Uncover the enchanting mysteries of Myanmar with these captivating and intriguing facts that will enhance your journey. From its name dilemma to cultural quirks and historical treasures, here are 15 fascinating facts about Myanmar to pique your curiosity before you embark on your adventure.
1. Myanmar or Burma?
The country goes by two names, Myanmar and Burma, which may puzzle visitors. Burma was the name used during British colonial rule from 1824 to 1948, derived from the dominant Bamar ethnic group. After gaining independence, the country became the Republic of the Union of Myanmar in 1989, with Rangoon renamed as Yangon. The name change was not universally recognized due to the oppressive military regime at the time, leading to the continued use of Burma by some nations. Today, both names are used interchangeably.
2. The Water Festival: Thingyan
One of Myanmar’s grandest festivals, Thingyan, also known as the Water Festival, celebrates the Burmese New Year in April. This joyous event transforms the streets into a massive water fight where locals and visitors drench each other with water. Participating in this lively celebration offers a memorable and immersive experience of Myanmar’s vibrant culture.
3. The Longyi: Traditional Attire
The longyi is a traditional garment worn by both men and women throughout Myanmar. This versatile piece of clothing consists of a large cloth, approximately 2 meters long, wrapped around the lower body, similar to a sarong. Men often pair their longyi with a shirt, while women can be seen gracefully donning this attire while going about their daily activities. Trying on a longyi yourself can be a delightful cultural experience, but do remember to dress appropriately when visiting religious sites where wearing one might be required.
4. The Imperial System Persists
Unlike most countries that use the metric system, Myanmar still employs the Imperial System for weight and distance measurements. Pounds and inches are commonly used instead of kilograms and centimeters. Alongside the United States, Myanmar is among the few nations that continue to embrace this older system of measurement.
5. Balancing Act: Carrying on the Head
A distinctive sight in Myanmar is the skillful art of carrying objects on the head. Both men and women, particularly vendors, adeptly balance heavy loads such as food trays or baskets on their heads while navigating through bustling streets. This age-old practice showcases the locals’ remarkable ability to multitask and efficiently transport goods.
6. The Kingdom of Pagan: A Marvel of Ancient Temples
During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Kingdom of Pagan flourished in central Myanmar, leaving behind a stunning legacy of ancient temples and pagodas. Today, the plains of Bagan are home to over 2,000 religious monuments, forming one of the world’s most captivating archaeological sites. Exploring this awe-inspiring landscape and witnessing the mesmerizing sunset views remains a top highlight for visitors.
7. Naypyidaw: The Overnight Capital
In a surprising turn of events in 2005, Myanmar’s capital abruptly shifted from Yangon to Naypyidaw. The government secretly constructed a new administrative center, only announcing the relocation after it was complete. This swift transition saw government staff and institutions move nearly 400 kilometers north to Naypyidaw, creating a unique chapter in Myanmar’s history.
8. Catching a Waiter’s Attention
When dining in Myanmar, tourists may find themselves in an amusing situation when attempting to attract the attention of a waiter. Instead of waving or making eye contact, the local custom involves making a kissing sound two or three times toward the person you wish to call. While this approach may seem unconventional elsewhere, it is considered normal in Myanmar and is an interesting cultural nuanceto observe and adapt to while visiting.
9. Betel Leaves and Red Stains
Betel leaves, a mild stimulant, are commonly chewed by locals for a short period of time. Unfortunately, this practice results in red saliva that is often spat out onto the streets, leaving behind distinctive red stains. Initially resembling blood, these stains are a common sight in Myanmar and serve as a reminder of the traditional betel chewing habit deeply ingrained in the culture.
10. The Shwedagon Pagoda: A Treasure of Gold and Diamond
The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon stands as an iconic symbol of Myanmar. Adorned with over 60 tons of gold, this majestic complex glistens and captivates visitors from all over the world. At the pinnacle of the main stupa, a remarkable 75-carat diamond, practically flawless, sits within the hti, the ornamental umbrella. Marveling at the Shwedagon Pagoda unveils the country’s rich spiritual heritage and architectural splendor.
11. Thanaka: Beauty and Protection
When strolling through Myanmar, you’ll encounter people with what appears to be mud smeared on their faces. Fear not, as it is actually thanaka, a special paste made from powdered bark. Locals apply it to protect their skin from the sun’s rays and believe it possesses skin-enhancing and anti-aging properties. Joining in and applying thanaka can be a fun way to immerse yourself in Myanmar’s beauty traditions.
12. Traffic Chaos: A Legacy of Driving Change
Myanmar’s driving practices have a unique history influenced by its colonial past. Previously, vehicles followed the British tradition of driving on the left side of the road. However, in 1970, the government abruptly switched to right-hand driving. This sudden change created a mixture of vehicles designed for different driving configurations and contributed to the chaotic traffic seen on Myanmar’s roads today.
13. A Tapestry of Ethnicities
Myanmar is home to over 135 distinct ethnic groups, each with its own culture and traditions. From the unique leg-rowing technique of the Intha people on Inle Lake to the neck rings worn by the Kayan Lahwi tribe, the country’s cultural landscape is diverse and captivating. Exploring Myanmar offers a wonderful opportunity to engage with the country’s ethnic communities and appreciate their rich heritage.
14. Travel Restrictions and Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventures
Due to internal conflicts and political complexities, certain regions in Myanmar are restricted for tourism. Nonetheless, the well-trodden tourist trail offers a plethora of historical and cultural wonders, including Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle Lake. Even within these popular destinations, there are ample opportunities to venture off the beaten path and discover hidden gems, ensuring a captivating and immersive travel experience.
15. Time for a Time Change
When you arrive in Myanmar, it’s essential to adjust your watch. The country operates on Myanmar Standard Time (MST), which is 6 hours and 30 minutes ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC+6:30). Ensuring your timepiece matches the local time will help you stay on schedule and smoothly adapt to the country’s unique time zone.
As you venture into the enchanting realm of Myanmar, armed with these intriguing facts, you’ll uncover the hidden charms and vibrant traditions that make this country truly extraordinary. Enjoy your journey of discovery through this captivating land!