Road-Side Stalls and Street Markets, Bagan, Myanmar

Burmese woman sitting in front of large bags of rice, Market, Bagan Myanmar

Rice Seller
Another day in Southeast Asia, another market… another opportunity to meet and photograph the people.

“Same, same… but different.”

This common Thai expression is one that perfectly sums up my perception of markets in Southeast Asia: they are the “same”, in that they are all densely packed environments full of colours, people, sounds, smells and (usually) oppressive heat. Often wet and uneven underfoot, they are a warren of activity that can be overwhelming for the visitor.

And, they are all “different”. Whether the difference is subtle or distinctive, each has a local flavour: the layout of the stalls, the faces of the people, the goods on sale. While some feature edible insects (e.g. Morning Markets and Bugs for Lunch, Cambodia), others specialise in flowers (e.g. Pyin Oo Lwin Flower Markets, MyanmarFragrant Flowers … Battambang Market, Cambodia). You can buy talismans (e.g. Golden Treasures of the Old City ~ Bangkok) or money: shaped into trees (e.g. Morning Markets ~ Attapeu, Laos) or butterflies (e.g. Three Markets ~ Three Countries (Thailand, Myanmar, Laos: Golden Triangle)) – and you can usually find plenty of local meat and produce (e.g. Another Morning Market ~ Mandalay, Myanmar).

Photographically, they are a challenge: the light is almost always tricky, with streaks of bright sunshine contrasting starkly with dark, shaded corners. Shade-cloths in ghastly green and bilious yellow cast unwelcome hues across the faces of the customers and vendors.

Markets – I love them!

As testing as the conditions might be, southeast asian markets are a rich source of photographic – especially portrait – material (e.g. Portraits ~ Bago Local Market and The People of Shwezigon Pagoda, Myanmar).

One morning on my trip around Myanmar – two years ago now – with Photographer Karl Grobl and local guide Mr MM, we stopped at two local markets. I’ve checked my notes, and beyond knowing that we were in the Bagan area somewhere, I have no idea which markets we were in. But, as is the case with most markets I have visited, the faces were open and the people were willing to be photographed.

Burmese man Distilling Whiskey, Bagan Myanmar

Distilling Whiskey
The first “market” we stopped at was little more than an elaborate bamboo shelter. Some local crafts and coconut products were on sale, but the main purpose seemed to be the distillation and sale of local whiskey.

Burmese Man in a longhi with a metal pot, Bagan

Man with Metal Pot
The whiskey maker in his longhi proudly shows us one of the local pots.

Whiskey-Medicine Bottles, Bagan, Myanmar

Whiskey-Medicine Bottles
The whiskey is bottled with some sort of dried wood, and used medicinally.

Burmese man with a bottle of local Whiskey, Bagan Myanmar

Taste-Testing Local Whiskey
You can sample the wares before you buy.

Burmese man, Bagan Myanmar

Whisky Vendor
I passed up the taste-test: it was not yet ten o’clock in the morning, and the day was already searing hot and bright. Even a small shot of local brew would probably have finished me off!

Burmese Man with Straw Flower, Bagan, Myanmar

Man with Straw Flower
Grasses are woven into flowers, insects and birds for sale.

Close-up: Straw Flowers, Myanmar

Straw Flowers

Burmese Girl seated on the dirt, Eating Breakfast, Bagan

Girl Eating Breakfast
Families live and work together. While the whiskey is cooking, a young girl eats her rice.

Burmese Girl, Bagan, Myanmar

Burmese Girl

Old burmese Man and a white cow on a millstone , Bagan

Cow at the Mill
Just outside, in a spot of dappled shade, an older man supervises a bovine-operated millstone.

Old burmese Man and a white Bull , Bagan

Man and his Cow
The old man is happy to be photographed; the cow, a little less so.

Our next stop was at a “city” market, nestled into the Bagan streets. A much more structured complex, with brick walls and roofing of wood, woven bamboo and plastic sheeting, this market with its large bags of rice and other grains piled high, targets bulk-buyers.

Burmese people Selling Grain, Bagan market

Selling Grain
The buying and selling of grain is a serious business.

Hands with white Rice, began market, Myanmar

Checking the Rice
Purchasers check the quality of the products carefully…

two burmese women in a rice market, Bagan, Myanmar

… and haggle over prices and quantities before recording sales.

Bags of Rice, Bagan Market

Bags of Rice

Female Rice Sellers, Bagan Market

Rice Sellers
Women smile at me as the deals are entered into the books.

Burmese man in a shop with a set of scales, Bagan, Myanmar

In a shop full of arcane herbs, a man stands ready with his scales.

Portrait of a smiling burmese woman, Bagan, Mynmar

Market Portrait
A typical burmese woman: thanaka powder on her face, flowers in her hair, and a big smile for the visitor.

Burmese Man sitting among baskets of Tomatoes, Bagan market, Myanmar

Man in the Tomatoes
Wearing his white shirt and longhi, with traces of Betel nut around his mouth, a typical burmese man gives a smile for the camera.

Green plastic Canopy over grain markets, Bagan, Myanmar

The Canopy
The green tarp over the roadways between the buildings casts a sickly light over the products and merchants inside.

Hands spearing an orange stem, Bagan Markets, Myanmar

Hands at Work
It is fascinating people-watching in the markets; they alternate effortlessly between activity …

Burmese Man in a Bagan Market, Myanmar

Man in the Market
… and ease.

Portrait of a smiling burmese woman, Bagan, Mynmar

Market Portrait
Another typical smiling burmese woman in her thanaka powder.

Young Man in the Market, Bagan, Mynmar

Young Man in the Market

Portrait of a Young Woman in the Bagan Market, Myanmar

Another Gorgeous Smile

Two young men pushing a large trolley outside the Market, Bagan  Myanmar

Outside the Market
In a dirt street outside the main market, young workers push an empty trolley away.

Text: Keep smilingI could always stay longer in any Asian market…

I spend very little money, and the smiles are always free. Perfect, really.

Until next time,

Keep smiling!

Pictures: 19September2012

  • Dietmut - October 24, 2014 - 6:22 am

    beautiful series Ursula. Very nice stars. Nice weekend en warm greetings, DietmutReplyCancel

    • Ursula - October 24, 2014 - 6:40 am

      Greetings, Dietmut,
      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Cheers! 😀ReplyCancel

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