We started our second day in Bagan with a trip to the Nyaung U market.
Nyaung U is a typical Myanmar market town. It has a huge golden pagoda, a very lively market, no high rises and a bus station sited on a big dusty parking lot. Being the main support town for Bagan, Nyaung U also caters to mainly independent tourists with its own guesthouse row and restaurant row.
We spent part of the morning exploring the fascinating local market. Fruit and veg, live poultry, fish, spices, thanaka logs (from which you would grind your own thanaka cosmetic), tools, kitchenware, clothes…you name it. Min accompanied us and we stopped in at various vendors to learn exactly what was for sale, since so many of the fruits and vegetables were totally foreign to us. The fruit in Myanmar is great and we almost always ended up leaving a market with a huge bag of fruit to snack on. Amongst the more off putting food on sale were rat kebabs, which we gazed at in horror. As usual, the kids managed to make friends quickly and easily, and this market was no exception. We made one really important purchase – Chelsea soccer uniforms. It is amazing how popular English soccer is in Myanmar (and across all of South East Asia in fact). Manchester United, whom we do not support, is the local favorite, but Chelsea, whom we do support fanatically, is a close runner-up. The boys were thrilled and the price was great at $6 for both. From then on, wherever we went, if the boys were wearing their Chelsea uniform, we were guaranteed new friends and plenty of interesting conversation. Tip: If you need an icebreaker with locals in Asia – this is the way to do it!
We also bought a cane ball – cane ball is a hugely popular sport in Myanmar – the court looks like a volleyball court, and like volleyball one team has to get the ball to hit the ground of the other teams part of the court – but no hands are allowed – so the players have to use their heads, feet, any part of their body in fact except for their hands…it’s wonderful to watch and some of the players have incredible acrobatic skills. We saw cane ball games on makeshift courts everywhere we went.
We toured the local Shwezigon pagoda – yet another example of a huge, gold covered pagoda in typical Myanmar style and we visited a lacquer factory – lacquer is an incredibly time consuming craft – it can take a year to make one object depending on the number of different layers and colors involved. Amazing to see. Some of the largest objects (like furniture) cost thousands of dollars. We were delighted with our two small purchases – a tray and a monks bowl.
It was the weekend, and in every small village we passed through we saw soccer games underway – but they were very strange. Three- a- side, with the smallest goals we have ever seen! And with huge crowds watching – we watched as often as we could.
The highlight of our day followed – Min took us to his home village – to meet the people, to visit his family home and to meet his parents and friends. Min’s extended family all live in the same compound existing of a couple of houses, parking for bullock and horse carts (and his brothers jeep!), place for the cows and horses – really very traditional. His married brother has his own house in the compound – with a satellite dish.
We learned very quickly that a good education for their children is the ultimate aspiration for most families in Myanmar. This is something that we take for granted at home here in Vancouver, but they certainly do not .We saw Min’s university graduation photo in the pride of place in his parents house. He had received his degree from the correspondence university in Mandalay which apparently serves many rural people. What struck us was the fact that these people, while living such a slow and simple life, do not in the least consider themselves poor – they have land, animals, and continue to live life more or less as their people have always done – with some modern help – electric lights for the village streets, and water wells. But the houses have no running water and no power either. Everything was perfectly clean and tidy – this was no slum – just a simple village of agricultural workers proud of their homes and way of life. As usual, we met plenty of school kids. School uniform is the same across the whole country – a white shirt and green pants (or skirts). Teachers wear a similar uniform.
We ended our day at a golden pagoda next to the mighty Irrawaddy – what a great place to watch the sunset.
(PS: I am now custom designing trips to Myanmar. Click here for more deatils).