Thursday, January 2, 2014


Sunset (Kerry Laws)
(Isaac Epp)

I'll just start off by saying Bagan is a unique place. There was some serious beauty and with some distance, the temples will shine a bit more, but I did not find the charm in the town as I did elsewhere in Burma. The place we stayed wasn't very good (hello rat walls and off-gassing stench). The whole area was booked however, so we couldn't move on. It's hard. The town was the most overburdened of the places we say in Burma. There simply isn't enough infrastructure to support the local or international interest there yet. Power, internet, food, transportation... All were in a not-so-great state.


(Isaac Epp)


That being said, the temples there, (all 1,000+ of them, yes there are that many I'm not being my usual hyperbolic self), are always impressive, interesting, and sometimes absolutely jaw droppingly stunning. Some were small and you felt a sense of cute charm, while others were so tall and vast they soared with 100' plus ceilings full of bats and ancient statues and paintings. It really was staggeringly vast and diverse.


(Kerry Laws)

We got around most days there with a horse buggy driver named Kyah Gyi (he pronounced it like Cho-Ji). He was nice, knew the area and temples very well, chewed betelnut constantly (I can still smell the horsey wintergreeny scent), and had a horse he was gentile with. If you were not getting over food poisoning and didn't want a guide, bikes were a viable option, but for us, the horse cart worked pretty well actually.


(Isaac Epp)
Buggy shot


We have loads of pics from the temples, but I must say, it is basically impossible to really get any sense of the place with still images or little videos... It's just so big. You ride along a trail for maybe 20 min., pass a few smaller temples or shrines, and see the larger cluster you are heading towards keep getting bigger and bigger until it's too close to really appreciate scale.


Larger (Isaac Epp)


All-in-all, it is a place that probably need another ten years or so to really adapt and re-find itself. It's there, and will probably not have as many empty temples to explore someday, but it will be much more ready for your visit. In the meantime, here are some photos!


(Kerry Laws)
(Kerry Laws)
Bath time in the river (Isaac Epp)


This is the last Burma post before our quick pop through Yangon, and then on to Bangkok for some decompression with our friend Tom Stader before we head back into SF in the new year.



Wednesday, January 1, 2014

On Lacquerware

The etching artist (Isaac Epp)


Bagan is the heart of Myanmar's lacquerware industry. You find it everywhere in the country, but it is generally all made in little workshops here. We were referred to one called Golden Cuckoo which is the location of a now five generation lacquerware family business. The shop is set up with an entry shop room which houses the low-to-mid quality wares which is what most tourists are used to seeing in street markets all around. Behind that room is an antique room and a high quality room.


We were not allowed to photo in the antique or high quality area, but it was staggering to see the contrast in quality once you saw it. One special note in the antique room were large teak panels etched, gold leafed, and colored full-body portraits of "The Lady" Dau An San Suu Kyi. Some of the highlights in the high quality room was a stunningly beautiful motorbike helmet [sadly not DOT cert.], a guitar, and some small chests of drawers. The most expensive item I saw was one such chest of drawers which cost $11k USD!


No glue (Isaac Epp)


Along the paths between the rooms of varying quality were small stations and small rooms where the crafting took place. The first station was where they took bamboo, and carved it down to thin strips which are then layered tightly around and around until it creates a solid and light structure, with no glue. The process then goes through a very time intensive process of layering, polishing, and layering more of natural lacquer harvested from lacquer trees near Inle Lake. That process of layering takes a minimum of seven months for high quality items... And that is before the etching has even started!


Skilled hands. (Isaac Epp)


The etching process is equally intense. First, men do some rough shape etching, this is then colored with natural coloring (low quality just uses chemical coloring), which is then set with natural glue and dried. Next the first pass of high detail carving begins, all done by very talented women, who by hand etch in the sub-millimeter animals and traditional patterns. Each time a new color is desired, it goes through at least one of these carving, coloring, and setting passes. The etching process adds minimum of 2 months for high quality lacquerware.

From that moment on, it was quite easy to spot the multitude of low quality stuff that pervades the vast majority of shops throughout.