The buttons below link to details of our visit to Myanmar. The gallery link takes you to photos of our trip and 'About' includes travel practicalities as well as a reading list.

Introduction Yangon to Mandalay Places - Bagan and InlePeople Crafts about Gallery

Vicky's blog has a lot more detail and colour. You can read the first episode here

We travelled with Panoramic Journeys.

 

Crafts

When you are on a tour your guide is always keen to take you to local craft centres. In India your heart sinks when the guide takes you to another Kashmir carpet shop. We felt a bit the same in Myanmar as craft workshops were inserted into our itinary but in fact most of the places we visited were fascinating. The techniques and simple wooden equipment used for everything from weaving to lacquerware and gold leaf production have probably not changed for hundreds of years. It is hard to see how this technology can match Chinese production techniques but for the moment it is supported by the tourists and provides a great insight into traditional ways of life.

Lacquerware

Lacquer bowls, trays, boxes and cups are made from woven bamboo, and sometimes horsehair, frames coated in up to 13 coats of lacquer resin from the thitsi tree. In between coats the pieces are labouriously sanded and lathed smooth so that the finished coating is a rich, shiny black. Coloured dies can be added to the coats and also rubbed into finely etched patterns (above). Gold leaf may also be applied. Less well made pieces may have fewer coats of lacquer and a paper or plastic base.

Gold leaf manufactureGold leaf manufacture is amazingly basic. Small 1oz pieces of gold are rolled into a ribbon and then cut into squares which are made up into bundles layered with bamboo paper. The bundle is then covered in deerskin and hammered for an hour or so until each square is thinner. The bundles and then remade with more layers and the process is repeated until the ultra thin leaf can be cut and packed. When you see huge stupas covered in gold leaf, or the statues that people adorn with leaf when they come to pray, you wonder that it was all made in such a slow and laborious way. Surely the Chinese will replace this with machine manufactured leaf.

Weaving is practiced all around the country. The two workshops that we visit both have simple wooden looms. In Mandalay we watch women weaving by hand with manual shuttles, slowly making fine fabrics. At Inle Lake we are shown how fibres are extracted from the stem of the Lotus plant and spun to produce a soft thread that can be woven, either on its own or with silk or cotton. The looms here are more mechanical but the shuttles are still driven by pulling ropes rather than powered.

Weaving

We also see people making paper in square watery trays, umbrellas from strips of bamboo, paper and string, noodles hanging out to dry in a noodle factory, tea being steamed and rolled prior to drying and smoking and women rolling cheroots by hand.