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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is probably a native hibiscus. The growing of garden flowers is not a high priority here.
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.
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!
We left the farmers to their work, and this young one still wondering about the encounter, and drove on.
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.
The most common form of transport was without doubt, the ox cart.
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.
The views across the gently rolling hills changed all the time and made for an interesting journey.
We came across some children taking care of the gentle water buffalo. We all enjoyed that encounter.
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.
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 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.
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.
We knew that we getting closer to a town; one house had a small garden with a few flowering plants.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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