July 20, 2016

Village Life in Myanmar

Stocksy contributor Julien Balmer has a hillside hideaway on Thailand’s Koh Pha Ngan, where he has lived part-time for more than a decade. Drawn in by his yoga practice, Balmer settled in southern Thailand, becoming a long-term student and teacher at the Agama Yoga HQ.

Over the years, he began developing his land, building various structures naturally out of freeform earth bags, wood and granite. His company, Phangan Earthworks, hosts workshops and seminars to teach others how to build durable homes created from local, organic materials for a minimal cost.

There are large number of Burmese people living in Thailand. During the development and construction of these structures, Balmer hired day labourers, who ended up all from hailing from Burma (now Myanmar) to help with the project’s heavy lifting. One man, San, stood out from the other workers, with some English in his vocabulary, and they became fast friends.

San often invited his new foreign friends to visit his home country of Myanmar, and finally, a couple of years later, Balmer made the trip.

Landing in Burma’s second largest city, Mandalay — considered the cultural capital of the country — San picked up Balmer and a friend at the airport. Car rental and self driving are forbidden in Mayanmar, so they had hired a minivan and driver to head southwest from the city into the countryside, and San’s family farm, where they visited for two days.

“I wanted to rent a car,” says Balmer, “but as a foreigner, I couldn’t. Even San couldn’t rent one.”

The people in Ngapincin village, San’s hometown, were incredibly down to earth and kind. Until recently, the village didn’t have electricity, so refrigerators and televisions have been an dramatic change for them.

After a couple of days with San’s family, feasting on peanuts from the farm and traditional Burmese fare, they drove to the ancient city of Bagan, where Balmer was able to capture the light gleaming on the more than 2,200 pagodas through a thick fog, hot-air balloons overhead.

Balmer and San also ventured to Inle Lake at daybreak to capture traditional Burmese fisherman casting their nets on the country’s second-largest lake. Fishermen on the freshwater lake, located in the Nyaungshwe Township of Taunggyi District of Shan State, are well known for a distinct style of precarious-looking leg rowing, casting conical wooden nets into the shallow waters. People of the area, known as Intha, live in simple homes built from wood on stilts protruding from the lake. The area has a vibrant market, and thriving weaving and agriculture industries.

From there, the duo headed to the famous U-Bein bridge, the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. It spans 1.2 km (0.75miles) across Taugthaman Lake near Amarapura, and was built out of 1086 reclaimed wood pillars from the former royal palace in Inwa around 1850, when the capital of Ava Kingdom moved to Amarapura.

Even with all of the incredible sights Balmer captured while in Myanmar, his favourite part of the trip was spending time in the village, seeing how rural people live. Balmer notes that traveling in Myanmar is a lot like traveling in India. “Life in the village is so simple. And the sunlight has this certain colour and strength to it.”

Julien Balmer is a Swiss-born, self-taught, professional photographer and nomad. He specializes in lifestyle, portrait and travel photography with his company, VisualSpectrumCheck out the rest of Julien’s collection >>

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