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Pakokku

On first appearance, Pakokku seems like a normal Myanmar town and, in many ways, it is. But it is perhaps the best place to get a feel for the country’s transition into modernity. Here in Pakokku, deep traditions thrive and ancient ruins can be found yet there is also a proliferation of mobile phone shops and a large student population who sport modern hair styles and internationally-influenced clothes. Although many visitors pass through on their way from Bagan to Monywa or from Bagan to the Chin State, few tourists stop to explore. If the blend of old and new intrigues you, then we suggest spending a half or full day exploring all that Pakokku has to offer.

 

Blend of old and new

The best way to explore Pakokku is tuk-tuk, open-air mini-trucks that are found throughout rural Myanmar. Cruising through the streets with the wind in your hair, you will get a real sense of the town. Pass by students pedaling their bikes on the way to school, see large, shady tree-lined streets and admire the mix of old colonial-style buildings alongside modern edifices. Sitting in the back of the tuk-tuk and traveling at a slower speed, you are likely to receive many smiles and waves from locals on motorbikes as they pass by.

 

From farm to table

Hop off your tuk-tuk at the local market. Pakokku is the largest town for miles and thus is a bit of a trading hub, with farmers coming from miles away to sell their crops. Wandering through the stalls you will see piles of chilies, garlic, vegetables, peanuts and other dry-zone crops. It is very likely the crops were just harvested the day before or even that very morning and you will often see shoppers bartering with the vendors for the freshest items on offer.

In addition to the edible crops found in the area, Pakokku region grows a lot of tobacco. In the market you will see piles of dried tobacco leaves as well as cheroots, a type of local cigar. See the cheroots being rolled, watching as the vendors skillfully use the leaf of the cheroot tree, a handful of tobacco and a newspaper and cornhusk filter to create a perfectly-rolled cigar.

 

Living traditions

While Myanmar may be modernizing at a rapid pace, in towns like Pakokku the production of traditional handicrafts lives on. Continue your Pakokku excursion, traveling down small streets where quaint workshops are tucked away. Here, craftsmen use techniques handed down from generation to generation to make daily-use products. Some of the most famous items made in Pakokku are ‘slippers’, sandals made of leather and velvet. Everyone in Myanmar- from monks to politicians, school kids to grandmas- wears slippers and these days they are available in a variety of colors and styles. However the Pakokku-made versions are still the most popular and you can purchase a pair direct from the workshop if you wish!

The town is also renowned for its weaving. In the past, almost every family in the Pakokku area had a loom where beautiful multi-hued blankets were woven. But over the year, machine-made textiles have become cheaper and, thus, fewer and fewer families are involved in the weaving industry. If you are interested, you can seek out one of these households to see the labor-intensive, traditional process.

Ancient monuments in the countryside

Having had a taste of local life in Pakokku, it’s time to venture further afield and discover the historic wonders of the countryside. About 40 minutes north of town lies the village of Pakhangyi. Surrounded by palm trees and farms, the villages appears just like any other in the dry zone. However, hidden away, are a series of historic ruins including the old city wall and some crumbling stupas. The highlight for many visitors is the beautiful teakwood temple which, although more than 150 years old, is remarkably well preserved. Linger here a bit, allowing time to appreciate the uniqueness of a country where beautiful ruins such as these can be found in the most unassuming places.

 

Festival experience

If you happen to be in Myanmar in May or June, be sure to include Pakokku on your itinerary. During the lunar month of Nayon, the town is home to a massive festival called Thihoshin. This celebration marks the end of the harvest season when farmers and merchants make donations to the Buddhist community. Pakokku takes on a lively atmosphere at this time with carnival-like games on offer, a large market that attracts vendors from far away and traditional dances being performed in the evenings. The festival stretches two-weeks in duration and provides great photo opportunities and a chance to mingle with Myanmar locals as they celebrate a successful harvest season.

 

Cruising to Bagan

Pakokku is a great jumping off point for a boat trip to Bagan. Although the journey is just 40 minutes by car, the boat ride takes more than two hours. This slower way of travel allows you plenty of time to soak up the scenery and to appreciate the importance of the Irrawaddy River, as both a water and food source as well as a transportation route. Just over half way to Bagan, go ashore at Kyauk Gu U Min. This impressive brick temple is located amid sand cliffs a short walk from the river banks. Inside a maze of hallways and tiny meditation caves are waiting to be discovered. Back on the boat, you start to reach the outskirts of Bagan and the site of the first temple spires coming into view is a memory that is sure to be etched into your mind for years to come.

 

Overland to Monywa

If you have already seen Bagan, the road north of Pakokku leads to Monywa. Monywa is a trading town on the Chindwin River that has several interesting religious sites. Setting off from Pakokku you will drive along a rural secondary road with little traffic. The scenery passing by features small villages, farms, rice paddies and barren stretches of arid land. After 3-4 hours arrive at the Po Win Taung Caves for a visit. Visit the caves and admire the mural paintings found here then continue another hour to cross the Chindwin River to arrive in Monywa.

 

HIGHLIGHTS :

  • Admiring historic ruins in Pakhangyi
  • Seeking out traditional handicraft workshops
  • Exploring Pakokku’s morning market
  • Cruising down the Irrawaddy River to Bagan

BEST SEASON TO VISIT :

  • From November to June

Pakokku

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