The Sun Sets On My Irrawaddy River Adventure

The sun sets on my Irrawaddy River adventure.

The dusty streets of Yandabo

As our trip on the Irrawaddy River started to wind down,  we had just a few more stops to make on our Viking River Cruise. For me the stop in the small craft village of Yandabo was a highlight of our river trip. The main industry and almost sole occupation of the people of this village it to make hand crafted pottery which they are doing using methods handed down for centuries.

The sun sets on my Irrawaddy River adventure.

Throwing pots on a kick wheel in Yandago

The old adage “It takes a village” is never more true here than in Yandabo  All the villagers have a role, wether it is digging the clay, processing the clay by working it with their feet, throwing the pots, turning the hand powered wheels, paddling the pots to uniform thickness, firing the kiln or loading the pots onto ships…everyone has a role. It would be nice if I could tell you that they make beautiful decorative pots, but that is not the case. They make one age old style of pot, a water pot that is unglazed and is almost the exact same size and shape as every piece being produced.

The sun sets on my Irrawaddy River adventure.

Carrying pots to the Irrawaddy River in Yandabo

At one point in my life I hung around with a group of potters so I was familiar with the process but I had never seen it reduced to its most primitive form. There are two types of throwing a pot on a wheel…the first, is a lump of clay of a specific size used to make a pot of a specific size and the second method is called “throwing from the hump” and large lump of clay is put on the wheel and a potter can throw two or three pots off the same hump of clay. The later is the method used in the village and it astounds me how that get all the pots the same size just by eyeballing them as the wheel turns. I guess practice makes perfect!

The sun sets on my Irrawaddy River adventure.

Coming back from the river.

The thrower is assisted by another woman who turns the wheel by way of a treadle and often it is a mother daughter team that joins together to work the wheels. After the pots are made thay are set in the sun to partially dry (leather hard) to the point where they can be paddled and trimmed. A young woman sits on the ground and with her fist in the pot she slaps the vessel with a flat mallet over and over while she turns the pot to make sure it is uniform in thickness…this is so that all the pots when fired in the kiln will finish together with the same amount of heat and will not crack.

Most of us think of kilns as brick chambers where pots are stacked on racks and either gas or wood is used to bake the pot until vitrification takes place, but this was a more elemental process…the low fire kilns were just large mounds of pots covered with earth and a fire is built inside. After days of firing and cooling the kiln is unpacked and the pots are ready to go into large baskets and be carried by women on their heads to the boats for shipment. The water pots from this village are shipped all over myanmar.

The sun sets on my Irrawaddy River adventure.

A village elder resting in the shade in Yandabo

We spent part of a day in Yandabo watching the process and what is true in so my cultures was also true is the women who do the work. I only saw one man working in the village. Even the heavy work of carrying all the pots from the village down to the riverbanks was done by women. Some things never change!

The sun sets on my Irrawaddy River adventure.

The festive entrance to the 500,000 Buddha Temple

Our next stop was the Mohnyin Thambuddhei Paye complex of temples located on the outskirts of Monywa, a market town in the Chinwin valley. The farmers in this area make their living by selling beans, oranges and palm sugar. It is also a top producer of cotton for traditional blankets and is a center for a range of indigenous crafts. But it is the temples that outshine everything on the horizon here with their patches of gold glittering in the sunlight and brightly painted pagodas in an amazing array of cartoon colors. Known as the Temple of 500,000 Buddhas the exterior is decorated with sculptures and mythical figures and all forms of iconography while the inside is a mix of giant Buddha statues and miniature ones covering every square inch of the interior surfaces.

The sun sets on my Irrawaddy River adventure.

Viewing the outside of the 500,000 Buddhas Temple

It is all about Buddha, and it is here a Buddha, there a Buddha, everywhere a Buddha. Every patch of wall space is covered with little Buddha statues sitting on shelves or brackets. If you happen to see an empty space well then you can purchase the real estate…with a generous donation your personal Buddha can be placed in the vacant space and begin to earn you merit. Sort of like the Catholic Church selling indulgences during the Middle Ages to get one out of Purgatory early…a spiritual parole.  They did have tables set up for your purchase and the bigger the Buddha or the better the real estate (location, location, location) the more money you need to cough up. But of course more money equals more merit.

The sun sets on my Irrawaddy River adventure.

Every where you look a Buddha

Aside from my cynicism of religion as a business, the temple complex was amazing to visit. It is not a site promoted by the government so on our visit the only Westerners present were in our group. It was very busy with locals and many people were making offerings of flowers and money at the large alters on the interior of the temple while others were at those tables selling Celestial Real Estate. It was not so busy that I could not wander around taking some photos and look for just the right empty spot for my own personal merit making Buddha. After all, it is about covering all my bases…a little travel insurance for my next journey.

The sun sets on my Irrawaddy River adventure.

Have I got a deal for you…pick your Buddha.

Our expedition was coming to an end and I for one was sorry to see it.  I had really enjoyed this trip on many levels, but most of all I enjoyed the people of Myanmar who were gracious, dignified and beautiful. This was my second trip on Viking River Cruises and they did an excellent job of seeing to our needs and getting us around the country with little or no inconvenience. When going with a group or taking a cruise one cannot expect to get on with everyone but I will say we had a very harmonious group of well seasoned traveler …not a cross word was heard.

The sun sets on my Irrawaddy River adventure.

Outside the Temple of 500,000 Buddhas

In all my years of travel I have only had two group travel experiences and both were with Viking River Cruises. I had heard such horror stories from people about what went wrong on their trips or the unpleasant people they were forced to travel with that I have avoided them at all cost. However, I can honestly say that both my experiences with Viking have been delightful. For my well heeled friends this is definitely a way to lesurely travel to some of the more out of the way place or if you just feel like being pampered on a trip than this is the way to do.  Kudos to Viking for a delightful exploration of Myanmar.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Viking River Cruises during my Myanmar trip.  However, the receipt of complementary services will never influence the content or post in this blog.  I write the truth, even if it means biting the hand that feeds me.


About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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7 Responses to The Sun Sets On My Irrawaddy River Adventure

  1. Paula says:

    For me, this was your best and most engaging blog. I loved your pictures of the people, the children and the pots……really captured village life.

  2. Lindarose says:

    The colors are like WOW!

  3. Marie says:

    As I was reading, I felt like I was there. Your description of the women making pots was very interesting. I could almost smell the clay.

  4. A grand adventure. We look forward to your next one.

  5. Ron Stagnari says:

    Very interesting place and your photography brought us along. I particularly like the shot of the dusty lane in the village. It is sharp all the way through and the lighting is very nicely even throughout the shot.Whether that was achieved in the camera or in post either way it is a very strong shot!!!

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