hen I think of a market, many different things will pop up in my mind; the different colours and smells of spices, fruits and food, and the voices of selling vendors and bargaining buyers. Is the market just the place to buy what we need? In my opinion, it is not. A market is a place where you can discover the taste of a locality’s life, regional conditions and the livelihood of residents. Then, what is the 5-day market? Is it just the name of the market? Or a market which opens for 5 days?
What is the 5-day Market of Taunggyi?
Typically, a 5-day market is a market day which is held once per 5 days in rotation and it is called “Zay Nae”. In Myanmar, “Zay” is the market and “Nae” means day in Myanmar Language. But market days are never held on a full moon or dark moon day because on those days, almost all basic workers (vendors, carpenters, workers) take a rest as a holiday. So the market closes twice a month. Actually it is linked with the history of long ago that specified every full moon or dark moon day as holy days. People have to avoid doing all bad things and do some religious activities like making merit, taking Sabbath, or going to a monastery. In the old days, people even acted as vegetarians on full and dark moon days and no butcher was allowed to sell. Later those habits changed by time and people just took a rest from all of their work. The full moon & dark moon rest days are only for basic workers or self-employers, no government staff is included because they are closed for every weekend and official public holidays.
5 -day markets are held not only in Taunggyi but also in neighboring regions of Taunggyi. In some regions the markets are held on the same days as Taunggyi and some regions on different days. Apart from Taunggyi, the following neighboring places hold 5 days market ; Heho, Than Thaung, Taungto, Nar Baung, Aungban, Ywama, Pwe Hla, Mine Thaut, Phaung Daw Oo, Indein, Maw Bi, Phe Khone, Nyaung Shwe, Pindaya, Nampan, Ham See and Sakar. On market days, all ethnic vendors gather in one place and sell their local products.
Why are 5 Days Markets Unique?
Why are 5 days markets different from normal markets and so special ? Well, five day markets are the places where you can find all local products in one place, where you can see ethnic people and try local and traditional foods in one place.
On a 5 day market you can learn about ethnic people’s traditional costumes and dialects, see the colourful lifestyle of ethic people and local residents, observe housewives that go shopping here because of its cheap prices and where you can get the neighboring regions’ local products at the same time. 5 Days Markets are called the “place of everything”, various vendors sell various products, and here you can get fresh products which are prepared just before the market starts.
5 Days markets where vendors from different regions present and sell their products are unique to only a few regions in Myanmar.
5 days markets in Taunggyi are held in 6 different wards of Tauggyi. Among them, the one in Myo-ma Market is the main market of Taunggyi, it’s the biggest and the most crowded. When you visit the Myo-ma market, you will see the road-full of colorful vendors selling their products along the lanes which are so crowded that no vehicles can pass through. The nearer you get to the marketplace, the more crowded it becomes. You can even see the reminder notes in almost every corner which inform the crowds to “Be aware of pickpockets”. Not only the crowds but also the noisy voices of various vendors and buyers who sell and buy their products competitively will let you know that you are in the 5 days market. If you have a chance to explore the market more deeply, you can learn about the vendors’ various promotional skills and the buyers’ experienced bargaining skills. That is why people tell you at the 5 day market you get products for half the normal price. The visitors can also try bargaining like some locals that most are bargained around 25%.
Who and where do the vendors come from and how?
As Myanmar is known as the land of colorful ethnicities, there are many ethnicities in Shan State where Taunggyi is located. This includes Shan, Burmese, Chinese, Pa-O, Wa, Lisu, Danu, Intha, Akha, Lahu, Taung Yoe, Indians, Gurkha, Panthays, Karen and so on. On the market day, you will have the chance to see almost all ethnicities of Shan State in a 5-day market where many wear their traditional costumes and some talk in their ethnic dialects. Most of the vendors come from Nyaung Shwe (Inle), Pindaya and Kakku while some of the vendors come from other neighboring regions of Taunggyi. On a market day, you will see the local transport trucks are filled with vendors. So not only are the parking areas full but also the public roads are faced with traffic jams. The market is held around 4:30 am to 11:30 am (the whole morning), the scene and sound of different buyers and various vendors of the market day is like busy bees buzzing around beehives.
While wandering around, you will see some vendors selling fish and meat while others sell fresh vegetables, fresh foods or flowers. When you see sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts and so on, you can presume that those are from Pindaya which is famous for its colorful flower beds like sunflowers . When you want to buy fresh fish and sea foods, you can approach the vendors who are from Inle where they catch their products and sell them here at the market. You can recognize them by their amazing knife skills in handling and removing the fishes’ scales which you can ask them to clean for you, if you don’t know how to do it. They are experts in that field and their products are fresh. One of the fish vendors from Inle said when he was asked whether his products were fresh or not, while he was removing the scales, “Don’t worry Madam. We just caught them this morning and some are from last evening, you will see the freshness of the products when you cook them. They are so fresh and sweet so get as many as you can when you have the chance.”
The enthnic Pa-O vendors who wear traditional black costumes and colorful headbands, sell fresh fruits and vegetables which are freshly picked and may tempt you to buy them. You can also see people selling vintage goods, kitchenwares, clothes, accessories, and traditional medicines, basic ingredients of meals, local foods, local vegetables, and local products in various ways. Housewives leave the market with the baskets-full of groceries like fish, meat or vegetables and other things they and their family will need, which demonstrates the essentiality and usefulness of the 5 days market.
Difficulties during COVID-19 outbreak
Because hygiene became important during the COVID -19 outbreak, as soon as a positive patient was found in Myo-ma Quarter, all 5 day markets were closed down. The cities were locked down; people were not allowed to travel, local transports were closed down, people were afraid of public places and faced agoraphobia and almost all shops and restaurants had to close down. So the working style had to change to “work from home” and to adapt to all of such difficulties, e-commerce came to be essential for trade. Since local transports were closed only for people and not for the products, there was no problem with raw materials and the products were still in the market and the businesses were still able to operate in some proportions. Most of the vendors started to work together with SMEs e-commerce enterprises and started selling their products online, joining with online marketing or retail marketing groups, using social media to sell their products to their customers or running business only with their family members or less laborers. During COVID-19 outbreak, safety was in your hands. People had to take care and follow all the instructions not to be infected and the economy was still able to operate with the help of social media. Though the country’s economy declined, there were no other difficulties except for public meetings and travelling. So the sightseeing tours to markets were also no longer arranged since COVID-19 infected Myanmar.
Difficulties in the current political situation Myanmar
Since February 1, Myanmar landed in the current political crisis, many changes have happened and the following economic and financial crisis has increased the difficulties of doing business. Many market vendors in Taunggyi said they are facing various difficulties and that their safety and financial situation are under pressure.
During the breaking up of protesting groups by the junta, demonstrators were beaten and dispersed by real bullets. Killing, robbing, torturing, and scolding made every vendor close their business. The economy became unstable and everyone started to face a financial crisis. Moreover, frequent explosions and clashes between protestors and security forces make operating their market shops very difficult. Sudden dangerous situations make them run away from their shops. One of the vendors said, even when they tried to re-open their businesses, as soon as they heard an explosion or breaking down of a protest, they had to leave all of their belongings and run away, no matter how expensive their products are. They are also afraid of being robbed or arrested while their shops are open. When being asked about solving the financial situation, most of them said they had to solve it by themselves. They are not entitled for charity , because the vendors are numerous and are not considered strikers in need like the CDMers. (People who are joining the Civil Disobedience Movement) So they had to handle themselves to overcome all kinds of obstacles that come with this double crisis. Besides, the percent range for money loan or transfer is not stable yet and it changes day by day.
An extra problem was that the Military was cutting off the internet connection, creating a big inconvenience for almost all people in Myanmar. As a consequence, all of the e-commerce systems broke down, cloud based information systems were out of reach. Making vendors unable to access contact information from both international and domestic organizations. Besides, the breaking down of all the e-commerce systems caused a bank crisis because everyone started to fear losing their positions and savings. You now see big lines in front of the banks or ATM machines where people had to wait for the withdrawal of their own money.
Because everyone tried to withdraw money with the banks. The banks had to limit the amount of money allowed to be withdrawn per person. One of the vendors said we even lost some of our suppliers and customers because of difficulties in transferring money and loss of digital contact.
Money transfers were easy before the internet was cut off, digital payments were common in Myanmar . The vendors mostly paid to their suppliers by e - commerce or digital wallets such as Wave money, KBZ pay, OK dollar, Mytel Pay, CB pay, AYA pay or mobile banking. But now people need to pay cash which is not easily available because of the money withdrawal difficulties from banks and agents and many people now only accept cash.
Not only financial transactions are an obstacle, but also other problems like the delay in keeping stocks for raw materials for their products because of difficulties in transportation need to be dealt with. Some transportation is still closed and those that operate have to pass and are checked at every security check gate they pass through, increasing the price of almost all products including the basic materials.
Access to information, communication, money, transportation and continuing safety threads are getting worse day by day. Although the 5 day market is open during this situation, it is not as prosperous as before and both the vendors and the buyers are facing their own difficulties while making their businesses.
Conclusion : Do visit Taunggy 5 Days Markets
Among the various destinations and unique activities in Shan State, sightseeing tours to 5-day markets are highly recommended. You will be full of memories, enjoy the local taste and come back with good stories to share to your friends and family.
Because of the current political situation and the COVID-19 outbreak, it may take a long time for the tourism industry to boom again and for the tourist to be on sightseeing tours on market days, to try the traditional dishes and to taste the local livelihoods.
But as soon as the situation allows it will be in the tour itineraries and this unique activity will be available for visitors again.
Currently, (June 2021) inbound tourism is not allowed and domestic visitors can not travel safely around Myanmar.
Visiting the 5 days market in Taunggyi is a diverse experience for anyone in or outside Myanmar, your visit and spending at local markets is an excellent way to support local communities and to contribute to a prosperous Myanmar.