Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Fruit ‘n’ veg

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So, what first caught my eye in Mandalay? The historic citadel? The teak wood monasteries? The temples on Mandalay Hill? Nope. A fruit and vegetable market near my hotel, particularly the bananas and onions.

I’m still in the process of updating this site. If you have a moment, check out the new look galleries here, now showing as large-size slideshows.

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A morning in Nyaung U

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Nyaung U is the nearest town to the Bagan temple complex. It’s a surprisingly low-key place, considering its location close to Myanmar’s biggest tourist attraction, but I suspect that in five or ten years time it will be as busy and built up as Siem Reap in Cambodia. For now though, the town’s hotels and restaurants haven’t yet completely taken over, and Nyaung U remains a fairly unassuming place, not spectacular by any means, but not without charm. I spent a morning taking a break from temple spotting to wander around the market and take a few portraits of living, breathing people, rather than buddha statues.

On another note, I’ve just given this site a bit of a makeover. After three and a half years with the same theme, I thought it was time for a change, so I’ve switched to the Photographer theme. The biggest difference is the colour scheme, now white, or white-ish, instead of black. The homepage slideshow is much improved too, with much bigger images. The widgets, those little buttons and menus that help readers to search and navigate the site, no longer appear at the bottom of very page, but can be found on the right hand side of the About page. I’ll probably be making a few more tweaks over the next couple of weeks, but I’m pleased with the new look. I was aiming for something simple, elegant and unpretentious, with the pictures centre-stage, and I think that’s what this theme provides. Let me know what you think – comments and suggestions are always much appreciated.

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Three days in Bagan

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There’s such an overwhelming number of temples in Bagan that it’s difficult to know where to begin. I spent my days rattling along on my rented electric bike, stopping whenever I saw anything that I thought might be interesting, which was quite often. Some temple sites are little more than piles of rubble; many others are well preserved or have been carefully restored; some, thankfully only a minority, seem to have received so much restoration work that they are almost entirely new.

Bagan is rapidly becoming one of the most photographed sites in south-east Asia, so much so that it’s difficult to take an original picture. So this collection just shows the recurring textures and images that most appealed to me: gold, stone and brick; sunlight and shadow; faces and hands.

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On Inle lake

150301-093-editedI spent a restorative couple of days around beautiful Inle lake towards the end of my three weeks in Myanmar. Having spent quite a lot of the trip in the busy cities of Yangon and Mandalay, not to mention living my regular life in Hanoi, I needed some quiet time in the countryside to recharge my batteries. I explored a little by boat and bicycle, but left with the feeling that there was more I could have seen, had I been feeling more energetic. Maybe next time.
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There’s an unwritten rule that everyone visiting Inle lake has to take at least one photograph of a fisherman posing with his conical net. So here’s mine, taken on an overcast morning shortly after an underwhelming sunrise. There are many better examples of this type of picture elsewhere on the internet, but rules are rules.

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Streets of Yangon

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Yangon quickly became one of my favourite places. I spent days wandering around the streets, especially the tight grid of narrow alleyways that make up the downtown area. The city has such a mixture of cultures, with influences from all over south-east Asia, sub-continental India and China all very much in evidence. In the space of a couple blocks, you can find a Chinese pagoda, a mosque, a Hindu temple and a Baptist church. You can have dim sum for lunch and chicken biryani for dinner. Brand new hotels and office blocks sit opposite derelict colonial era buildings. The city is full of life and energy, but is also very welcoming. Everywhere I went, I met people who were friendly, interesting and curious.

I met the banjo playing gentleman below on my first morning in the city. I heard him before I saw him, the sound of his Chinese folk tunes carrying across the street. He was playing and singing to himself on his front porch, and I crouched down to take a few pictures. As I was taking my first few shots, his wife came out of the house, tapped me on the shoulder, handed me a plastic stool to sit on, and wordlessly went back inside. This was the first of a number of small kindnesses I experienced in Myanmar. I chatted to the banjo player for a little while; once he found out that I was British, he started playing Christmas songs and hits from the 60s.

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Women – and to a lesser extent men – wearing thanaka, a paste made from ground bark, are a common sight throughout Myanmar.

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Chewing betel – leaving blood red stains on the teeth – is a common habit in Myanmar. This man is preparing betel leaves and nuts for sale.

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