Head to Mandalay for gold leaf making. Here, you will find numerous noisy, sweaty and glistening locations. Myanmar gold leaf is handmade in time-honored fashion from 24k gold. In one day a worker at this factory will painstakingly turn 32 grams of gold into about 750 layers of finished sheets of gold leaf.
Between the layers of gold is handmade bamboo paper. A special local bamboo with a solid core is shredded and soaked for three years to make a paper which is very strong and incredibly smooth. A speck of gold is placed between each sheet of the bamboo paper, and then layered with many others. All of this is then wrapped in deer hide and then pounded. Normal cow hide is not strong enough to withstand the continuous beating, nor as flexible.
The gold leaf bamboo stack is initially pounded for about 30 minutes twice and then it is beaten again for another 6 hours. A coconut water clock is used for the timing, with a small hole in the coconut shell that slowly allows water to fill the shell. When it has been filled 80 times, the pounding process is completed.
In Myanmar there are more than 20 workshops and more than 100,000 workers producing gold leaf for the country’s temples and pagodas. Sadly, the nation’s most symbolic symbol, Shwedagon Pagoda, is set to be re-gilded with machine-made leaf.