Kalinko: A love affair with Burma
'By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea..' so begins Kipling's atmospheric poem Mandalay, a homage to his fascination with the complex country of Burma and justly nicknamed 'The Golden Land'. Moulmein (now Mawlamyine), the country's largest city, is encircled by a ridge of pagoda-topped hills and vestiges of its former wealth from the teak trade. Faded colonial mansions, often sprouting a banyan tree or two, line the streets, interspersed with crumbling churches and fancifully decorated mosques. The Europeans have long gone, fleeing the Japanese bombing of World War II, but intriguing relics remain. The town is also home to the giant reclining Buddha as well as the Kyaikthanlan Pagoda of Kipling fame. Myanmar is a truly a land of breathtaking sights that have yet to be exploited or over-run. Take a hot air balloon at dawn over the 40-square mile temple complex at Bagan and watch the rising sun turn the temple towers into shimmering spires of burning gold. Wake up in a water bungalow amidst the floating gardens of Inle Lake and experience timeless serenity. Marvel at the astonishing Golden Rock, a holy shrine of a gilded boulder that perches seemingly by magic on the edge of a precipice. Burmese lore has it that it is stopped from tumbling a thousand feet into the ravine by a single hair of the Buddha.
The country's capital city of Yangon is known as the 'garden city of the east'. A deeply friendly and open culture pervades with the city which is home to a thriving creative scene, a cosmopolitan mix of local and expatriate designers, writers and artists. Kalinko is a brand of ethically crafted textiles and homewares founded in Yangon by Londoner Sophie Garnier. Having moved to Myanmar with her husband in 2014, Sophie began working with a tribe called Ka-Lin-Kaw who are renowned for their weaving skills, alongside hospitality and, in Sophie’s words ‘lack of gender or class discrimination’. An initial fascination has quickly grown into a successful and many faceted collection of breezy linens, indigo throws, beautifully cut garments, jauntily patterned cushions (handmade on wooden looms under the stilts of village houses), plantation-style rattan pieces and buffalo horn cutlery. The thread of a deep respect for the time-honoured artisan traditions of Myanmar run through Kalinko and we asked them for an insider glimpse into the land they now call home:
What led you towards living in Myanmar and starting Kalinko there?
We moved to Burma rather by mistake! Having been there on holiday in 2013, I dispatched my husband there in 2014 to 'clear his head' and work out his next career move, and he came back with a job! So off we went, rather unexpectedly! It turned out to be the best move we ever made – we absolutely love it, and Kalinko has come from it – a double win! We travelled around the country a lot from early on, and I came across all sorts of amazing artisans who weren’t able to sell their beautiful products beyond their local markets, so I set up Kalinko to take their products to international customers.
What place most inspires you in the country in your creations?
Mrauk-U. It’s a sort of smaller version of Bagan where the villages are still nestled among the temples, unlike in Bagan where the communities have been moved. It’s a 5 hour boat ride from Sittwe, leaving at 7am. The mist rising off the water as you leave, and the temples emerging on the horizon as you arrive are incredibly inspiring.
Myanmar is becoming more and more accessible to travellers, where do you recommend first time visitors go to experience the soul of the country?
I would take a boat to the bigger lake south of Inle Lake, all the way to the southern-tip, and stay in Loikaw. From here you can drive deep into the hills and visit the very remote Kayah and Kayaw tribes, who live and dress as they have done for centuries. Very few tourists make it up there.
Favourite places in Yangon to eat, drink and dance?
Dancing is tricky! The nightlife is still restricted to some slightly dodgy nightclubs where there are more staff than guests. But eating and drinking is much better. For Burmese food, the Rangoon Tea House is a wonderful choice, or Lucky 7 Tea House for a more local option. Beyond Burmese, our go to is Gekko for their Spicy Korean Beef Noodles and Negronis, Rau Ram for Vietnamese, and Yhet’s Sushi & Soba for cosy Japanese. Sarkie’s Bar at The Strand has knock-out cocktails, and the beer station down on the docks just by our apartment is a winner everytime!
Do you have an insider tip for discovering Myanmar’s cultural side? Galleries or artists to watch?
Yes absolutely – Nathalie Johnston of Myanm/art is the leading authority on Burmese art, both current and historic. She runs fantastic art tours of Yangon, and hosts brilliant contemporary art exhibitions in her gallery.
If you could go anywhere in Myanmar for the perfect long weekend where would it be?
Nagaland! It would need to be quite a long weekend – maybe 5 or 6 days, but it’s still largely undiscovered, and one of the last few places on my list. Or for a relaxing, pool-based break, I’d go to Hpa An Lodge, about 5 hours south of Yangon. Great food, lovely rooms and gorgeous walks nearby.