Our 9 interesting facts about Myanmar

Our 9 interesting facts about Myanmar

We spent 3 weeks in Myanmar in January 2015 and instantly fell in love with the people.

The Burmese were very curious towards us foreigners but extremely friendly and welcoming. It was really endearing and you just can’t help but smile back.

Falling in love with the Burmese

The Burmese people were our favourite memory of Myanmar. Always smiley, curious and very friendly

As well as the friendly Burmese, here’s our favourite Myanmar observations and interesting facts that stuck with us.

#1 Aung Sang Siu Kee

Aung Sang Siu Kee is the popular opposition leader in Myanmar who was under house arrest in Yangon for most of 1989-2010 by the oppressive military government and has become a popular Nelson Mandela like figure internationally.

She won the Nobel Peace Prize for Peace in 1991 during her house arrest and the only winner not allowed to accept it in person.

Aung San Suu Kyi

The popular opposition leader of Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi

We knew nothing about Myanmar before our trip and watched the Luc Besson film called “The Lady” about Aung San Suu Kyi’s life to learn more. We highly recommend it to anyone visiting for their first time.

The Lady film about Aung San Suu Kyi

The Lady film about Aung San Suu Kyi starring Michelle Yeoh

Apparently, during the harsher days of the military Burmese government, uttering Aung San Suu Kyi’s name out loud in public ran the risk of getting you arrested and placed in a prison camp.

Whereas now in Myanmar, The Lady is everywhere: most restaurants, homes and guesthouses we visited displayed pictures or calendars of her.

Aung Sang Siu Kee calender in book stall in Yangon

Aung Sang Siu Kee worship is visible everywhere in Myanmar. Here we spotted this calender of her in this beautiful book stall in Yangon

 

#2 Thanaka face make up

The first thing we noticed when we arrived at Mandalay airport was the yellow thanaka powder on people’s faces.

Burmese girl with thanaka face painting

Our first Myanmar observation was the distinctive yellow face paste worn by Burmese girls, children and some men

The distinctive Burmese “thanaka” is a face cosmetic paste made from grinding water with the bark of a particular tree from central Myanmar. It is believed to act as a sunblock, anti ageing and prevent acne.

At our home stay at Yoe Yoe Lay guesthouse in Mandalay, we ditched our Boots Face Mask and replaced it thanaka:

Our thanakha selfie

Our thanakha selfie: no other face mask required when in Myanmar

We were also given a lesson about how the thanaka is created and then applied:

#3 Red saliva stains and Burmese men with bad red teeth

In Myanmar we saw many red stains like this on the roads and pavements:

Red saliva sightings in Myanmar

We saw a lot of these red saliva stains in the streets of Myanmar

…and quite a few Burmese men had red teeth like this guy (who sold us our pressed sugar cane juice in Yangon):

Burmese man's teeth

Burmese man’s teeth after chewing lots of tobacco and betel nut

This is because many men in Myanmar chew betel nut and tobacco all day long, spitting out the red residue every few minutes (you’re not supposed to swallow it).

But not all Burmese men have red Dracula like stained teeth. For example, this sweet waiter in Kalaw was a shining example of the Burmese men with lovely teeth who don’t chew Betel nut and tobacco all day long:

Stefan with Burmese boy with lovely teeth

Stefan with this Burmese boy who had very beautiful teeth unlike quite a lot of other Burmese men we encountered

#4 Blow kisses to the waiters

This is unique to Myanmar and really cute. If you want to get the waiter’s attention in a teahouse or restaurant, you need to blow them a few kisses.

Stefan absolutely loved doing this but made a bit of a fool of himself because it’s not technically a kiss, but more a sucking sound into your mouth which is very similar to a kiss.

Sebastien was a bit more shy about using this charming method to engage with Burmese waiters:

#5 Men’s fashion: the longyi versus tight fashionable jeans

In Myanmar most men of all ages wear longyis, everywhere. This reminded us a lot of south Asian countries like India and Sri Lanka where mainly the older generations wear longyis.

Burmese men wearing longyis

Most Burmese men wear longyis everywhere

School boys' uniform is a longyi

School boys in Myanmar commonly wear a longyi as art of their uniform

If men don’t wears longyis, they instead wear tight, fashionable jeans, like these boys at the Shwezigon temple in Bagan:

Burmese boys wearing very fashionable tight jeans

We noticed Burmese guys wear very fashionable tight jeans if not wearing longyis

This photo from the Shwezigon Temple in Bagan shows both styles:

Burmese boys either wore either longyis or tight jeans

We noticed Burmese guys generally wear very fashionable tight jeans or longyis

#6 Quirky traditions: how to ‘ugly-fy’ your women

Myanmar is comprised of many different ethnic groups and tribes, each with their own unique traditions. One common one is to safeguard their women from neighbouring tribesmen who may try to steal them away. The answer? Ugly-fy them to make them less appealing.

For example, in the Northern Chin states, women used to have their faces tattooed, but this practice was banned in the 1960s. Also, the long necked women of the Kayan tribe in East Myanmar, wear brass neck coils around their necks from a young age. Over the years, the weight of the brass pushes the women’s collar bone down, compressing their rib cage.

Long necked woman of the Kayan tribe weaving at Inle Lake

A long necked woman of the Kayan tribe weaving at Inle Lake and posing for photos

At Inle Lake, the long necked women gather to make a living by posing for photographs for tourists. We didn’t like it as it felt like we were in a zoo watching them.

Stefan and the Kayan long necked women at Inle Lake

Stefan making friends with the Kayan long necked women at Inle Lake

#7 Notes only: no coins!

Just like Mongolia, Myanmar is a notes only currency with no coins.

We visited Myanmar in January 2015 when $1 got you 1,000 kyats (and £1 around 1,500). As a keen currency collector, Stefan made it our mission to find a 1 kyat note (around $0.001 or £0.0006).

This was almost impossible as no one had anything smaller then a 50 kyats notes. But just at the very final moment before we were about to leave Myanmar at Yangon airport, we finally managed to get our 1 kyat note (along with a 10 and 20 kyats note):

Our one kyat note selfie

We were very proud and managed to get hold of a one kyat note

#8 SIM cards and lack of international roaming

Myanmar was the only country we’ve visited to date on our travels where your phone’s home SIM card will not work. There is no international roaming here – yet. Myanmar is changing so quickly that hopefully by the time you read this this may have changed.

You can of course purchase a local SIM card to use which is advisable as most of the WIFI points throughout Myanmar were some of the slowest we’ve encountered in our travels through Asia.

In fact, the history of having a SIM card is also interesting. Around 8 years ago, this was a luxury only for the rich because a SIM card would set you back some $2,000! This changed to $50 in 2012 and since November 2014 it was revised to a more realistic $1.50.

SIM cards in Myanmar used to be very expensive

SIM cards in Myanmar used to be very expensive but now more affordable

#9 Festival mania!

The Burmese love their festivals and every month they have at least one festival to celebrate something. And cause we love geeky lists, here’s the run down starting with the water festival in April to celebrate the Burmese New Year:

Burmese Thingyan water festival in April

The Burmese Thingyan water festival in April marks the start of the new year in Myanmar

– April: the Thingyan water throwing festival to mark in the new year and cleanse you from evil spirits to start the new year.

– May: the Bo Tree watering festival, when the sacred Bodhi tree of Enlightenment is watered to honour it.

– June: the Tipitaka scriptual examinations of monks and lots of food offerings are made to them.

– July: the Robe Offering Festival, marking the beginning of the Buddhist lent.

– August: the Taungbyon Nat Festival near Mandalay when thousands of worshippers gather to worship the spirits.

– September: the Regatta boat racing festival, an old traditional dating back to the days of the former Myanmar Kings.

– October: the festival of lights to mark the end of the Buddhist Lent.

– November: the Kahtein Thingan festival of offerings when new robes are offered to Buddhist monks.

– December: New Year for the Karen state (Southeast Myanmar) and other Nat festivals honouring the spirits.

– January: Equestrian festival to celebrate Myanmar’s Independence day (4th January 1948)

– February: the harvest festival when lots of “hta ma nae” (glutinous/sticky rice with sesame, peanuts and ginger) are made.

– March: Pagoda festivals, which centres on the mother of all pagodas: the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.

Our Shwedagon Pagoda selfie

Our Shwedagon Pagoda selfie in Yangon

Watch our video Myanmar travel video as we made our way from Mandalay to Bagan, Inle Lake and Yangon:

19 Comments

  1. Thanks for these interesting facts! I am not sure about blowing kisses to the waiters, lol! I’ll try it tomorrow as we continue our journey to Bagan.
    Maybe one more observation to add: don’t look strange when you are asked to have a picture taken from you. It happened several times to us… Male or female… i don’t realy consider myself as a prince charming … But it it is fun to do and you get a big smile in return.
    Stefan and Sebastian,Keep up your nice work guys, real interesting and funny!
    Kindest regards,
    Nicolas (belgium)

    Reply
    • They are so adorable right? The Burmese people were some of the friendliest and charming we’ve met. We loved having our photos taken with them especially when they let us try their cool dramatic pink hats on…

      Thanks for your comment Nicolas, but you must blow some kisses to the waiters, at least one time!! He he he

      Reply
  2. I feel the same way about places that turn people into tourist attractions. Did you go to that giant monastery complex near Mandalay? They’ve turned the monks going to lunch into a big tourist thing. Lots of ugly tourist behavior there. Even the morning food collection in Luang Prabang is something I am loath to photograph.

    Reply
    • Totally agree! We didn’t bother going to the almsgiving ceremony in Luang Prabang- it sounded horrible and didn’t want to support the tourism aspect of it!! We did see it dumbed down and more authentic in Yangon and Mandalay though.

      Reply
  3. Thanks Stefan for posting beautiful facts about myanmar.(: proud of being burmese .

    Reply
    • Our pleasure! Really proud to hear a Burmese person saying they like this article 🙂

      Reply
  4. I spent most of my time trekking in the Shan State. The place is beautiful and the people were very friendly.

    I will be going back to see more of the country.

    Reply
    • Would love to visit Shan state one day too 🙂

      Reply
  5. Myanmar is at the top of my list and I love reading anything about it! Thanks for sharing the Top 9 things you learn’t – it’s always helpful to see how other travelers perceived a place and what stood out for them 🙂 I’m quite intrigued about the yellow powder face stuff – i’m definitely going to investigate more when I get there!

    Reply
    • Thanks Vicki you’re gonna love it. The thanakha is really cooling on your face 🙂

      Reply
  6. I am so bummed to have skipped Myanmar on my 5 month trip last year! You did a great job with these observations about the society and the people. Thanks for the advice about the Aung San Suu Kyi’s movie, will definitely watch that!

    Reply
    • Our pleasure Lotte 🙂 Thanks so much for reading.

      Reply
  7. Hey Boys,

    Do you have a trekking guide to recommend?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • We went around the different shops in Kalaw and went with a guide called Jewel for the trek.

      Reply
  8. Thanks! That seems easy enough. I’ll look for Jewel if you liked him/her.

    Reply
    • Jewel (she) is amazing. Her number is: 0095 9334 24079 (use Viber). Can’t remember the name of the tour company but it was also listed in Lonely Planet.

      Reply
      • Thanks so much!

        Going in August.

        Reply
  9. Thanks for all the info. My boyfriend and I just got back from Marrakesh and I was mind blown by the culture shock. Before we even landed in New York, we both decided that Myanmar would be our next adventure. We are planning for November 2017 so we learn as much as possible about the culture, history, and religion.

    Reply
    • Awesome 🙂 You will love it!

      Reply

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