Myanmar: A Photo Tour of Markets

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One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to visit to the local markets. The cacophony of sights, sounds, and smells adds to the ambience of the city. Watching people as they go through their daily tasks is a wonderful way immerse yourself in the local life of a new city.

There are many kinds of zei/zay (translation: markets) in Myanmar –  the daily markets where each vendor has his or her own shop, night markets which sell a mix of food and produce attracting visitors and locals alike, and weekly markets which take place in smaller towns throughout the country.  These markets are a great place to check out the fresh produce and offbeat souvenirs that you won’t find elsewhere. The following are photos from our visits to the different markets throughout Myanmar:

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Having heard good things about the food stalls at the Yangon night market, we ventured over to the Chinatown area and were not disappointed.  The hustle and bustle starts after the sun goes down and people came from all over the city to this well lit market to eat and shop.  There are colorful exotic fruits piled in high pyramids while enticing scents of freshly grilled seafood beckon people passing by.

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There is a wide variety of meat and seafood on display, all for a reasonable prices.  If you are feeling adventurous, there are also vendors selling crickets and water bugs, a local delicacy.

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Theingyi Zei is one of the biggest and most well known day markets in Yangon, covering several downtown blocks.  It’s a local favorite and provides a more authentic experience than the more tourist friendly Bogyoke market.  The prices are also lower here in since it is frequented almost entirely by locals. There are a variety of things sold in this daily market from textiles to produce to herbs and medicine, each organized in their own specific section.

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Walking through the produce section, I couldn’t help but marvel at the freshly butchered meat and fish on display.  Each morning, people walk to the market with their baskets and pick up ingredients for that night’s dinner, eliminating the need for freezers and refridgerators that we heavily rely on in America.

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The market is chaotic with people and cars everywhere, moving in a synchronized rhythm that is beautiful to watch.  People didn’t bat an eye when a truck drove down a busy street where fruits  and vegetables were on full display in the center of the road. They moved out of the way as the experienced driver drove through, passing right over the produce, while managing keep it all intact.  This is an experience you don’t often get at the supermarket.

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We spent the morning weaving through the colonial streets of Yangon, indulging our senses.  Everywhere we looked, there was a photo opportunity, from the bright textiles to the  old buildings.  Even though it was hot, the off-the-beaten-path experience was well worth the trek.

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We were lucky that our visit to Indein, a small village on Inle Lake, coincided with their market day. It’s a festive affair, where people from around the region come to offer alms to the congregation of monks and shop in the market.  A boisterous group of kids raced down the hill to the shops awaiting below.  There are many vendors selling everything from food to toys to housewares.  Market day is when people take a break from their daily chores, dressed in their finest garb and go out with their friends and family.

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Arriving in Mandalay early from an overnight bus, we couldn’t check in for a few hours, so we decided to spend the time wandering the nearby market.  People were just setting up their stalls, and getting their food ready for the morning crowd.  It was the calm before the storm of morning shoppers.

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The market was smaller than the one in Yangon, but there were just as many fresh fruits and vegetables.  Everything was brought in from the nearby farms, so you could see what was in season.  Some of the vegetables I was familiar with, while others were quite foreign.

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It’s fascinating to walk around seeing the kinds of food people eat.  In the West, we are obsessed with the way things are packaged to appeal to shoppers.  Here  there are no preservatives, the food was probably brought in earlier that morning.  You see exactly what you’re going to get.  The chaotic  disheveled look of the markets really adds to the charm of the place.  

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On our way home from the ferry, we stumbled upon  a wholesale flower market where blooms of every kind were on sale.  The boat had just came in with the shipment of flowers and people were buying bushels of flowers and carting them away on motorbike to sell elsewhere.  It was chaotic and beautiful at the same time.

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There are many reasons to visit a local market.  It allows you to see things through the eyes of a local and see what people are buying and selling.  It also provides insight into local traditions and culture.

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