Jewelry designer Pippa Small on her travels in Myanmar
I started to work with the arts foundation Turquoise Mountain 10 years ago in Afghanistan on a jewellery project, working with students and artisans to design and create collections using local gems and materials, to draw inspiration from the myriad of influences within Afghanistan, looking historically at the Bactrian period 2000 years ago and the many arts and crafts traditions from tiles to ceramics and textiles to create collections of jewellery that both reflected and respected Afghan traditions but spoke also to an international market.
This has been the most wonderful experience working with the artisans and has given me a small insight into a fascinating but much troubled country, when 3 years ago Turquoise Mountain at Prince Charles’ request started to work in Myanmar with Aung San Suu kyi’s foundation to start a project regenerating the crafts of Myanmar, specifically the craft of traditional hand made jewellery. This has been a wonderful adventure and I have created 6 collections with the artisans in Yangon. Each trip I learn a little more and explore a little more of this mysterious, beautiful country.
What to do:
Shwedagon pagoda, a glittering 2500 year old temple, situated on the top of a hill and dominating the horizon of the city, you climb the many steps, past lotus flower, amulet and charm sellers to reach the top where the main pagoda is topped by thousands of donated diamonds. the stupas are all painted gold and as you walk quietly barefoot around the many statues of the Buddha and past the praying, chanting faithful it is easy to feel you are lost in another time.
Shop the Market of Bogyoke for traditional baskets and textiles and other curios. The Sone Tu studio downtown has beautiful Chin weavings. The Turquoise Mountain workshop is open most days to buy our Jewellery and meet the craftsmen (26 Shwe Taung Tan, Lanmadaw)
Just wander the atmospheric streets of downtown Yangon or Mandalay to soak the vibrant South East Asian street life, admire the old moss and vine covered buildings, stop for noodles and vegetables from street vendors. The Orient tea and snacks in downtown China town for Jasmin gin and tonic, dinner at the Rangoon tea house.
Where to stay:
I always stay at the Savoy hotel, its walking distance to the Pagoda and is an old traditional house with soft wooden floors and elegant simple rooms. There is also the newly restored The Strand which is in a beautiful, elegant old colonial build from 1901 by the Yangon River. For spoiling, the Governors residence has lovely grounds and is very beautiful.
This trip I took my 5 year old twins on a short flight from Yangon to Lake Inle to stay at the Princess resort. Tucked away on the side of the lake this eco friendly hotel has a quiet foot print, no air conditioners and a wonderful garden of flowering trees. We went on boat rides to watch the graceful fishermen polling their thin wooden boats with their thighs and balancing nets to catch their fish for the day.
The lake is fringed by wooden villages and farms precariously built on stilts and is wonderfully peaceful and interesting, the Chin are very creative and crafts abound, silver jewellery, paper parasols, wood carving and pottery.
At the hotel, I think the highlight for my children was the small artisan village, authentic and welcoming my son sat for hours in silence with a potter learning to make clay pots on a wheel and my daughter loved learning to make paper with crushed mulberry leaves and gathering flowers to press into the paper and watching the women weave on the quiet looms.
There is always the presence of nature in Myanmar, the tropics are bursting with growth everywhere, trees, flowers and vines and fruit are everywhere and inspire my designs.