The Hla Day Shop in Yangon is no ordinary crafts store. It sells works of skilled and authentic craftsmanship produced and marketed by a community of over 400 people working in an integrated, sustainable way with a product development team.
Story: Samutcha Viraporn
At the beginning of July Hla Day celebrated its first anniversary at the Pansodan Street location in Yangon; but in fact this group has been working since 2012 to support small community businesses in Myanmar in developing local products and bringing them to the international market, with an emphasis on quality and social sustainability. Hla Day was successful almost from the very start, its goods so well received that it was able to expand. With Ulla Kroeber as its leader, the team now works with communities in Yangon and many rural areas, giving recommendations to craftsmen on product types, materials, and production processes. Among other benefits, these efforts provide work and income for women who have contracted HIV.
Products include pillow covers, scarves, ornaments, cards, and dolls, and usable items from recycled materials. Besides being finely crafted work, a core goal is that products be contemporary and useful, and success in all this has resulted in project support from the AirAsia Foundation. “Hla day” in Burmese translates as “beautiful,” and the beauty here runs deep in the creation of true utility and value for crafts communities, buyers, and society as a whole while never forgetting to help the people at the back of the line.
Because of unique landscape and climatic factors, our ancestors in Southeast Asia designed and built stilt houses, and they came in a variety of styles. From houses in Inle Lake to earthquake-resistant structures in Indonesia, from a “bomb village” in Laos to the traditional Thai house, the stilt house is one way people have come to live with nature. Let’s check it out!
Stilt Houses in Inle Lake / Myanmar
The traditional houses in Inle Lake, Shan state, Myanmar was built by local people. There is a population of 70,000 people living in four cities bordering the lake, in numerous small villages along the lake’s shores, and on the lake itself. Housing there provides some good examples of how people live with water.
Bahnar Rong and Ede Long House / Vietnam
The Bahnar, Giarai, and Ede are 3 ethnic groups who live in the central highlands of Vietnam, and their houses are extraordinary examples of native architecture. In the center of their communities, the Bahnar and Giarai build strikingly tall houses called “Rong,” to show off the status of the village, while the Ede build very long houses which serve extended families. Each type of structure sits on low stilts and is made of wood and bamboo.
Tongkonan, South Sulawesi / Indonesia
The distinctive point of these “stilt houses” is not stilts, but rather their unique roof shape, which originated in an ancient royal Chinese boat design. The wooden construction used to assemble the house with tongue and groove techniques without nails. Most of them have been built more than one century. The Tongkonan custom house has been listed as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site since 2010.
Nias Traditional House, Bawömataluo / Indonesia
Nias Island has some oval-shaped, steep-roofed wooden houses on stilts. These structures, able to withstand powerful earthquakes, are built without the use of nails.
Bomb Village / Laos
Unexploded bombs were recycled as many ways in the Hmong village of Phonsavan. You’ll see innovative ideas for how to bring this weapon into everyday use in such items as boats, flower pots, garden decoration, and house stilts. Oh, didn’t you know? Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world. During the Vietnam War 270 million cluster bombs were dropped in Laos, and about 80 million of them did not explode.
Traditional Thai House / Thailand
Now, back to the past: there are many reasons traditional Thai houses have often built facing out towards rivers, or even over them. Raising a house on stilts provides semi-outdoor space underneath, which can be used for storage of tools or agricultural equipment, eating meals, social activities, or to avoid being flooded out during the rainy season.
Under British rule from 1824 to 1948, Yangon became a significant center of commerce located between India and Singapore. The streets of Yangon offer a glimpse of the opulence of the old city and its heritage. A walking tour is one way to find out.
After the second Anglo-Burmese war, Yangon was occupied by British troops. Burma came under British rule, during which time it was declared a province of British India. The British made significant changes to the city of Yangon. In 1853, Dr. W. Montgomery and then lieutenant governor A. Fraser laid out a grid of tree-lined streets for the city of Yangon. New city planning placed the Sule Pagoda at the city center.
After three Anglo-Burmese wars, the British in 1885 occupied all the area of present-day Myanmar. Despite the conflict, many new buildings were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and remained to be seen today. Some of them became government offices, embassies, the stock exchange, even shops and cafés. Others were abandoned and fell in disrepair. In 2012 the Yangon Heritage Trust was established to promote the environmental conservation of Yangon’s rich urban heritage through cohesive planning.
One of the programs undertaken by the Trust is the Heritage Walking Tour through downtown areas. People who love architecture can visit the Yangon Heritage Trust office on Pansodan Street. There is an exhibition going along with useful information about six routes for sightseeing. They are outlined in brochures. If time is not on your side, Living ASEAN recommends a shorter route as an option. The starting point is on Pansodan Street. Start your journey on foot from here. Turn left into Merchant Road, then another left on to Sule Pagoda Road. Soon you will come to Strand Road (See this route on the map). Give it two hours or a little more than that, and you witness a lot of Yangon’s glorious past and beautiful heritage. Need a break? Drop into the beautiful Rangoon Tea House for refreshments, or the coffee shop at the Strand Hotel. After a couple of hours on the road, coffee smells like heaven!
Ensconced in the hustle of downtown Yangon, an artsy house in Myanmar provides a showcase for a confluence of ideas from different styles, places, and times.
This unique artsy house puts an innovative spin on traditions of years gone by. The mansions near a busy market on Nawaday road, with a warm welcome by Min Han, the owner.
The three-story home has many interesting features that apparently blend well to form a uniform mixture.
For example a Modern style wing, which stands in perfect harmony with the Colonial style mansion. The new addition is the original structure being left largely intact.
Other than that, the floors are improved and refinished, while room dividers are remade to create a light and airy atmosphere on the inside. In front of the house stands a two-story family business building, where traditional Myanmese snacking meals are sold, including “Yuzana Pickled Tea.”
Nearby, a fence that separates an ample parking lot from the main compound also protects the family from the noise and hubbub of the big city.
“In fact, I am not much of an artist. But I like collecting works of art, especially those of U Maung Maung Hla Myint, who is nationally known for his bright color paintings. With vivid color paintings, to make the space more lively,” said Min Han.
At the center of the house, the architects put in a single steel staircase with glass railing. Inside spaces are illuminated by natural light, and the highlight is the simple addition of a skylight on the third floor, which impacts the interior space.
Overall, the appearance is light and airy despite decorative details being made of wood in dark colors.
In the meantime, electricity is arranged in the same fashion as an art gallery.
There are spotlights on the installations, which make the interior spaces look very neat. As a private gallery, the hallway has become a rendezvous for friends and relatives as well.
The homeowner not only paid attention to detail but also actively participated in making design decisions every step of the way.
For example the location of each artwork, which had to be decided from day one to create perfect harmony. All told, it is a beautiful artsy house. It is an art gallery. And it testifies to the homeowner’s taste for something different.
From the outside, this simple white house looks like three-story boxes joining together. The white building sports a simple white house look with a swimming pool as the centerpiece. The main hall is well connected to other rooms around it.
The hostess Thin Thin Lwin appreciates showing around her house. She said:
“ Just my husband and I live together here. So when building a new home on a vacant lot, we didn’t want one that was going to be too big for our needs. We wanted just enough functional areas with easy access to other parts of the house, kind of like keeping with long established tradition from the past.
“ By a happy chance, I have a friend, who is an architect, and the rest is history. Stephen Zawmoe Shwe and I have been good friends since we were kids. So we asked him to design it. ”
This simple white house looks like the joining of four big boxes. The first-floor interior is light and airy thanks to super high ceilings.
They are two stories tall to be exact. There is a sense of interior elegance. The spacious, well-ventilated hall is well connected to other rooms around it. One of them is a living room, which is clearly separated from the dining area and the kitchen.
The second floor has two spacious bedrooms, each with a private balcony to take in the view and cool breezes. The swimming pool below is clearly visible from here.
Interior design emphasizes crisp, clean lines and white tones that go together well with shades of gray. Furniture comes in warm earth tones that enhance the charm of natural wood flooring.
The third floor is a penthouse deck with a view and great for stargazing. It is an ideal living space for relaxation as a family.
There is a large Buddha room on one side, where the owners come to pray and perform religious rites.
Simple design makes this Western style home stand out in the old town neighborhood.
It’s well thought-out plan ensures there are plenty of functional areas and modern amenities for comfortable living. It is energy efficient thanks to passive cooling strategies, such as large windows that open to bring in cool breezes and natural light. Where necessary, lattice awning is installed to minimize the amounts of sun on the exterior wall. That reduces the workload on air conditioning.
All things considered, the design scheme of this simple white house is well suited for Asia’s hot and humid climate.
Speaking of ecotourism, Myanmar offers vast, well-protected parklands that no nature lovers can afford to overlook. The National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens promise to be a pleasant surprise that all present will long remember.
Myanmar, also known as the “Land of pagodas,” is rich in cultural heritage sites and vast parklands well worth a visit. Among them, the National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens are cherished by the eco travelers. The vast parklands are located at 1,000 meters above sea level at the town of Pyin Oo Lwin, some 70 km by road from Mandalay.
At 177 hectares (1,106 Rai), the Botanical Gardens have been in existence since 1915. They were founded by British forests officer Alex Rodger, and Lady Cuff, a botanist. The parklands started small as a vacation town and the summer capital of British Burma during the colonial period. They expanded in recent years and reached the current size in 2000.
Kandawgyi is home to a bewildering array of flora and fauna indigenous to Myanmar’s alpine region. The native plant life includes many species of bamboo, crotons, hundreds of species of orchids, trees, and herbs. A walk in the park is pleasant, and chances are you will come across blooming Wild Himalayan Cherries along the way. It is a wonderful nature reserve for those interested in the interactions among organisms and the environment, which includes swamps, forests, lakes, beautiful botanical gardens, and homes to wetland birds.
For those inspired by a passion for flowering plants and scenery, Kandawgyi offers blooming fields at various places throughout in the park. Hop a ride on board the horse-drawn carriage for a sightseeing tour. It’s one of several unique features of the Botanical Gardens. There are several vista points to take in mountain views and gaze in awe at towering pine trees along the road.
Many natural splendors have transformed the National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens into an impressive countryside in Myanmar. For the eco-adventurers, these vast parklands promise to be an experience they will long remember.
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