The San Pya Fish Market in Yangon is the sort of place you smell before you arrive. The pungent aroma of fish immediately smacks you in the face and the piscine perfume saturates your clothes and stays with you long after leaving. In fact, when I returned home, days later, and dumped the laundry from my backpack on the floor, my cats went into a state of feline ecstasy smelling the clothes I had worn to the market.
Although you get used to the smell rather quickly, it is impossible to get used to the chaotic swirl of activity. It is one of the busiest, wildest, loudest, and most colorful places I’ve taken photos. I am glad that I visited with friends as part of a photo workshop because, otherwise, I’m not sure I’d have been brave enough, or perhaps crazy enough, to go on my own.
The chaos starts on the riverfront, as sinewy men haul baskets of freshly caught fish over a slick and slimy bridge and dump them into large crates. From there, crews sort and weigh the fish as accountants fastidiously punch numbers into calculators and record numbers in notebooks.
Meanwhile, men with abs of steel (who are certainly going to suffer long-term hearing loss), heave 50-pound blocks of ice into roaring machines that grind them into chips. Workers shovel the newly crushed ice into carts and wheel it away to the packing locations, shouting at anyone foolish enough to be in their way. Fish are placed in boxes, packed in ice, and shipped off to restaurants and smaller markets around the city.
Periodically, a gaggle of pink-robed nuns parade through the madness, collecting alms and giving blessings. These clean, innocent girls are a sharp juxtaposition to the rugged, sweaty men. Vendors hawking everything from betel to cigarettes to fresh fruit move through the market, fueling the hard-working men with their products.
On the southern edge of the market, workers unceremoniously toss live chickens into buckets and weigh them before sending them off to a dark room where the journey from egg to chicken to food becomes complete. Periodically, men emerge from the shadows with dozens of freshly skinned chickens piled across their backs and dump them onto carts.
Even though all these rugged men are busily working – most of them earning about $4 a day – they are all exceedingly friendly. They smile, say hello and sometimes strike a pose, even though some of them seem very confused by the presence of photographers in the melee.
In summary, the San Pya Fish Market is a must visit for any photography enthusiast but you’d be wise to wear some shoes and clothes you can dispose of afterwards. Oh, and stay clear of the south side if you ever want to eat chicken again with a clear conscious.
San Pya Fish Market Photo Gallery
The San Pya Fish Market is located about 20 minutes by taxi from downtown Yangon.
Have you been to a crazy market before? Would you like to visit the San Pya Market in Yangon?