Laurent Pinci, Asia Specialist, owned and managed a scuba diving school in Koh Lanta, Thailand where he lived for 10 years. During that time, he traveled around Southeast Asia extensively but never crossed the border to the west, in to Myanmar. He recently decided to remedy his curiosity and finally explore the country which Rudyard Kipling once described as being "unlike any place you know about."
Laurent returned from his Myanmar tour having gained an understanding of Kipling's sentiment, even more than a century later. "It was like stepping back in to time; ATMs don't exist, Western clothing scarcely exists, the Internet connection (when I did find it) was slow beyond belief and getting around in a horse cart is normal." The focus of his itinerary was based on the deep history and traditions of an Asian country that, in many ways, has changed little since British colonial times. But in the end, it was the people that shaped his experiences. "There is no doubt that Myanmar is a troubled land. But it's hard to recognize this when the people shine with gentleness, humour, passion and inquisitiveness. The country's spirit is encompassed in the hearts of its people. If you keep your mind open and take the opportunity to visit this beautiful place, you will leave with not only fond memories but your heart full."
Laurent captures the spirit and authenticity of Myanmar and its people in his stunning photographs. Each picture paints captivating destinations, carves out unique experiences and brings to life the fascinating people he met. He shares and speaks about a few of his favorites in this photo diary:
My first destination was Yangon, Myanmar's capital city. While walking around on the first day, I was immediately exposed to the tradition and authenticity that would remain prevalent for the duration of my trip. Here, a woman dressed in a decorative longyi (sheet of cloth worn around the waist, running to the feet) is transported on a cycle rickshaw.
On my second day, I visited the train station in Yangon. I usually try and visit the train station of the place I'm visiting as I find it reveals the subtle intricacies of the daily life of a place and its people. The last train had just rolled away and the hectic scene of rushing passengers gave way to a quiet emptiness. Among the few left in the station was this monk. I had noticed him before, shining as a beacon of peace amidst the chaos that occurred just moments ago. I asked to take his photo and he gave me a short nod before returning to fastidiously reading the paper.
Faces smothered in thanakha (yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark) are a distinctive feature of Myanmar. Worn mostly by women and girls, it is applied to the face and arms mainly to provide protection from sunburn. Mother and daughter are seen wearing thanakha, applied in the most common way; circular patch on each cheek, the bridge of the nose and along the arms.
Pickup trucks are a common way for the locals to get around. This typical scene may look disorderly but passengers and their belongings are loaded on and off in a very organized and efficient way. Basically, if you can make the room, then it's all yours! Vendors take advantage of the opportunity to sell food items to passengers who sometimes have a long journey ahead of them.
The watery world of Inle Lake is a highlight of any Myanmar tour. Offering picturesque landscapes, floating gardens and stilted villages, Inle Lake is an absolute must. You can enjoy a boat ride and be fascinated by locals carrying on with daily activities on the lake or take a hike through the surrounding, lush countryside.
The Intha people are famous for their leg rowing and simply watching fisherman maneuver around Inle Lake is a breathtaking sight in itself. The distinctive rowing style involves standing at the stern on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar.
This was taken at the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Dominating the city skyline, the gold gilded, Buddhist pagoda is revered as the most sacred for the Burmese. The smell of incense permeates the air and Buddha statues glisten while the sounds of prayer can be heard from countless monks. The moment captured here took me by surprise. I heard a loud, instructive voice behind me and when I turned, I saw a line of sweepers coming towards me! The well organized effort is indicative of the importance and respect given to religion and places of worship.
I savoured this delicious lunch during our boat ride on the Irrawaddy River, near Bagan. Myanmar's varietal cuisine owes itself to a geographic location that has been influenced by China, India and Thailand. I love all of those cuisines independently so I was in for a real treat! A traditional Burmese meal is comprised of rice and various curries, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of salads, most notably one made of pickled tea leaves.
The significance of a private-guide was felt the most in Bagan. During a full day tour by car, our experienced guide, Min Min, showed us some of the best known temples of the area and was a wealth of knowledge - he answered all my questions without hesitation. He explained historical and religious points of interest, which I would have never thought to even look out for. Min Min proved to be a true asset to my Bagan experience and made it all the more memorable.
A "must-do" in Bagan is to view the vast temple-filed plain at sunrise. Luckily, Min Min secured us a spot far from the growing crowds. We climbed a smaller temple a little farther away from the popular spot to take in a view that was breathtakingly spectacular.
I'm not a smoker but was compelled to try this freshly prepared cheroot – a cigar filled with tobacco leaf and chopped tobacco stalks. It was milder than I thought it would be! I quickly understood why it is very common to see most people in Myanmar puffing on cheroots, especially in the countryside.
There is no doubt that Myanmar is a troubled land. But it's hard to recognize this when the people shine with gentleness, humour, passion and inquisitiveness. The country's spirit is encompassed in the hearts of its people. If you keep your mind open and take the opportunity to visit this beautiful place, you will leave with not only with fond memories but your heart full.
(Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake)
Glide silently past local Shan villagers and their centuries-old stilt houses on the serene waters of Inle Lake in this time-locked land.
(Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake)
Board your hot air balloon at dawn and silently float high above Bagan as the morning light illuminates the city’s ancient temples.
(Yangon, Mandalay, Kalaw, Inle Lake, Bagan)
The wide smiles of the forgotten children at one of Myanmar’s many orphanages will fill your heart as you spend the day playing with and cooking for these remarkable kids.
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