Myanmar was the second country I visited during my last year’s trip around Southeast Asia. There were a lot of surprising things about Myanmar, which I didn't know about before coming here. Being the largest country in Southeast Asia, Burma opened up to tourism just about a decade ago, so much later than other countries in the region.
Many friends told me it’s like “Thailand 20, 30 years ago” and that this is the place to go to NOW. Because Myanmar is changing fast…
I had spent a month in Thailand and was already getting very comfortable with traveling on my own. However the Land of Smiles is by far the easiest country for backpackers, followed by Laos and Cambodia.
As I traveled around Myanmar for three weeks, I found it absolutely fascinating and inspiring.
Burma used to be a British colony for many, many years. The country gained independence in 1948, but the impact of former English rule can be seen to this day. When the military took over the government, the education system deteriorated greatly. So it’s more the older generation that speaks fluent English rather than the younger one.
What stroke me the most is that even in the smallest villages, you will always find some locals who speak good English. Since the 1990s and the increase of tourism, more and more young Burmese decide to learn English again.
One of the things that makes Myanmar look so exotic are Longyi’s. Worn by both men and women, it may resemble of a skirt but is actually a sheet of cloth tied around the waist.
From my observation, longyi is worn by about 70% of Burmese.
It is really comfortable and allows air to circulate and keep the wearer cool. Women will wear it all the way down to the ankles, but men may fold it up to the knees.
The first thing I noticed after arriving in Myanmar were red “blood” stains on the ground. This actually comes from chewing betel nut, a deadly addiction of millions of Burmese. Only a single smile can reveal the addict, as it causes decay and reddish-black staining of teeth, as well as oral cancer.
When locals in Myanmar want to get someone’s, usually a waiter’s attention, they make two or three short kissing sound.
Both men and women in Myanmar paint stripes of yellow paste on their faces, cheeks, nose, forehead and chin. The paste comes from the bark of the Thanakha tree and is an effective sunscreen cosmetic.
...instead they just wear their everyday clothes! Why? About 90% of Burmese are Buddhist therefore covering up the body is an important part of the culture. Showing off large parts of the body, especially for women, may be regarded as offensive. Women usually wear a sarong when bathing in Myanmar.
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Myanmar’s traditional sport is called Chinlone. It’s a team sport similar to foot bag (Hacky Sack) played in a circle by any number of players. The key is to keep the chinlone up in the air as long as possible by using any body part except the hands.