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

Posts tagged ‘Shan State’

Nyaung Shwe Road Rules!

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Although it’s one of Myanmar’s most popular tourist destinations, owing to its proximity to Inle Lake, the Shan State town of Nyaung Shwe remains a relatively laid-back and quiet place. You won’t find any skyscrapers, traffic jams, or wild nightlife. Tranquil best describes the town, and I hope that pleasant vibe doesn’t change for a long, long time.

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When it comes to rules of the road, it’s best to keep in mind that Nyaung Shwe is very much a rural farm town and you will often find animals (cows, goats, pigs, ducks, etc.) wandering about town, sometimes straying onto the roads. And in the case of the almighty cows, they feel like they own the road and will either refuse to budge from his — or her — comfortable resting place. Beep your horn all you want, the cow is not going to move.

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Most motorists deal with the cow factor by just driving around the obstacle, while other drivers will stop and beep the horn incessantly, hoping that the cow gets the message. Sometimes they get up and slowly trot off, looking annoyed by the interruption of their siesta, and other times they ignore the honking altogether. Gotta love those cows! And every once in a while a confused tourist can be found blocking the middle of the road too. Now those are the real pests!

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Photos by Aung Thaung, novice monk from Shan State

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Today’s photos were all taken by Aung Thaung, a novice monk at Tat Ein monastery in Shan State. The photo above is a self portrait that he took during our trip to Bagan. The other photos were taken either in Bagan or back in the village or at the monastery.

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In addition to his Buddhism studies at the monastery, Aung Thaung is also a member of the fifth grade class in the village’s primary school. When he is done with his two-year stint at the monastery he plans to continue his education back in his home village (don’t ask me exactly where that is; over the hills and far away!) or possibly in nearby Nyaungshwe where his aunt is living.

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When I was in the village recently, and during our trip to Bagan, I would frequently hand over my camera to Aung Thaung and let him take photos to his heart’s content. He’s a polite kid and very responsible, so I had no worries about him using the camera. Plus, the smile on his face each time was evidence that he was enjoying the opportunity!

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I thought about whittling the number of photos in today’s post down to a dozen or so, but there were just too many good and/or funny photos to share. Enjoy Aung Thaung’s photos!

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Ruins of the Afternoon

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Nyaungshwe is best known as “the gateway to Inle Lake,” thanks to it being located near Myanmar’s famous boat-driven tourist attraction. But a stay in Nyaungshwe should not be confined to taking a tour of Inle Lake and its surrounding villages. Nyaungshwe is a very charming town and there are plenty of things to do in town or the surrounding area. The town itself is ideal for exploring on foot or bicycle. In addition to dozens of Buddhist monasteries, the bustling morning market, and the network of canals in town, there are plenty of narrow roads and lanes that are perfect for catching a glimpse of local life. You will also find some old Intha temple and stupa ruins, big and small, scattered around town. It seems like I’m always discovering new sets of ruins every time I visit.

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During an afternoon bike ride around Nyaungshwe recently I came upon some old temple ruins out in the middle of nowhere. Well, the location wasn’t quite that remote, being on the outskirts of Nyaungshwe, heading towards the big canal that leads to Inle Lake. But it certainly felt like it was in the middle of nowhere; no towering hotels or busy roads around me, and not another tourist — or any human beings — in the vicinity; just me and my bike and these lovely old ruins. All in all, a fairly glorious situation!

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Inle Lake is an interesting place to visit, but don’t limit your stay in Nyaungshwe to riding in an uncomfortable boat and getting sunburned by the afternoon sun or freezing your ass off in the morning chill (hey, the lake takes no prisoners!); hit the streets of town, slow down the pace, and discover the pleasurable vibe of Shan State!

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Bagan Invaded By Novice Monks!

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Over the centuries the ancient temples of Bagan have weathered the invasion of enemy forces such as Kublai Khan’s Mongols, not to mention the corrosive effects of decades of wind and rain, plus a powerful earthquake in 1975.  But could the old temples withstand the arrival of those rambunctious novice monks from Tat Ein village in Shan State? We were about to find out!

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Actually, compared to the hordes of foreign tourists who have descended upon Bagan in recent years, it’s highly doubtful that a few dozen young monks (along with a teacher and two female students from the village) was going to be have too much of a negative impact on the old temples. Any pagodas which are structurally unsound or particularly vulnerable to legions of visitors have either been closed or made inaccessible in certain places (you are not allowed to climb to the top of some of them).

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We tried to visit as many of the major temples as possible during our three days in town, but due to time restrictions and the fact that it was so damn hot the entire time we were in Bagan, our pace was slow and we didn’t see as much as we had hoped. The last morning before the crew returned to Nyaungshwe (I stayed in Bagan an extra day and then returned alone to Mandalay) we visited the archaeological museum in Old Bagan. That was the first time I had visited this museum and found it quite impressive. Strangely, visitors are not allowed to bring cameras inside the museum, but they do allow photo-taking phones!

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The biggest change I see in Bagan, besides the higher number of tourists in the area, is the decline of the horse carts that were once a popular option for tourists wanting to see the sights. Instead, electric bicycles have become the rage and they are everywhere. Horse carts haven’t disappeared completely, but sadly they are becoming a rare sight.

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Chinlone Books in Nyaungshwe

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It’s official; the town of Nyaungshwe in Myanmar’s Shan State now has a proper secondhand bookshop, that being the newly re-stocked and re-named Chinlone Books.

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Known as “the gateway to Inle Lake,” Nyaungshwe has long been a popular place for tourists to stay when visiting the famous lake. Due to its laidback atmosphere, proximity to hill tribe villages, and general beauty, Nyaungshwe has ecame one of those places where tourists end up spending more time than they had originally planned. And if you have time to spare, why not read a book … or three!

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Mar Mar Aye and her husband actually had been selling used books in their little travel services shop in Nyaungshwe for several years, but the stock never really grew much.  About two years ago the couple separated and the husband went away, only to come back briefly last year for a few months before leaving for good earlier this year. But when he left this time he also took the remaining stock of books and bookshelves — plus a few of the bicycles that they rented to tourists — with him. This of course left Mar Mar Aye with practically nothing, expect for a few photocopied books with various Burmese and Myanmar themes that she had bought from a dealer in Bagan.

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When I visited Nyaungshwe in May I was shocked to see the dearth of books in her shop. “Can you bring me some books the next time you come?” she asked me. Well, I thought, that’s no problem, but maybe I can do better than that. I’d been thinking about the possibility of opening a small bookshop in Myanmar, and had my eye on Nyaungshwe in particular. I have access to plenty of books and Mar Mar Aye has a great location right on the main street in town, so why not combine forces with her?

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We talked things over and came up with a plan. I had several hundred books in storage at Ye Man Oo’s house in Mandalay and I decided to send a portion of those books to her when I returned to Mandalay. Next step was getting some new bookshelves made, put up a new sign, and rebrand the shop as Chinlone Books. For more on the shop see our new website:

http://www.chinlonebooks.com/

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Unfortunately, one of the signs that she had made had a spelling mistake (instead of saying that we were “the only place in Nyaungshwe” with books, the sign said “the only palace … ”), so that will have to be changed, but everything else is proceeding according to plan. We still need to add a few hundred more books to the stock and reorganize the shelves, a project that Ye Man Oo will help me with next month. We also plan to print up some T-shirts (boasting a very cool logo designed by Ye Man Oo!) and sell those in the shop too. Hopefully, this will be the start of a fantastic bookshop.

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Meanwhile, Mar Mar Aye is also devoting plenty of energy to her main business, Aye Aye Travel Services. She’s up at the crack of dawn each day, cooking and cleaning, before opening the shop. She still rents bicycles and sells tickets for boat trips on Inle Lake or canoe trips on the town’s canals (highly recommended!), in addition to arranging treks to villages nearby and further away. She also provides a laundry service and can arrange a massage in your hotel or in an upstairs room. Needless to say, she is one very busy woman!

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Chinlone Books is located in the same building as Mar Mar Aye’s other business, now known as Aye Aye Travel Services. The shop is located on Yone Gyi Road, next to the Indra Indian restaurant and the One Own Grill. It’s directly across the street from an old monastery (Yangon Kyaung) and one block from Myawaddy Road and the Golden Kite restaurant. The bookshop is open daily.

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Please spread the word about our bookshop and come and visit us if you are in Nyaungshwe or the Inle Lake area. And keep reading!

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Monks in the Wind

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In Western Shan State, not far from the shores of famous Inle Lake and the thriving town of Nyaungshwe, you will find the hilly village of Tat Ein. Perched on the top of one of the windy hills is a tiny monastery, home to about forty or so novice monks, the numbers rising and falling like the water level in the nearby lake.
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When I am in Nyaungshwe I pedal my bicycle over to the village and visit the monastery almost every day. The young monks are a cheerful, curious bunch, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them over the years. But they are never around for too long. After two or three years in residence they either move on to another monastery or shed their red robes for regular clothing and resume the life of a student or young field worker. In these parts, you never roam too far from your native village.

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Village Girls Unite!

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I spend a lot of time in Tat Ein village, just down the dusty and soon-to-be-paved road from Nyaunshgwe in Myanmar’s Shan State. Something about this village, and these villagers, is so very welcoming. I occasionally teach English classes in the village’s primary school, make donations to the monastery, and take the novice monks and students on field trips in the area. The kids are very polite and friendly, and the teachers and senior monks are personable too. It’s a place I never tire of visiting.

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Most afternoons, after classes are over, I’ll spend time at the monastery talking with the monks or letting them borrow my camera for “inspired” shots of their own. But the village girls are not to be denied either! They are a sweet bunch are just as eager to pose for the camera as the novice monks, perhaps even more so. Here are some shots of the village girls from my trip this past November.

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