As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, visiting Lake Inle was the highlight of my trip to Myanmar. We spent many hours on the lake oohing and ahhing at the sights and if i had know the UV rays were so strong i would have slapped many layers of sunblock on my exposed skin.
The entire lake area is in Nyaung Shwe township. The population consists predominantly of Intha, with a mix of other Shan, Taungyo, Pa-O , Danu, Kayah, Danaw and Bamar ethnicities.
The people of Inle Lake (called Intha sons of the lake ), some 70000 of them, live in four cities bordering the lake, in numerous small villages along the lake's shores, and on the lake itself. Most transportation on the lake is traditionally by small boats, or by somewhat larger boats fitted with outboard motors.
Local fishermen are known for practicing a distinctive rowing style which involves standing at the stern on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar.
This unique style evolved for the reason that the lake is covered by reeds and floating plants making it difficult to see above them while sitting.
Standing provides the rower with a view beyond the reeds. However, the leg rowing style is only practiced by the men.
Women row in the customary style, using the oar with their hands, sitting cross legged at the stern.
For USD$5, we bought 9 large Inle Carp fish from this lady for our dinner. More than enough to feed ten hungry adults. A steal by Western standards but I suppose if you were a local you could have bought it for half the price.
We were thrilled when we got the opportunity to visit the Padaung ladies after a long day of sightseeing at Lake Inle. "Padaung" means "long neck" in the Shan language. The Padaung woman's traditional racial attire consists of a colorful, elegant turban with a short thick loose shift and leggings. She is also adorned with jewelry and ornaments of which the most outstanding and unusual are the thick rings of bronze around her neck, worn right up to beneath her chin. The rings may appear cumbersome, especially to the observer, but the Padaungs believe that beauty lies in a long neck, which makes it as graceful as a swan's.
The brass coils are first applied when the girls are about five years old, and as the girl grows older, longer coils are added. The weight of the brass pushes down the collar bone and compresses the rib cage, giving the appearance of a very long neck.
There are different beliefs connected to this unusual tradition. In one of them, a wandering king of ancient Burma arrived in Loikaw, the capital of Kayah state, and fell in love with a Padaung woman. When he left, he made her wear brass rings to elongate her neck, making her less attractive to other men. After he died, the local men continued the practise with their wives, for the same purpose.
According to another belief, the Padaung women wear the rings to protect them from being attacked by tigers, while another reason is placed that the rings protect the women against the slave trade. Yet another reason given is that the rings make the neck resemble that of the dragon. Still, the true origin of the tradition is not known. Most of the Padaung women, when asked, said they wear it for beauty purposes, or because their mother wore the rings, or simply because they are carrying on the tradition as a Padaung.
Contrary to belief, the women can remove the rings without risking breaking their necks. Also, contrary to belief, the women will not suffocate if the rings are removed. Many Padaung women living in Myanmar do remove the coils, because the Myanmar government frowns on the practise of wearing neck coils. However, many Padaung women who have worn the rings for a long time prefer to keep them on, to hide the marks on their necks and collarbones made by long wearing of the coils, and also because, after wearing them for so long, they feel more comfortable having them on.
In most instances in Myanmar and Thailand, the Padaung women are involved in the tourism trade. The practice of wearing neck coils has seen a surge in popularity in recent years because the custom draws tourists who buy their handicrafts. Some may as if we should encourage such a practise or to condemn it as they can be likened to living in a human zoo. Well I suppose the Padaung women have as much right to wear neck coils as we have to wear tattoos, body piercing and ear rings. Even though the Padaung women cashes in on their unusual practise for tourist money, this is a form of income, and unless we are able to provide them an alternative and better source of income, we should not judge. There are so many poor people in Myanmar and we should do what we can to assist.
Despite the poverty, the children that we met had bright endearing smiles and at such a tender age, they help out their families by selling souvenirs to tourists
Young nuns, asking for alms. I gave them a pen each and I hope they have put it to good use.
They work hard for a living
She has lived through much hardship
Adorable school kids
I love the thanaka moisturizer on their faces
They grow up to be such elegant young women
We ended up trip with a fun filled day touring Yangon - also known as Rangoon, literally "End of Strife" - and a former capital of Myanmar. Until I visited Myanmar, I did not know that the military government had officially relocated the capital to Naypyidaw since March 2006. You can feel the military presence as you are driving on the road.
Yangon, with a population of over four million, continues to be the country's largest city and the most important commercial center.
Yangon has the largest number of colonial buildings in Southeast Asia today. Below is a collage of the City Hall the buildings in the surrounding area.
Shwedagon Pagoda is definitely number one on everyones must visit list in Yangon. It sits upon holy Singuttara Hill, visible from miles away.
Shwedagon is the most sacred pagoda as it enshrines the relics of the three earlier Buddhas and the eight hairs of Gautama Buddha.
It has been said that there is more gold on the Shwedagon Pagoda than in the vaults of the Bank of England. The massive bell-shaped stupa, which soars nearly 100 meters above its hilltop surroundings is a treasure trove inside and out. Outside, the stupa is plated with 8,688 solid gold slabs. The tip of the stupa is set with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies, sapphires and topaz. An enormous emerald sits in the middle to catch the first and last rays of the sun.
My eyesight is not the best. With the help of the binoculars, our jaws dropped in awe.
View from Shwedagon Pagoda
Of the many things that intrigue the visitor to the precincts of the Shwedagon Pagoda, nothing is so baffling and complicated as the figurines of mythical animals, each perched on its red signboard at the eight points of the compass. Keeping the great stupa on the right, the visitor starts at the northeast comer, where the figure of the mythical garuna bird represents the sun, the ruling celestial body on Sunday. A well-meaning friend may tell the visitor that the days of the week are assigned respectively to each point of the compass, each with its ruling planet or celestial body and its mythical symbol.
"But there are only seven days in the week. One point of the compass will be vacant", the visitor ventures to comment; of course he has not taken into account Myanmar ingenuity in taking liberties with the days of the week. The midweek day, Wednesday, is split into two parts so that the distribution is even. First comes the east, or Monday, comer with its ruling sign of the moon and the tiger as its mythical symbol. Southeast is the Tuesday comer with the planet Mars and the symbol of the lion. South is the Wednesday morning comer with planet Mercury and the symbol of an elephant with tusks. By this time, the visitor's mind is already conditioned to expect the next comer, the southwest, to stand for Wednesday afternoon. So the visitor will be surprised to learn that the southwest comer is the Saturday comer, with its planets, Saturn and its mythical symbol, a fire-breathing dragon. From there on more inconsistencies follow. The next point, west, is the Thursday comer; its planet is Jupiter and its symbol is the mouse. The northwest comer belongs to Wednesday afternoon with its planet, Rahu (an idiosyncrasy of Myanmar astrology), and its symbol, an elephant without tusks. The last point, north, is the Friday corner with its planet, Venus and its symbol, the guinea pig.
The only thing that seems to make sense is that Myanmar Buddhists go to pray at the comer assigned to the day of their birth.
It is quite impossible for a Myanmar to survive without knowing on which day of the week he or she was born. Without this basic information, a Myanmar would not know which point of the compass on the pagoda platform to go to for prayer. Important decisions in life, like choosing a spouse, a best friend or a business partner, are made based on birthday information. Without this knowledge, one would not even know on which day of the week to have a haircut or to shampoo one's hair.
This last is no exaggeration. There are regulations as to the days proper for washing one's head you must remember it is unlucky to wash your head on a Monday or a Friday or a birth day. In the same way, parents sending their boy to the monastery must remember not to cut his hair on a Monday, a Friday or his birthday. A Burman's birth day, it must not be forgotten, occurs once a week. When a Myanmar says birthday, he means the day of the week on which he was born.
As for choosing spouses and friends and business partners, there are sets of rhymes that are supposed to be repositories of ancient wisdom.
Here is an example:
Marry a Monday's son.
It means that Monday and Friday are hostile pairs, even if it is a Friday son and Monday daughter. There is also a saying that a Wednesday and Saturday couple will never know hunger even if they are a couple of lunatics.
A Myanmar has no family name.
A woman has her own name and retains it even after marriage. A child is normally named according to the day of the week he(or she) was born, whereby each day of the week is denoted by certain letters of the Myanmar alphabet. For example, Monday is denoted by the names Kyaw, Khin, Kyin, etc; Tuesday by San, Su, Nyi, etc, Another way to name a child is based on his (or her) date of birth.
After our visit to Shwedagon Pagoda, we visited The Chauk-Htat-Kyi Pagoda which is famous for its huge image of Reclining Buddha. It measures 65 meters and is housed in an iron structure with corrugated iron sheets roof of six layers. Hence it is generally referred to as the six-tiered pagodas.
The heavy cost of this construction was entirely donated by the people. If you donate USD100 and above, your name will be painted on the temples walls and ceilings, that is until the temple gets a fresh coat or until they run out of space I suppose.
We then took a ride to the Botahtaung jetty where we saw workers transport bags of rice to the lorries parked across the bridge
Each worker carries a coloured stick and will throw it on the floor for counting after dropping off the sack in the designated lorry. Simple old fashioned method and yet it works
Making friends with local pigeons in front of Botahtaung pagoda
Chinatown is a good place to go for dinner when you are in Yangon.
We saw school kids enjoying themselves in the field
As a last stop, we visited Bogyoke Aung San Market ( formerly Scott's Market) which is a major bazaar in downtown Yangon. Known for its colonial architecture and inner cobblestone streets, the market is a major tourist destination, dominated by antique, Burmese handicraft and jewellery shops, art galleries, and clothing stores. The market also has a number of stores for local shoppers, selling medicine, foodstuffs, garments and foreign goods.
Watch repair shop
Not as neat looking as the ones we visited in Switzerland
Bogyoke Market is a popular black market location to exchange currency.
We were amused that the local currency is accepted even if it is in such bad state, but they will not accept USD notes which are not in mint condition
Stay tuned for LiLs Adventures in Myanmar Part 3
( Please note that some of the text has been lifted off other articles on the Internet but the photos are all original. The opinions expressed here are based on my personal experience )