Travelogue: People of Myanmar, the Kayan and Kayah…

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The Kayen and the Kayah. Two groups of people who live in the south-east of Myanmar, formally known as Burma. Living in the rich mountainous landscapes full of teak and minerals, together with many other subgroups they are named the Karenni

It feels like time has stood still in this part of the world. A story that you would normally only read in books about stories of old. But it is all real and stills exists. The calling of my soul brings me to beautiful places like these. I am curious why, so I just have to go. It is the only way to find out. Let me tell you and show you what I have found up until now.


The story is split into two parts. One is about friendship, the other is about their daily lives.

The part about friendship

Thyint… On the day of my birthday, we went to her favorite rice field and she told me the story of herself and her best friend, Phaw…

What better birthday gift could I wish for?

Best friends since the first day they met, and inseparable from the start. They decided at an early age that they would both marry a man from the same village so they would never be apart.

Collecting sumac fruit, used to create red dye for clothing.

Phaw, Thyint’s best friend.


Remember the times… Remember the days…

God, I feel so blessed,

That we have never separated our ways…

The part about life

Like many parts of Myanmar, there was conflict and civil war in Kayah state.

What also played a part is that during the colonial rule it was a part of the Shan state. And the British government had agreed to their independence. So that means they were never part of British Burma.

In the 1980s and early ’90s, there was a conflict between the military regime in Myanmar and the rebel forces. Which resulted in that a part of the tribes fled to Thailand and ended up in refugee camps. The members that are now located in Thailand depend on tourism to make a living

The people you see here are the original Kayen and Kayah people. And during all this time they have kept most of their ways.

Mulon…


Always cooking. She has a stove on the side of her house. She cooks for a lot of people of the village. Her shack also functions as a storage space for food in winter.

An annual soccer tournament is held among the villages in Kayah state. Spectators hiding under umbrellas because of the sun… A sun so strong it would burn the skin in an instant. It’s common this time of year…

One of the matches in Pan Pet. For some matches, the army was present just to make sure the teams were not going to physically clash.

The head garments the ladies wear from the Pa-O tribe resemble dragons.

Molly: “I just want to be free…” is what she told me when we talked about life…

Traditional pounding of rice…

This day bad luck was driven away… The owner of the main house performed a ceremony to get rid of the bad spirits, and bury feathers and bones outside of the village. Food was donated for good luck…

The entire village came out for this occasion…


A pig that has roasted for hours… Ready to be cleaned and shared among each other…

True soulmates that go by the names U La Pyanh (left) and Daw Mu Myint (right)… When I asked U La about he and his wife, a smile appeared that went from ear to ear…

Corn dried in the sun and ready to be bagged. A part of it gets sold and the rest is food for the chickens.

About the trip

While I was listening to a lecture by Alan Watts a couple of days ago. I learned about the concept of Wu Wei (Chinese, not Burmese). And how he explained the concept, it is the art of sailing instead of rowing. I couldn’t think of a more fitting analogy for how my project went from start to finish.

It is hard to comprehend how much work goes into trying to make a photo documentary project. And even more so, an analog one. Unfortunately, it is not just packing your bags and going. During the preparation phase and during the trip itself so many things can – and for this trip – did go wrong. And that will never go away. I knew that beforehand and by now I am quite an experienced traveler but still, It never helps.

When you go to a region for the first time it increases the difficulty. After all, the Middle East is where most of my experience is. My cameras started to malfunction because of the heat, I had food poisoning and almost drove into a ravine because I got stung in the eyelid by a wasp. There was also a moment when I finally managed to stop a boy who had never seen glasses before who ran off with mine to show them to his brother.

The list goes on and on… This trip especially was my biggest learning moment so far. What could I do other than just surrender and let the universe sort it out? All of it was out of my control anyway. The art of sailing…

Fortunately, like all my travels, the good outweighed the bad. The people I met were magical and again, I learned so much… That part of doing a photo project or traveling as an independent traveler is the most rewarding. Nothing beats sipping rice wine and eating noodles with my translator and her Kayan family on my birthday. They even have gotten me a present besides an amazing portrait session. Right then and there I felt I really was honouring my late father and grandfathers who were in my eyes, the most amazing travelers ever.


The people I met on this trip were so kind. The time I spent with them, plus all the other people I met were genuinely interested in me as a person. And that is just beautiful, kind and giving. Hopefully, I succeed in getting that across somehow in my story. I love having a focus on what connects us instead of what makes us different. In the end, we all long for the same things…

My kit

About the kit I used; it was exactly the same as I used for my Neshama Sheli documentary. For 35mm, I used a Nikon FM2n with Carl Zeiss 50mm F/2 ZM T* and a Nikon 35mm F/2 AI lenses. For medium format, it was a Yashica Mat-124G. I took my Nikon D810 for backup (which I can use my lenses on) but no digital shots were made during this project. It was purely as a backup.

The film used was ILFORD Delta 400 Professional and Kodak Portra 400 for color.

Final thoughts…

For me coming back home is the hardest part. Life in the West is so different. We seem always to be in a hurry for no reason. And that hits you hard when you arrive back after being in a different world for a while. In the East, they want to be like the West. And in the West, they want to be like the East. That probably explains all of the Yoga schools here in the Amsterdam area… The solution is somewhere in the middle. At least I hope…

I will try to incorporate this somehow into my next project. Where it will be, I don’t know yet. I still want to go to Tibet, Yemen, South-Sudan… Back to Iran or somewhere in Asia… It can be anywhere…

But before my next big project, I will return to Israel again to work on my long term project. And also focusing on getting more funding. Documentary work is not easy and certainly not cheap to create but I believe it has a big importance in our society. So if you love things like this I can always use some help in any way, shape or form. And if not me, some other documentary photographers or photojournalists could use it for sure too.

I can’t wait to be on my next adventure again. And I am more motivated than ever.

~ Cristian


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