MOST visitors might not think Burma the ideal place to buy arts and crafts, but there are some true gems to be found in the markets, shops and factories of the country. The crafts practiced in Burma are centuries old and many of these make for excellent gifts and a way of supporting the Burmese culture.
1. Lacquerware, Bagan
Lacquerware is an art form practiced across Asia in places including China, Japan and of course Burma. This art form is inlaid or carved into boxes, cups, bowls and various other tableware and perhaps the thing to buy if you want to get something in Burma. In Burma the lacquer is sap from the native Thitsee tree that turns block when exposed to air. It is brushed or coated on to form a beautiful smooth surface. It should be resistant to mositure and heat and good sales people will demonstrate this to you. Bagan is the lacquerware making/selling centre of Burma but you can buy it elsewhere at a higher cost, including Yangon’s Bogyoke market.
2. Marionettes (puppets), Yangon
Entertainment provided by marionettes remains a popular art form in Burma today. However at one time marionette troupes were commissioned and even maintained by royalty. The stories told through the troupes were away of conducting messages from the rulers to their people and even viceversa. Today the craft of marionette making is still practiced in Burma.
3. Buddha image carvings and other wood carvings
Carved images of the Buddha can be found all around Burma thanks to its Buddhist heritage. These are often superbly crafted and can be made from wood, stone or bronze. Craftsman creating Buddha images are often found around major monasteries.
Individual wooden carvings can be found throughout Burma, some of the most quaint, but touristy, are the images of fishermen at Inle lake, complete with a removable oar and a dangling fish.
4. Wall tapestries
Shwe Chi Doe is one of the most popular forms of Burmese embroidery. It uses cotton, coloured threads, beads and sequins. While once used to create garments for royalty and nobles it is now mass produced for common people and tourists. It is still manually done by hand and you can watch women producing the work at factories and shops around the country. Mandalay has many of these, thanks to its royal past, as does Yangon. The Bogyoke market in Yangon is one place to pick up a tapestry.
5. Scarves and lungyis
If you’ve admired the wonderful silk scarves and colourful garments of the Burmese you might like to pick up your own. The traditional skirt, lungyi, worn by both men and women is available in various colours, shades and styles throughout the country and are very comfortable and cool to wear.