see this garden oasis on the lake. A small island has been transformed into a garden and art gallery. It’s on my list of places to visit next time! But it was not on the plan for this group tour.

Our next destination; the weavers village   (P1100434  © JT of jtdytravels)

We were on our way to this village – the only place in the world where the thread-like centres of lotus stalks are turned into beautiful ‘silk’ thread and woven into light and lovely scarves and shawls.

And that will be the focus of our next journal entry.

Jennie and David

Photography © JT and DY of jtdytravels

Burma / Myanmar #10; Pindaya to Heho

On the drive back through the countryside from Pindaya to Heho, we were able to stop a couple of times… not enough times to satisfy me, though. There was so much to see and experience. That’s one of the disadvantages of travelling on a group tour. There are indeed many pluses, especially when travelling for the first time in a country such as this one. But, because each day’s program is planned far ahead of time, there’s no time for the unexpected; no time to just stop and take it all in.  And, for us, the unexpected experiences and the time to just ‘be there’ is what makes travel so very rewarding. Never mind, we were able to make the most of the stops we did make in this fascinating Shan countryside.

Farm carts with umbrellas by the field (P1100215 © JT of jtdytravels)

We really enjoyed watching some farmers working together to plough a field.  And right there, with the carts by the side of the field, we saw the very type of umbrella we had just seen being made.

P1100204 © JT of jtdytravels)

The oxen that pulled the carts that brought the men to work, now pulled the ploughs. They are an integral part of each farming family’s life and are indispensable to all manner of farming activities.

P1100216 © JT of jtdytravels)

The oxen had a breather while the farmers tried to work out why we had stopped to photograph and watch them at their work. Had we not seen ploughing before?  They were as fascinated by us as we were by them, I’m sure, especially when Sunshine told them that we came from Australia and tried to explain just how far away that is from Burma. They were really quite bemused but were friendly and soon got back to work to demonstrate how the ploughs work.  A man and his oxen are a real team. And the men of each village are a team too, helping to plough each other’s fields. There’s real community spirit here.

I read in an account of village life, that this is not a formal, rostered way of doing things on the farms. One farmer mentions to others that he’ll be ploughing such and such a field on a particular day, and other farmers just turn up to help. That is reciprocated, of course. The wife, or some member of the farmer’s family, brings out some food for the men. It’s all very social and done in true community spirit.

Enjoying the interaction  (P1100223 © JT of jtdytravels)

Because of the heat, farm tasks start very early in the day. One of the village women had just delivered some food for the men. She really enjoyed watching the interaction between the farmers and the tourists. Her woven bamboo hat and basket are just two more ways the Burmese make use of this versatile plant.

Yellow flowered legume (P1020411 © DY of jtdytravels)

At this stop, David took the opportunity to wander along the roadside in search of flowers. This yellow flowering plant was very common in the area – we’re not sure of its name.

Hibiscus (P1020414 © DY of jtdytravels)

This is probably a native hibiscus. The growing of garden flowers is not a high priority here.

A stunning little blue pin cushion flower (P1020406 © DY of jtdytravels)

We had noticed several small flowering plants by the roadside as we drove along. It was frustrating not be able to stop and get a closer look. But at this stop, David was able to photograph this little beauty.

A member of the Solanum family of plants (P1020412 © DY of jtdytravels)

I love the delicate, crepe like petals of this very small Solanum flower. It’s a relative of the potato, tomato, eggplant and capsicum. There are over 1,500 species of solanum in the world!

One of the farmers (P1020418 © DY of jtdytravels)

We left the farmers to their work, and this young one still wondering about the encounter, and drove on.

Piled high! (P1100211 © JT of jtdytravels)

If you don’t have an ox cart or pony trap, and you want to get to market, you have to share the ride. This is a great ad for Toyota Hilux – crammed full of people inside, goods and people on top and even a couple hanging off the back board. The road is very bumpy and rutted but the ute seems to be handling it well.

A typical stretch of road. (P1100236 © JT of jtdytravels)

The most common form of transport was without doubt, the ox cart.

Another family off to market (P1100228 © JT of jtdytravels)

Motor bikes and tractor trailers are also fairly common forms of transport. The produce makes the seats! The turban scarf worn by these women is traditional for some ethnic groups. I’m not sure which group these women belong to. There are eight major ethnic groups in this complex country and 135 ethnic groups in total. Each has their own dialect, traditions and culture.

A long distance view of the countryside (P1100242 © JT of jtdytravels)

The views across the gently rolling hills changed all the time and made for an interesting journey.

A happy ‘buffalo girl’ (P1100249 © JT of jtdytravels)

We came across some children taking care of the gentle water buffalo. We all enjoyed that encounter.

A choko vine on a bamboo frame. (P1100256 © JT of jtdytravels)

Various types of fruiting vines are grown on bamboo frames like this.  We were told that this one was Choko, Sechium educe, a plant that belongs to the pumpkin family. When grown on frames, the fruit hangs down for easy harvesting. Grown here in a tropical climate, the plant is virtually evergreen, and provides good crops.

The harvest is done! Time for a rest. (P1100238 © JT of jtdytravels)

Harvest completed, carted in woven bamboo baskets from the field and packed into a pile by the side of the road, these men take a well earned rest. Their work will begin again when the truck arrives to pick up their produce to take to market.

Another roadside ‘pick -up’ spot.  (P1100260 © JT of jtdytravels)

Another group of farmers use ox carts to bring their produce to a pick up point.  Here it’s the oxen who are taking a well earned break while their owners check the harvest before it gets packed onto a truck.

P1020463 © DY of jtdytravels)

An unscheduled stop to change a flat tyre, allowed us to stretch our legs and get this photo of one of the local drinking places – rum or whisky. It also shows the typical construction of country buildings; woven bamboo walls and thatched roof. The small roofed platform out in front is the local petrol station with plastic bottles of fuel for the motor bikes and the ‘put put’ engines on the tractor trailers. The tree is the very common yellow flowering legume that David photographed earlier by the roadside.

Hollyhocks in a roadside garden  (P1020467 © DY of jtdytravels)

We knew that we getting closer to a town; one house had a small garden with a few flowering plants.

We were being watched! (P1020468 © DY of jtdytravels)

A coach with a group of tourists wandering around gave these small boys some entertainment. Not only were we fair skinned but we were old!  The average life expectancy for women is around 67 and for men it’s 61.   Some in our group were much older than that – and white haired – and rather large as well.

Town parking for tractor trailers (P1100281 © JT of jtdytravels)

These are the type of tractor trailers we had seen on our way to this town. They are very basic, not at all comfortable, but a much used form of transport in country areas.

A small town market (P1020278 © DY of jtdytravels)

We had arrived at a small market town. After a much needed loo stop at the back of a small restaurant (squat, of course) we had a little time to explore the small market that was set up on a long concrete platform beside the road. I wandered along just looking and not intending to buy anything when I made a mistake, right here at the jewellery and knick knack counter. My eye stopped for a brief moment on one particular necklace. Two seconds later, that necklace was around my neck and I had a smiling ‘new friend’. And there was a bracelet to match! I had to laugh – and I had to buy!

My market necklace (P1130094 © JT of jtdytravels)

I so enjoyed wearing that necklace and bracelet. It cost all of $8 and is simply traditional Burmese ‘silver’ circlets threaded with wool. There’s no catch – you just tie the wool into a knot.

P1130095 © JT of jtdytravels)

A closer look – and yes the silver is already rubbing off! They will now become part of our very special ‘memory souveneirs’ that we hang on our Christmas Tree. They help us to remember all the people we have met and the places we have experienced during our travels together in this wonderful world of ours.

The food section of the market (P1020280 © DY of jtdytravels)

Another part of the market is for packaged foods. It’s the supermarket of this small town. I had no idea what some of the packages contained but there was certainly a good variety.

Nuns accepting offerings from stall holders (P1130085 © JT of jtdytravels)

Twice a week the local nuns file past these market stalls, chanting blessings as they go. They walk in order of seniority. The stall holders present each of them with a gift of food. They take what they are given – no requests are permitted. With their food carefully placed on the trays on their heads, they walk back to their monastery where the food they have been given is sorted ready to be cooked over the next few days. Like Burmese monks, Nuns have only two meals a day. An early breakfast after prayers and  lunch that must be eaten before noon. After that, only water and juice is allowed until morning.

Packaged foods (P1020283 © DY of jtdytravels)

Dry foods are mainly packed into cellophane and clear plastic bags. There were very few ‘brand’ names on the packages at these stalls. They are all filled by hand from larger containers.

Sealing a plastic bag using candle heat  (P1130079 © JT of jtdytravels)

Just inside the restaurant area we were fascinated to watch three young ladies vacuum packaging food for the stalls.  In this case, the food was flat, dried circles of some mixture or other. We were told that it would be cooked before being eaten.  To begin with, several bags were prepared with eight or ten circles of the food carefully layered into each bag. Then, a bag at a time, the task of sealing began. The open side of the bag was moved slowly through the flame of a candle to melt the edge of the bag.

Sucking to form a vacuum pack (P1130074 © JT of jtdytravels)

One corner of the bag was left unsealed. This was then popped between the girl’s lips and she sucked the air out of the bag. It was vacuum sealed!  It’s just the way it’s done. No OH&S here. And no problems.

Sealing off the corner of the bag (P1130077 © JT of jtdytravels)

Once the air has gone, the open corner of the bag was quickly sealed in the candle flame. It was ready for sale and the next bag was begun. There was quite a lot of giggling from the girls who were shy and a bit bemused that their task was of so much interest to a couple of tourists. It was everyday work for them.

Transport options!  (P1020284 © DY of jtdytravels)

Back out on the road, our bus driver waited patiently. It was time to go again. He welcomed us into the air-conditioned comfort of his bus and handed us each a bottle of cold water. Luxury. At least we didn’t have to travel for hours on any of the other types of transport available in the town. And from here we drove to beautiful Inle Lake where we would spend a fascinating couple of days.

Jennie and David

Photography © JT and DY of jtdytravels

Burma / Myanmar #9; Pindaya; Paper and Umbrella Making

Making traditional products by hand, often without the aid of electricity, is still part of many people’s daily lives in Burma / Myanmar. Different areas are known for different products and one of the experiences we most enjoyed on this journey, was visiting families who hand make products such as paper, umbrellas, material, ironware, pottery, lacquerware, embroidery and wooden products.

Pindaya is well known for the making of paper from mulberry bark, for making umbrellas and parasols and for weaving bamboo hats – all of which are used in daily life by Pindaya folk and local farmers as well as being sent to other town markets for sale. Sales to tourists are growing.

Street in Pindaya (P1100190 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

The family we visited in Pindaya are farmers who supplement their income by making paper and paper based parasols and umbrellas. Their  home and workshop is in the shade of some the very old trees at the foot of the ridge and the 8,000 Buddha cave. The small brick house is typical of this town.

Looking up the street (P1100187 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

Dirt roads are the norm; motor bikes the most common form of town transport (1 to 3 passengers); and tourists arriving on a big coach are still worth a look by the small boy from the house opposite.

The paper maker’s workshop (P1020383 © DY of jtdytravels )

The family’s workshop and small warehouse/shop was no more than a concrete platform in front of their house. Here some newly made paper is drying in the sun. The lady is wearing traditional longyi and shirt. The chairs are another hand made product (from another village probably) made of bamboo and wood. They are a very commonly used type of chair in villages. There are no department stores here.

A finished piece of wrapping paper (P1100133 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

Fine, flower-strewn paper like this is used for wrapping paper in city shops as well as for making fans, lamp shades and decorations used in homes, hotels and restaurants all over the country.

The first process in the paper making is to strip the bark from young branches of the Paper Mulberry, Morus papyrifera, a tree native to eastern Asia. It grows to 15 metres, is a rapid grower and is really rather a weed, so it’s a resource that regenerates quickly.  The bark is composed of very strong fibres and makes high-quality paper that is generally tougher than ordinary paper made from wood pulp.

Pounding the bark to pulp (P1100131 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

The bark is first soaked for a day or so and then boiled for about eight hours. Then the bark needs to be sorted for variations of hue and roughness. The most delicate and regular-hued segments are chosen for paper, while rougher and darker segments are destined for rope or thicker boards and paper such as that used for the umbrellas. Then the process of pounding the fibres to a pulp begins.

The fibres are folded as they are pounded  (P1100137 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

Mashing the boiled fibres is a long process of rhythmically pounding with two mallets. I watched in amazement as this girl pounded away, sitting on a very uncomfortable looking small wooden block. I remembered my own paper making efforts years ago – as a hobby only. I boiled the pulp in a pot on an gas stove and I mashed it in a blender! As I watched this girl pound and fold and pound again on the wooden block, I wondered if she would get RSI in those wrists from pounding with those heavy mallets. There’d be no compensation for her here!

Separating the fibres in water (P1130067 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

 When the pulp is soft enough, it’s rubbed into a small bowl of water and swished to mix.

Adding the pulp to the screen (P1130068  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

A rectangular wooden frame with a stretched cotton base is placed into a bath of water. When the pulp in the bowl is liquid enough, it’s carefully poured into the water.

The pulp is evenly spread (P1130069  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

A good swishing spreads the pulp evenly in the water across the cotton base.

Decorations are added (P1130071  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

After the pulp has settled, petals and leaves are added to decorate the paper. These were bougainvillea petals but sometimes dendrobium orchid petals are used – whatever is available locally and in season.

Lifting the frame from the water bath (P1130063  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

After a minute or two of settling, the frame is lifted from the water bath and put into the sun to dry.

The finished paper is then very carefully prised from the cotton backing.

Only human effort and renewable, local resources have been used.

This is a family that treads lightly upon the earth.

Paper umbrellas ready for market (P1100163  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

Next, the family showed us how they make paper umbrellas and parasols… the change of tasks was a welcome break for them. The umbrellas they make are used to protect from both sun and rain. For the farmers, especially, the umbrellas are lacquered to make them shower proof.

Various wooden parts of an umbrella (P1100179  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

A variety of wooden pieces are required to make an umbrella like this. The man of the house, an old friend of Sunshines, makes these  on a very simple equipment. The girls put the pieces together, add the paper covering, paint the paper, add lacquer to rain umbrellas and add decorations to shade parasols.

The simple lathe used to make handles (P1130064  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

A very simple lathe made from pieces of wood has been in use for many years in this family business. There’s no need to look for the next model on the market! Repairs are made as needed right here.

Foot power turns the lathe (P1130065 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

No electricity is used, no pollution – foot power alone pumps the rope that drives the lathe.

Piecing the wooden frame together (P1100165 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

Toes are a useful tool to hold the bits when piecing together the fine wooden spokes of the frame.

Finished rib sections (P1020397 ©  DY of jtdytravels )

Each part of these rib sections are made by hand and put together by hand – and toes.

Glueing on the first layer of paper (P1100168 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

The first layer of paper is pasted onto the spokes. The smaller spokes will slide in the slots of the larger spokes. Nothing is precision made by machine – here, it’s years of practice makes perfect. For parasols, only two layers of paper are added. For the umbrellas regularly used by farmers in the fields, or anyone wanting an umbrella to shelter them from rain, five or more layers of thicker paper are added. The paper on those umbrellas is then lacquered to make them shower proof.

A completed umbrella (P1100173 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

The final product. These come in all sizes from tiny parasols used for table decoration, to every day umbrellas used by just about everyone, to very large ones used for garden umbrellas.

A very large garden umbrella (P1020398 ©  JT of jtdytravels )

The very large garden umbrellas are much more complicated in their structure and piecing together – but still all by hand.

Bamboo pole for garden umbrellas  (P1020395 ©  DY of jtdytravels )

The poles for these larger umbrellas are made from bamboo – a hollow product that’s lightweight but strong.

Wood turned umbrella tips  (P1020396  ©  JT of jtdytravels )

The tips of the umbrellas are also turned from wood on the lathe and the tops covered by another layer of paper. Labour intensive!  The little shop sold a variety of goods made from their hand made paper. We just had time to enjoy looking at the goods they make and buy a few items before it was time to get back onto the bus. Because of the strict customs rules in Australia, I only bought a couple of small items – a fan and a book. When we arrived home, I showed them to customs officers and was given the all clear to keep them because the bark had been boiled and the paper contained no seeds. So when I go back……..

My paper fan (P1130086 © JT of jtdytravels)

I shall enjoy using my Burmese fan on a hot summer day in Canberra.

My hand made paper book (P1130088 © Jt of jtdytravels)

I also bought a small book made up of a variety of papers made by this family – a great souveneir.

The bus awaited and We still had a long way to go before we reached our destination, Inle Lake.

We’ll share some photos of that drive through some of Shan State in the next journal entry.

Jennie and David

Photography © JT and DY of jtdytravels

Burma / Myanmar #8: Pindaya Caves

There are some things we experience on our travels that somewhat mystify us and, for me, a cave high on a ridge above Pindaya was one of those.  Every nook and cranny of this cave’s cavernous spaces and of its many tiny joining tunnels are adorned with over 8,000 statues and images of Buddha – huge, large, small and tiny; wood, plaster,brick, metal and marble; painted, carved and golden.  I don’t begin to understand it, although it’s obviously a place of great importance to Buddhists from all over the world.

The road to the cave winds and twists its way up to the high ridge above Pindaya and ends at a car park still some way from the cave entrance. Luckily for us,our driver took us even a little further up to deposit us right in front of a huge spider. Was I seeing things?  Had we come to a form of Disneyland in Burma? Not really.

The Spider ! (P1100104 © JT of jtdytravels)

Although the spider is a fairly recent touristy addition to this place of pilgrimage, it actually represents an ancient legend associated with Pindaya. The story is as long as a good storyteller, like our Sunshine, wants to make it. I have read and heard about six versions, each with its own embellishments to suit the mood of the moment for the teller and time available for the reader / listener.

Pindaya and its lake far below the cave (P1100092 © JT of jtdytravels)

Essentially, the legend tells of seven fairy princesses who enjoyed coming to the lake below the cave to bathe. One night, the evening drew in before they could fly home to their kingdom. They had just time to fly up to the cave and take refuge there. While they slept, a huge spider covered the entrance to the cave with a strong web. He had his meals ready for days to come! In the morning, when they discovered their plight, the princesses did what many young maidens do in legends and stories – they screamed. And what happens then? Enter the handsome prince!

The handsome prince! (P1100105 © JT of jtdytravels)

As in all good fairy stories the world over, a handsome prince just happened to be passing by. He heard the cries of the beautiful princesses and, of course, came to their rescue. As he killed the spider with his arrow, he cried out “Pint-ku Ya”, a cry that later evolved into Pindaya. (In Burmese, Pint-ku means a spider, and “ya” means “I have him”.) And we all know what happens next! The handsome prince chose one of the princesses as his bride and, with varying adjustments, according to whoever is telling the story, they lived ‘happily ever after’. It was great to hear a Burmese fairy story and even better to hear the much longer version that Sunshine told us, one his Grandmother had often told him.

Pindaya, is actually a Shan word meaning ‘wide plains’. As we stood on the entrance platform to the cave (added in 1925) and looked down over those plains, a fine misty rain added to the beauty of the view.

A group of golden stupas and pagodas (P1100022 © JT of jtdytravels)

From here we could see the very old trees and the golden pagodas and stupas that we had passed on our way up the hill.

Part of the covered stairway (P1100025 © JT of jtdytravels)

From the pagoda site far below, a long, covered stairway of several hundred steps leads up to the caves. That’s the way devout pilgrims, or perhaps very fit tourists, walk up this steep ridge.

More steps up from the car park (P1100027 © JT of jtdytravels)

Even from the place where the spider legend is commemorated (on the cliff in front of the white car), we were still about 100 meters below the cave entrance. Another covered staircase. More steps.

The glass elevator (P1100107 © JT of jtdytravels)

OR a glass elevator! Its a recent addition – one that we were pleased to see. That is, we were pleased until some of us got in, the door shut and the elevator refused to move! The power had gone off. Mains or generator, I don’t know. Power failure is a common occurrence in Burma and especially in country areas. They often don’t have mains power anyway. With a bit of encouragement, the door of the lift opened and we got out. The power came on again, and we gingerly stepped on board again. This time it moved upwards and we arrived on a landing bridge that lead to the cave entrance.

The golden stupa (P1020343 © DY of jtdytravels)

The cave is called Pindaya Shwe U Min Pagoda.  Just inside the entrance is a 75ft high stupa, thickly covered with gold leaf.  Because it is inside the cave, it’s not possible to stand back to look at it, so the photo is straight up.

The stupa’s spire (P1020370 © DY of jtdytravels)

The stupa’s spire rose high into the great cavern at the entrance to the cave’s labyrinth.  According to village history, this cave remained hidden and forgotten for years.  Some time during the 18th century, some locals gathering firewood on the cliff sides noticed a dark opening behind the thick vines.  On clearing them away, they were astonished to see into a deep cave, its walls adorned with some Buddha images.

Buddha images with inscriptions (P1100045 © JT of jtdytravels)

After that re discovery, the place immediately became a famous pilgrimage site and additional images were donated, as early inscriptions inside the cave testify.  Even now, statues are added by Buddhists, rich and poor and from many parts of the world. Many have the names of the donor added.

Chart at cave entrance (P1100038 © JT of jtdytravels)

While we waited for others to come up in the lift, we read some charts that attempt to explain some of the Buddhist concepts of life, death and reincarnation, a major concept of their belief structure. It is believed that what and / or who we are reincarnated as depends largely on how we live our lives here and now. I do not begin to understand this belief, but one chart listed the “Causes of Ripening in Hell” – hindrances to getting to that state of Nirvana that Buddhists strive to reach. It was a little like a Buddhist version of the  Biblical “Ten Commandments”.

A myriad Buddhas (P1020367 © JT of jtdytravels)

The rest of the group arrived and it was time to climb up a few more steps into the cave that extends inwards for about 490 feet along a series of well-worn paths. Every inch is lined with 8,000 plus images of Buddha. Everywhere you looked there were images. It was fascinating but all a bit overwhelming.

Another group of images (P1100058 © JT of jtdytravels)

Some of the older statues and images in the cave have inscriptions dating to the late 18th century; the earliest one dates from 1773. There may be some images that have no inscriptions that are older, but based on the style elements, it’s believed that none of them is older than 1750.

Very ornate ears! (P1020340 © JT of jtdytravels)

The collection provides an impressive display of Buddhist art and iconography from the 1750’s to today. Many of the Buddhas show the style of Mandalay craftsmen. Others show the vastly different style of Shan artisans.

A ‘Healing’ or Bithetkaguru image   (P1100064 © JT of jtdytravels)

The images also have various poses of hands and feet, each of which has a different meaning. The one above is known as a ‘Healing’ or Bithetkaguru image. In this one, the left hand is upturned on the lap of the crossed legs. On it rests a small covered bowl, believed to symbolize a container of blessed water. The right hand hangs over the right knee with the palm turned outwards.

The thumb and forefinger of that hand hold a small round fruit Hpan Khar, (Terminalia chebula), a plant known in English as Myrobalan. According to old medicinal texts, this astringent fruit is often used in traditional medicine and is good for burns and sore eyes. It’s also believed to promote long life if taken once a week with milk. The covered pot and medicinal fruit in combination symbolizes health, longevity, regeneration of cells, flourishing and growth. The ill and elderly often pray at such images in the hope of better health and longer life.

A large smiling Buddha (P1100047 © JT of jtdytravels)

The expressions on the faces were different, too. I wondered what thoughts made this Buddha smile! He had much decorated ears too, so may be the donor of this Buddha was a thankful, happy person.

A wall of tiny Buddhas (P1100069 © JT of jtdytravels)

Maybe these tiny images were the gift of poorer people.

A female Buddha image! (P1100073 © JT of jtdytravels)

David had gone on with a small group to explore ever more dark tunnels and paths. I turned back to try to just take in what I was seeing.  At the very end of one path, I found this female Buddha image. I was pleased but astonished by my find. The golden decoration was beautiful and very intricate.

A painted, carved wooden image (P1100081 © JT of jtdytravels)

I was also surprised to see some small, painted, wooden images. They appeared to be very old.

Another painted image. (P1100083 © JT of jtdytravels)

Another small, carved, painted image appeared to be female, dressed in a longy. In the dark of the cave, these images were easy to miss and I had to take a flash photo to see the colours properly.

Another female image (P1100080 © JT of jtdytravels)

I found yet another of these small female, wooden, carved images close to the entrance of the cave. It made me wonder if these were perhaps some of the original images found by the wood gatherers long ago in the 18th century. But that is something I did not have time to find out. The cave was about to be closed for the night and we still had to face that ride down in the not so reliable lift before we walked down the steps back to the proper car park – all before it got too dark to see. In the tropics, night falls quickly and it was almost 6.00pm. It had been a long day and we were glad to get back to our hotel.

We both thought we’d seen enough Buddha images for awhile – as you, my readers, must have done also. I was somewhat relieved to learn that for the next few days, we would be immersed in real life with real people as we travelled back through the countryside and ventured out onto Inle Lake. We’ll share that with you in coming journal entries.

Jennie and David

Photography © JT and DY of jtdytravels