When Rudyard Kipling visited Burma a hundred years ago he described it as “quite unlike any land you know about”. Myanmar has been one of those destinations that has intrigued travelers for many years. While more and more people are traveling the region, there are still loads of facts, cultures, and traditions that people are still discovering. Here are 9 incredible things you should learn about Myanmar before you go.
The Locals Use Bark Paste as a Natural Sunblock (Thanaka)
“There are those who travel but never really arrive. Those who visit a place but never know the people. Travel is so much more when you get closer to life and how it is lived.” With Myanmar Shalom Travels you will be able to experience an authentic experience of Myanmar.
Anyone who visits Myanmar will notice people in the streets with what seems like mud smeared over their faces. This is a little disconcerting at first but it’s nothing to worry about. It’s called “Thanaka”. This is applied to help cool the skin, protect you from sun damage, and even helps keep the skin smooth due to its natural oils.
This tradition has lasted for over 2000 years and is very much a part of their culture. Actually, it’s a special mixture of powdered bark that comes from a particular tree. When you’re in the country, try it for yourself.
ABOVE: The Men in Myanmar Wear Skirts (Known as Longyi)
In Myanmar, you’ll see men and women wearing a longyi – a cylindrical piece of cloth worn around the waist, down to the feet. Coming in all colors, patterns, and fabrics (in particular silk), they keep the wearer cool in the summer, allowing air to circulate and protecting from the sun.
People wear this for pretty much any occasion. The difference between the longyi for males and females is the pattern and how the knot is tied. Men allow their knots to hang out the front whereas women tuck it inside. Tourists find this traditional attire intriguing and will often try it on for themselves, much to the amusement of the locals. But, you may have to wear one, especially if you’re dressed inappropriately to enter a religious building.
ABOVE: Kissing Sound For Service
When in a restaurant or teashop, it is very common to hear locals make the kissing sounds to call the attention of the servers. So don’t be offended or surprised if you hear the sound of lips puckering during your meal. In Myanmar, it is not considered rude as this is part of the culture. Next time you order food, drinks, or beer in a Burmese tea shop, just make two or three short kissing sounds and the waiter will come to you!
ABOVE: Most people in Myanmar will become a monk or a nun at some point in their lives.
Since Buddhism is by far the predominant religion in Myanmar, local monasteries and nunneries see a lot of action –especially during major holidays such as Thingyan (Burmese New Year – Water Festival). Most Myanmar people temporarily become a monk or a nun for a few days at least once in their lifetime. It’s treated as a very important event. Family members and neighbors gather for special ceremonies such as the head shaving.
ABOVE: traditional betel nut preparation, Myanmar
Chewing betel nut as a mild stimulant is still very much a thing in Myanmar. In Yangon, you will see many betel nut vendors sell large green leaves containing the nut with spices and occasionally tobacco. The leaves cause their mouths to water, which in turn is mixed with the red dye of the substance. People then spit this out onto the floor causing red stains along the street. The first impression when you see this ubiquitous marking on the floor may be blood. But, it’s not.
ABOVE: The Beaches in Myanmar are Beautiful- and They Have Gypsies!
Aside from beautiful stunning beaches, another unique feature of Myanmar are their local sea gypsies tribes. The nomadic Moken tribe used to sail the Andaman Sea located between the Mergui Islands and Thailand’s southern regions while living on their boats. Due to the fact that Myanmar has just opened its doors to tourism, the Moken tribe’s traditions are is still very much intact unlike the sea fairing tribes of Thailand. Typically, they spend most of their time at sea and only dock during the monsoon season.
ABOVE: Myanmar Switched to Driving On The Right-Hand Side
Formerly a British Colony, drivers drove on the left side of the road and steer on the right. Although British rule ended in 1948, the country remained a driving-on-the-left-side for the next 22 years. While the rule of the road in Myanmar was originally to keep to the left, in 1970 General Ne Win, head of State, decided that Myanmar would switch to driving on the right side of the road.
Why? Well, no one really knows. However, there are a couple of theories: One theory is that astrologers told the general that it would be better for the country if people started driving on the right side. While that might sound weird to some, astrology is huge in Myanmar. Another popular theory is that Ne Win had a dream that the country should switch directions, and well, he did.
Unfortunately, trade sanctions banned the import of cars from countries that make left-hand-drive vehicles. Thus, the mix of cars currently on the roads includes extremely vintage left-hand-drive vehicles and newer right-hand-drive cars imported from Japan. This is why we recommend a driver!
ABOVE: In Myanmar, you can eat tea
Why limit this lovely leaf to beverages? In Myanmar, tea leaves, lahpet, are fermented and eaten in the nation’s most beloved dish, lahpet thohk – tea leaf salad. Thi popular local dish continues to gain international culinary attention. Pickled tea leaves are most often consumed in the form of a salad mixed with fried nuts and garlic and a few chilies for an added kick.
ABOVE: Burmese street vendors attract with melodious shouts.
Many vendors in Myanmar take to the streets to sell a wide variety of goods ranging from Burmese snacks to lottery tickets. Each seller has a distinct call or even a tune they chant as they wander. This piece of Myanmar’s culture is charming at times that aren’t early in the morning.
I could go on and on as there are so many interesting facts about Myanmar but rather than doing that, I urge you to make a trip. It is an incredible country with a wide variety of things to do.