musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Shan Shopping Channel

The largest town near Inle Lake in Shan State is Nyaungshwe. This is where most of the hotels and guesthouses in the area are located, although more lakeside resorts have been opening in recent years. The appeal of those resorts escapes me. Yes, they’re all quite comfortable and attractive, and with their lakeside location, the scenery looking out your window may be lovely. But with all that tranquility you sacrifice atmosphere. The location is so far from town and so isolated, that visitors never get to truly experience the unique vibe of daily Shan State life. Nyaungshwe is a sleepy little town, but it’s quite scenic in its own right, and offers a variety of charming experiences for the visitor.  Walk around town and discover the quaint wooden bridges, monasteries, canals, stupa ruins, kids flying kites, and so much more. It’s damn cool.


One of those simple charms is the local outdoor market. It’s not an extremely large market, but it’s always bustling with activity — a heady mix of vendors and shoppers — and bursting with color. I never get tired of roaming the aisles and snapping photos. As long as keep my distance from the aromatic fresh fish section, it makes for a refreshing stroll. I just have to be careful and remember to watch out where I’m walking. Inevitably, I have to swerve and duck whenever I approach the many low-hanging ropes and wires; don’t want any messy decapitations.


I go to the market to buy fruit each morning when I’m in town. The fruit is not for me — although I’ve been known to nibble on a mango now and then — but to take to the monks at Shwe Yan Pyay Kyaung later in the morning. I patronize the same fruit seller every time, a lovely young woman who always presents me “presents” in the form of extra pieces of fruit. Depending on the season, it might be mangoes, oranges, apples, watermelon, pineapples, dragon fruit, or avocadoes.


There are no supermarkets or grocery stores in Nyaungshwe, only this single market. Even in the larger nearby town of Taunggyi — a one-hour drive up the road and over the mountain — the only shopping option is an outdoor market. These people living in Shan State don’t have the luxury of owning fridges, so they can’t store and hoard food products for later consumption. Even if they could afford an appliance, unless they also owned a generator, they are at the mercy of the frequent power cuts — the power outages in the area can last several hours per day, or all day — and refrigerated food would likely spoil. Thus, whatever you buy today, you eat today. And frankly, I think that’s a healthier approach to eating anyway.


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