The pre-dawn air is crisp at Saikkhaung village, in Myanmar's largely rural Shan State, as I board the 5 a.m. train for the three-hour journey to Taunggyi, the state capital. Women sit on the floor in the passenger coaches, stringing together sardine-sized fish to be sold in the daily market near Taunggyi railway station, alongside fruit, vegetables, cotton longyis (sarongs) and skewered field rats, fat with pilfered corn and ready for the grill.
The passengers, mostly ethnic Shan and Pa Oh women, make me feel welcome; they see few foreign travelers. Their head-dresses are distinctive: many sport colorful cotton towels, commonly in green, red or tan. Some have brightly colored magenta or blue woven Shan bags draped casually around their necks.