Travellers are also collectors, and not just of experiences, but also of the relics and momentos which represent its country of birth. Leather gloves from Argentina, authentic Chinese tea, German beer steins, traditional Venetian masks from Italy, or Moroccan ceramics, the list could unfold to grand proportions.
Myanmar was isolated from the world for five decades, and in very recent years, has found itself at the top of the pack for global explorers on the hunt for something off the beaten track. Unearthing the country’s eternal landscapes and ancient civilizations is a profound experience, and currently, it’s not one that is as commonly shared when compared to the likes of Thailand, India or Laos. Taking something home from this unique corner of the globe is sure to be a must for most who travel through its borders, and we’ve compiled a list of some of the country’s most treasured artefacts to carry home for either yourself, or loved ones.
Once the capital of the country and now considered to be Myanmar’s cultural capital, Mandalay is a popular destination for tourists with an eye for traditional entertainment. One such entertainment form is puppetry, which in the past wasn’t performed solely to entertain, but also as a means of making audiences aware of cultural events and educating them on history, literature and religion. Nowadays, it’s often referred to as a dying art, with locals favouring modern entertainment. Tourists, on the other hand, relish in the efforts made by the likes of the Manadalay Marionette Theatre as a window into ancient Myanmar culture. Also known as the Mandalay Puppet Theatre, it was founded by Ma Ma Naing and Naing Ye Mar in 1986, and since then, it’s seen its troupe win national awards and travel abroad. You can of course buy handmade puppets, and not only is it an opportunity to take a little of the magic home, but also one that keeps alive an art form that has been threatened by extinction.
Keeping on the topic of revival, artists are breathing life into Myanmar’s papier-mâché toy tradition. Burmese children are drawn to Pokemon over Pyit taing htaung dolls, and as a result the number of toymakers has fallen over the past decade and they’re becoming harder to find. The papier-mâché toys – which are commonly models of wild animals, including tigers, lions, owls and elephants – are all brightly painted and all take a couple of days to make by traditional methods. Now it’s more common for foreigners to see their value as gifts, and you can find them in the shops that line Shwedagon and Yangon’s other pagodas for between 1000 and 25,000 kyats. hard to put down. The golden owl toys, the zee kyut, also made in matched pairs, are thought to bring good luck.
Of the settlements in Bagan, bustling river town, Nyaung U, has more action than you’ll find elsewhere in this corner of Myanmar. Nyaung U boasts the most charm and has the best range of things to do – shopping included. Tucked away from the buzz of its street market is MBoutik, which is popular not just because it houses the highest quality in locally produced goods in Bagan, but also for it being a social enterprise that supports local craftsmen. Set up by international NGO, ActionAid, you enter feeling as if you’ve stepped into an Aladdin’s cave with gorgeous gifts waiting to be plucked from its shelfs. Jewellery is often given a mention in online discussions of the boutique, and you’ll find pieces that you won’t see dotted liberally on other street corners. You´ll also be able to choose from handmade homeware, toys and clothing.
Myanmar is famous for some of the world’s most valuable and beautiful gemstones, such as rubies, sapphires and imperial jade. The country’s capital, Naypyidaw, is home to The Gem Museum in Zabuthri Township, and it stands as the second of its kind next to Yangon’s. After navigating through a maze of display cases, including one which contains the world’s largest natural pearl, you can head to one of the city’s stores to negotiate a price on your own precious piece of Myanmar – however, do show caution before parting with your cash as there a number of rogue traders.
Located in the heart of Shan State, this 13.5-mile freshwater lake is at the top of travellers lists for its floating gardens, wooden villages on stilts, images of local fishermen catching fish with bamboo, and lastly, for the traditional lotus weaving. At the Shwe Inn Tha Floating Resort you can visit the Khit Sunn Yin lotus, Silk and Cotton Hand Weaving Centre to see artisans working through the complete weaving process – from how the extract the thin lotus thread to how the thread is spun using a spindle. It’s a laborious task and the lotus is one of the most expensive textiles in the world – a small scarf requires around 4,000 stems. Cool in summer and warm in winter, lotus fabric is highly breathable, naturally waterproof and wearable year-round. Besides its supposed calming powers, the Burmese claim that it helps relieve headaches, neck aches, and health issues related to the throat, lungs and heart. Along with the material’s natural attributes, buying a scarf or any other woven garment supports a century-old craft and the craftsmen who work strenuously to behind the spindle.
Grace Ei Thwe Aung is COO at Flymya.com.
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