Photo Journal. Burma: A Mystical Land
On a Golden Triangle trek in northern Thailand when I was nineteen, I came to a bridge reaching over a river. Our guide said, ‘Over the bridge is Burma but we aren’t allowed to go there’. Burma has fascinated me ever since then. Perhaps it was not being allowed in—I’ve never liked being told ‘no’—or perhaps it was the mystery of a secret land.
My dream came true last year—despite the trepidation of others I travelled to Burma with my husband and three children. Even before leaving the airport we were struck by the lovely nature of the Burmese people; they possess a deep calm, friendliness, and quiet generosity we had never encountered before. The locals were as interested in us as we were in them; we were greeted with smiles, ‘mingalaba’ (hello), and waving hands wherever we went.
I quickly fell in love with the country, with its natural beauty and light, its delightful gentle people, its delicious food, and with what sometimes felt like ancient ways of life. Burma has retained much of its authentic culture and charm due to decades of relative international isolation. Frozen in time, it is a rustic tradition-filled Asian country.
The women and children wear traditional make up called ‘thanaka’, mainly on the face, as protection from the sun. It is worn with pride and considered a sign of beauty.
Inle Lake’s stilt villages and floating gardens resemble an Asian Venice. The fishermen there have a unique style of rowing, standing up with one leg wrapped around an oar, while casting conical nets. The sunsets on the lake are divine, and gliding through the water in a traditional wooden canoe among the beautiful teak stilt houses is unforgettable.
Burmese markets are wonderful—bursting with colour and energy. Mounds of bright spices, bundles of flowers, fresh food and produce, and open fires with huge woks give off incredible aromas. With very little refrigeration in Burma, the markets are a vital part of daily life.
A deep spiritual vein runs through this predominantly Buddhist country. The land is dotted with golden pagodas, and the presence of many monasteries with red-robed monks and exquisite pale-pink-robed nuns is enchanting. Their shaven heads are a testament to their beauty.
In Bagan, more than two thousand ancient pagodas stand majestically on a dusty plain. At sunrise, back-dropped by mountains, this fairy tale setting is a sight like no other.
Farmers still use carts and oxen. And in the history-drenched capital city of Yangon, its streets lined with imposing colonial architecture, twenty-four-hour electricity has only recently been introduced.
Burma made my heart sing, and has inspired me to write my first soon-to-be-published book. For information, updates, and more photos follow @annaswain on Instagram.
Photo-essay & photography by Anna Swain