Explore the artisan workshops in Bagan, Myanmar
With more than 3,000 temples, Bagan is aptly nicknamed “The Sea of Temples.” Added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2019, many people come to the city to walk around the ancient Buddhist temples. At Khiri Travel, we like to take our travelers to the lesser known sites and explore the long-forgotten stupas that you only see with local guides who really know Old Bagan. Another great way to see the temples is by Hot Air Balloon: it’s an exhilarating yet serene experience. For travelers that want to do other things around the city other than seeing temples, rest assured, Bagan is a city full of artisans passionately preserving the traditions of Burmese culture.
On the top of our list is the Dry Zone of Bagan: there are smaller villages outside the main city that have various workshops specializing in blacksmithing, weaving traditional textiles, and ceramics. If you get to the village early enough, you can see the blacksmiths smelting their own iron. At the textile workshops, see the artisans pulling the beam of the loom back and forth while working the brake pedals with their feet. The women methodically weave intricate patterns into blankets and longyi, traditional Myanmar sarongs. In the ceramic studios, we can marvel as the ladies form the clay pots: one lady shapes the pot, while another person powers the Potter wheel with her feet. Before hardening in their straw-powered kiln, other women will make the finishing touches to the ceramics, shaping them with traditional wooden tools.
In addition to learning about Myanmar’s art and culture, you can see how the villagers make their local condiments and regional ingredients. In Myinkaba village, we stop by a shop that specializes in making tamarind paste. It’s the secret ingredient in Mohinga, rice noodles served in a fish and shallot soup, which gives it a fresh zest and sweetness. While at each stop, we work with our local hosts to prepare a full spread of Myanmar cuisine. Our guests especially like the pickled green tea salad with seasonal vegetables, Laphet Thonk. Shan tofu noodles is also another popular comfort food that hits the spot after a full day outdoors: the sauce is made from ground chickpeas and tofu, served over rice noodles with minced meat: it’s just delectable.
If you are looking for the perfect place to grab lunch or nibble on some Myanmar snacks, Nyaung U Market is a popular spot, it’s the biggest open-air market in Bagan. Located on the main road, we recommend trying the fish curry or Burmese tempura from one of the street vendors.
When returning to the city, you must visit one of the lacquerware workshops in Bagan. The arduous process required to make their pots and bowls is truly fascinating. Traditionally using a mixture of bamboo and horsehair as the base, it is woven together and bonded by lacquer paste: the outer layers are made smoother by meticulously blending cotton and clay before lacquering onto the bowl. The lacquer comes from the sap of an indigenous tree in the region. As the shiny black paste is applied layer after layer: you can see how the bowls transform with each pass. Aside from just making the lacquerware, the final decoration process is hand-carved and oftentimes patterns are designed on the fly! Stop by and marvel at their artisanal skill and meticulous attention to detail.
If you’d like more information about seeing the temples of Bagan, or learning more about the various workshops in Bagan, feel free to contact our Khiri Travel Myanmar team at: [email protected].