Friday, April 6, 2018

Shopping in Yangon

It’s hard not to shop a bit in Myanmar as the country and its people were known for centuries the arts and crafts works, most of them still made purely by hand with traditional methods carrying on from generation to generation. The first stop of my shopping spree was at Bogyoke Aung San Market, one of the major indoor bazaar in central Yangon and one that everyone should not miss if they only had time to shop at just one place.

The place was huge, with literally thousands of shops scattering in different wings and different floors, so beware you may have difficulties in locating the shops you wanna visit, or going back to the ones that you have seen earlier unless you paid special attention to your tracks. Despite the somewhat confusing, labyrinth-like layout with narrow paths in between stalls, there’s certain order in it if you look more carefully – on one side (east, I believe) was more textiles while the other focused on jewelry and crafts.

The building was an architectural gem by itself, built in mid-1920s by the British and named Scott's Market before it's been renamed to honor General Aung San, the national hero of the now independent Burma (now Myanmar) (who is also the father of Aung San Suu Kyi - in case that wasn't common knowledge to some). Obviously it has gone through a bit of transformation over the decades, but the facade was still in the classic style with the dome, ivory-colored wall and pillars.

I was fascinated by longyi for it being extremely comfortable under the hot weather so I decided to find a second piece so I could change into during the trip. U Maung Maung (U Mg Mg) is the one with quite a decent collection of various colors and patterns and friendly staff which gave fashionable advice (and showed you the right way of tying it). I ended up picking a fancier one mixed with silk. One could also have their clothes tailor-made – pick the cloth you like and they could do the measurement and finish the piece with a quick turnaround time (presumably – I saw plenty workers working behind the sewing machine at many of the stalls)

I was in the hunt for some arts and crafts souvenirs, particularly lacquerware which Myanmar is famous for. While there were plenty of such shops at the market, I decided to hold off buying until I got to my next stop of Bagan, where most of those lacquerware pieces were made. Nonetheless, I did pick out a few wooden sculptures – to finish our collection of mini statues from around the world. From what I saw, most of the items were very reasonably priced – though some haggling may still be required to reach the fair price. It’s just part of the game, I suppose.

Food and drink is not the main attraction at the market, but Mooney Moon Café was a good place to stop by for a break and coffee for they carried an organic Arabica roast beans which won the local cupping competition, available as hand-drip or ice-drip coffee on the spot or packaged in whole or grounded beans for carrying them home. It’s great to sit down for a while after all the shopping actions.

I didn't spend as much time browsing around shops in Yangon while I was there, but another shop worth mentioning is one called Hla Day which was just right next door to the ever popular Rangoon Tea House restaurant at Pansodan Street at the heart of the city. They operate as a social enterprise, engaging artisan craftsmen from tribes around Myanmar to design items of contemporary styles that are marketable to foreigners while true to the traditions, plus all money went back to support the community where those craftsmen were from or some minority/disadvantaged groups. Needless to say, I did end up with a few more pieces that were both pretty and practical for my kitchen and dining table.

More pictures from my Myanmar journey:

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