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

Books in Shan State

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Looking for something to read during your travels around the Inle Lake area of Myanmar’s Shan State? It’s not as challenging a task as you might think, thanks to the growing selection of books at Golden Bowl Travel Services in Nyaungshwe, the little town that serves as the gateway to Inle Lake. In addition to several hundred secondhand books, Golden Bowl also stocks new copies of several titles from Things Asian Press, including To Myanmar with Love, Ma Thanegi’s Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy and her new memoir Nor Iron Bars a Cage, and the bilingual children’s title M is for Myanmar.

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Run by the personable Htein Linn, Golden Bowl stocks secondhand books in English, French, German, Italian, and other European languages. The selection isn’t huge by Western standards, but a bit of browsing always reveals something interesting and worth buying. I’ve found some truly cool titles in this shop over the years. And just like at other secondhand bookshops the world over, you can exchange the books you’ve finished reading at Htein Linn’s shop and receive some credit towards the purchase of more books, or sell what you have for cash. If Htein Linn is not around, you’re sure to meet his wife, Mar Mar Aye, or daughter, Han Nwe Nyine (she also goes by the nickname “Tina”), both of whom can answer any questions you have.

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In addition to selling books, Golden Bowl offers the usual range of travel services (airline and bus tickets, money exchange, boat tours of the lake, canoe trips on local canals, trekking to nearby ethnic villages), plus a laundry service and bicycle rental. But even with the current boom in tourism, Htein Linn says that times are tough due to an equivalent surge in competition. A year ago, for example, he typically rented 10 or 12 bikes in a day. Now, the number of rentals is less than half of that due to dozens of other nearby businesses that rent bikes, some of them slashing their rates to attract more customers. But as Htein Linn pointed out to me, with maintenance costs (replacing flat tires, brakes, gears, broken baskets, etc.), when you start slashing the daily bike rental rate, the profit margin is almost negligible. He also has some competition in the book business, although some of those shops are selling only dubious photocopied versions of some popular novels and guidebooks, just like you’ll find in Cambodia and Vietnam.

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Golden Bowl is located on the main East-West street in Nyaungshwe, on the same side of the street between the main market and the popular Golden Kite Restaurant (serving the town’s best pizza and pasta, along with wine from nearby vineyards). The bookshop is open daily until 8 pm.

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