Monday, April 27, 2009

Bagan Morning Market

While dawn should be spent watching the amazing sunrise on the plane of Bagan, the early morning can then be dedicated to wandering around the market. There are actually three towns around Bagan. Old Bagan has few commercial interests. New Bagan and its stately hotel complexes is a bit too high end. Nuang U is the town where backpacking visitors typically stay when seeing the temples. It is a thriving community with numerous guest houses, restaurants and shops, but it's the market that appeals to me the most. While the formal market area has plenty of craft items for tourists, every morning the locals come out in force to buy and sell produce on a dusty patch of ground between the ramshackle buildings making up the permanent market of Nuang U.

The market is made up primarily of women, both buying and selling. The items for sale were pretty much limited to produce but I did see a few handicrafts and you can always count on the neatly stacked tanaka wood with which the women paint their faces.

At first glance, the market seems to be a haphazard affair with folks dropping their goods in whatever free space is available. I assume that certain rules apply to keep the traffic flowing, but I discovered that there is a degree of organization. A rather ordinary woman was going around telling people to move and keeping vendors clear of the bit of road space that ran past the market. I don't the rules for the organization, but there were a few times where she made vendors vacate an area which was then filled by a different vendor. The two sisters shown here were kicked out of their spot soon after they carefully arranged their plants and flowers.

Although there were relatively few touristic items for sale, the locals were well aware of the presence of tourists and what appealed to us. Quite a few had figured out that we love to photograph unusual people. As a result, I found quite a crew of characters hanging out at the market entrance. I didn't make the connection until I lifted my camera and framed the shot. As soon as they saw me do this, out went the hands in an upraised gesture of "give me money." I realized that they weren't simply attending the market, but arrived to put on a show for foreigners and make some money. I'm not opposed to people making money, but I'm not keen on being deceived either. So, I choose not to photograph the old crone with a giant cheroot or the women whose kids have the elaborately decorated tanaka faces. There are plenty of interesting people at the market.

Occasionally, someone in the market really catches my eye. I photographed the woman below several times as I made my way around the market. I hadn't even realized it was the same girl until I reviewed my photos.

While the men are rarely seen inside the market, you can sure enough find them outside the market. Dozens of tricycle bikes wait for shoppers looking for a ride home.

When the morning market winds down, there's still plenty to see as the regular market is right next door. It's full of touristic stuff, but there's also plenty of dry-goods products that cater to the local needs. It's another great spot for photography.

See more photos from the market here.

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