The Road to Mandalay: Experiencing the generosity of Myanmar’s people – 5

Balloons over Began at Sunrise
Balloons over Began at Sunrise

ABOARD RV KINDAT PANDAW – Perfectly timed to coincide with the hot-air balloon launch, we cast-off from Bagan just at sunrise. It made for a memorable vision, but caused a small pang of regret that we hadn’t managed to go up in one ourselves.

The unfolding day promised a more relaxing schedule with a single 2.5 hour excursion to the bustling town of Pakokku, this time by tuk tuk. Kindat Pandaw nosed into the bank at Pakokku snug beside a vintage river vessel that looked to be a remnant of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company fleet, carrying passengers and cargo on open decks.

A local vendor awaits customers in Pakokku
A local vendor awaits customers in Pakokku

All Kindat Pandaw passengers climbed the bank and clambered into the back of tuk tuks. We navigated the bumpy roads and streets into town where we stopped at an open-air market that our guide, Kywa said was a wholesale market for Thanakha tree logs. These trees are grown in this region of the country and harvested when the trunk is 4” to 6” in diameter. Short segments of about one foot are used to make a paste make-up and skin protector by grinding the bark on a stone with a little water. The paste is considered to have medicinal benefits as well as enhancing beauty.

From the Thanakkha market we walked a couple of blocks to Pakokku’s large, diverse and bustling main market. Everything from cheap imported toys, to fresh produce, to salted fish, to chilies, to fabric to gold and much more can be found here.

Wholesale Market in Pakokku sells Thanakha
Wholesale Market in Pakokku sells Thanakha

Returning to our vessel on tuk tuks, we stopped en route at a temple. Inquiring of a street vendor whether we could purchase a fan to help with the muggy heat, she said she had none for sale. But she quickly pulled out her personal fan and fanned our sweating faces. More out of appreciation than need, we purchased a small bag of dried fruit from her. Then, as we began to leave she insisted, over our protestations, that we take her somewhat battered personal fan.

A woman in Pakokku waves goodbye after giving Janet her fan on a hot, humid day
A woman in Pakokku waves goodbye after giving Janet her fan on a hot, humid day

We think this incident conveys the kindness and generosity of spirit of Myanmar’s people. Everywhere, folks have been gracious and friendly to such a degree that these seem national character traits.
Back aboard after lunch and a rest we attended a presentation on Myanmar customs by Kywa, with assistance of other staff. They demonstrated how to grind the Thanakkha bark with a little water to produce the paste widely used to protect and beautify skin throughout Myanmar. A demonstration and explanation of Longyi, the traditional skirt worn by both men and women in Myanmar followed.

A rewarding and educational day was capped by the birthday celebration of a passenger. The entire crew marched onto the sun deck as we were finishing dinner, singing Happy Birthday. Then they presented a cake, complete with candles, followed by a rendition of a traditional song and a bottle of Champagne. Everyone, especially the subject of the celebration, was touched and impressed by the affair.

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