Mandalay's jade market is probably the market of most interest to the traveller visiting town. Most Burmese towns will feature more interesting and photogenic general markets than the hideous Zay Cho building, but not many possess entire markets dedicated to the precious green stone.
Jade can be either of two metamorphic rocks: jadeite or nephrite, with the former being much rarer and more valuable. It’s only found in 12 known quarries in the world with Burma, plus logically Guatemala, being the two principal sources.
In Burma, the jadeite mines are in Kachin State to the far north, but Mandalay as the main commercial centre and largest city, is the trade’s hub. Though commonly found in semi-translucent green shades, ranging from pale turquoise to emerald green, jade also comes in pink, orange and several other colours. The green is derived from iron content—the higher the content, the darker the shade of green.
In Mandalay, the main buying and selling point is Mahar Aung Myay Market, more commonly known simply as the jade market. It's a fascinating spot, with vendors displaying everything from huge chunks of the green rock to tiny fragments, while in the afternoon session other precious stones and gems also make their appearance.
They come generally in the form of dark brown or black stone shells which have been split open to reveal their enticingly bright green interiors. We particularly like the intact rocks, where just a flash of surface green indicates the presence of jade inside but which haven’t been split open to reveal exactly what. We guess it's a kind of jade lucky dip.
Large pieces are used to make statues and carvings, while smaller pieces are refined into jewellery. Most pieces are simply laid out on the ground or low wooden tables, with rows of vendors filling both sides of a lane. We were the only foreign visitor when we went and all vendors were more than happy to let us have a look, take photos and ask silly questions.
The show actually starts at 04:00 when jade and gems are unloaded by the truckload and boatful. Huge chunks of jade sit outside the fence while Chinese and Burmese wholesale buyers wander around the complex looking for their best deal.
There are several tea and noodle shops from where you can sit and take in the proceedings. Alms-seeking monks and nuns, plus snack sellers, ply the lane and we found it all fascinating. It is at its best, and busiest, early the morning; during afternoons it can feel almost empty.
How to get there
It’s a bit out of the way in the city’s southwestern quadrant, but you could swing by here in your way to Mahamuni or southern sites.
By Mark Ord.
Last updated on 24th September, 2016.