Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chaing Kham Market

At the south eastern shore of Inle Lake is Chaing Kham. I woke well before dawn one day to travel to the town in order to see one of the more isolated markets on the lake. Getting to Nampan was a bit of an adventure. In addition to being so far from Nyaung Shwe, a heavy mist lay across the surface of the lake, making navigation a serious challenge as we maneuverered through what could best be described as a swamp with channels. Out of the mist, the market appeared on the shore.

The Chaing Kham residents typically arrive at the market with tobacco leaves, enormous bamboo poles and firewood; resources requiring land. They trade with the Ywama villagers, and others living on the lake, for produce, fish, cheroots and other finished goods.The market is divided into two parts. Near the water's edge, the larger items are exchanged. Things like firewood and bamboo are loaded from ox cart directly to the boats.

About 25m from the shore, the bamboo stalls mark the traditional market with all the smaller goods and services.

I recognized most of the goods on sale. Some products, like the bundles of green grass, were of questionable utility, but at least I recognized them. What mystified me, however, were peculiar brown cones. They had a distinct uniform in shape, were pliable, but held their shape as they were moved and picked up; I was able to pinch off the material if required. They were also odorless. The gentlemen selling them were unable to make clear their purpose. I was quickly informed that they were not edible as I mimed taking a bite out of one. They laughed and shook their heads vigorously. The mysterious cones remain a mystery to this day.

Chaing Kham is so appealing because it really feels like a crossroads between the land and the lake. It also has the least number of items apealing to tourists. There are few handicrafts and no antiques at all. Instead, you get lake people and hill people coming together to trade goods with each other.

It's also a good time for catching up on gossip and getting access to service. The market has at least one pharmacist, a couple of restaurants, a barber and two seamstresses. This woman sat in the hot sun all morning working away on her foot powered sewing machine, stitching sacks together. Before I left the market, I gave her my baseball hat to keep the sun off her head. I was rewarded with a big, thankful smile.

As I wondered toward the residential area of Chaing Kham, I met a group of women coming from the market. They were obviously heading home and smiled as they passed by. Assuming they were not traveling too far, being on a narrow path and not a road, I decided to follow and see their destination.

Despite being loaded down with market goods, and having a stride considerably less then my own, these women were soon pulling ahead of me. I gave up after twenty minutes and watched them quick march through the village. I had to sit down to catch my breath.

I happened by a monastery on the way back. The monk in charge was barely twenty years old. He had a crew of at least a dozen novices.

As mid day approached, the market was slowing down and people were heading home. It was time to see what other mysteries lay on the shores of Inle Lake.

See lots more photos here!

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