10 interesting facts about Myanmar

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is the largest country in the mainland of Southeast Asia, recently emerging up as a new favorite destination for travelers worldwide.
Apart from very rich traditional culture, Myanmar is the land of stunning natural settings with immense, fertile plains along the Irrawaddy River that surrounded by impressive mountains along the border with Thailand, China, and India, spectacular beaches overlooking the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
The Myanmar people are friendly, anxious to open the door to the outside world, very welcoming the globalization and pop culture while maintaining very well their unique culture and traditional practices.

Exploring Myanmar is a kind of life experience to an authentic land. And, Myanmar has always more to discover than what you have heard about it. 
Below are some interesting facts about Myanmar that perhaps not many people know:

1. Yangon is not the capital of Myanmar

Yangon, also known as Rangoon, is the largest city and famous tourist destination not to be missed when visiting Myanmar. This city also, in most cases, is the main entry place for travelers to start their exploring of the country. It was the capital of Myanmar from 1948 when the country regained its independence from British colonialists until 2006 when the military government set a new capital in Naypyidaw which is about 370 km further north.
Although not currently the administrative center of the country, Yangon is still the largest industrial and commercial center in Myanmar, the main destination for travelers. That’s why people often get confused about it, which is understandable.
Something about the new capital Naypyidaw: This is the third-largest city in Myanmar after Yangon and Mandalay, with a population of nearly a million people. The city covers a large size, well organized with different zones such as residential zones, ministry zone, military zone, diplomatic zone, hotel zone, shopping zone, recreation zone, and so on. There are also a new airport, bus and railway stations to connect to other cities. Roads are large and news however, since the population is small, mostly administrative men and government employees so, the city look quite empty and is not a destination for travelers.

Yangon colonial area

2. Shwedagon Pagoda is not only gilded entirely with gold leaf

Situated on the top of the 51-meter high Singuttara Hill, with its own height of 112 meters, the Shwedagon is the largest and highest stupa in Myanmar. This pagoda is said to contain relics of Buddha and is considered the most sacred monument, the symbol of Myanmar. Architecturally, this is one of the most splendid and sophisticated Buddhist works in Myanmar.
The huge stupa is commonly known for its glaring golden color since it is entirely covered with more than 40 tons of gold plates.
Another interesting fact is that this stupa is also decorated with lots of diamonds and precious stones. Near the top, the umbrella crown of the temple is inlaid with more than 5000 diamonds and more than 2000 pieces of rubies. And, the very top of it is tipped with a large piece of diamond which is weighted 76 carats.
A visit to this pagoda is a must for most, if not all, of travelers to Myanmar. Especially in the evening, the temple looks like a magical floating object in the Yangon’s skyline.

Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon

3. Tea is eaten in Myanmar

Myanmar produces one of the best tea in the world. Yet, tea plays a very important part in Burmese’s culture and daily life. People drink tea during their breakfast, when someone visits their home, at parties and gatherings, in tea shops, and so on. Tea can be drunk any time of the day.
More than that, in Myanmar, tea can be eaten like salad and is considered a kind of ‘national snack’ or national delicacy. This kind of tea leaf is called ‘laphet’ and is a kind of fermented or pickled tea.
To make laphet, young tea leaves and buds are selected then steamed for a short time to get softened. This tea is then packed into bamboo tubes, clay pots, or sacks and pressed by heavyweights to extract water and then left to get fermented naturally. The fermentation process will take around 3 or 4 months until the pulp changes its color from green to light yellow. During that time, frequent checks are made to make sure the pulp is in good condition and fermented to a good standard. It is then taken out, washed, massaged, and drained before adding some kind of flavors depending on regional taste, including ground chili, minced garlic, peanut oil, lemon juice, salt, and so on.
Serving home visitors with ‘Laphet’ is a traditional Burmese gesture of hospitality. Laphet is also served as food (salad) before and during the meals, used as offerings for monks and during ceremonies. 
It is usually served along with other kinds of stuff such as roasted peas of different kinds, crisp fried garlic, peanut, sesame, crushed dried shrimp, shredded ginger, dried fruits, and so on.
A common saying in Myanmar goes: “Of all the fruits, mango is the best, among all the meats, pork is the best and, of all the types of leaves, tea leaves is the best”. This tells you how the Burmese people love laphet and how important role this ‘national delicacy’ plays in their life.
Once in Myanmar, you will see this practice anywhere and for sure, will have chances to taste it and experience this interesting tradition.

4. Burmese special make-up style

When you are traveling in Myanmar, it is very common to see local people have something painted on their faces. This unique traditional make-up style is called Thanaka and is believed to have been popular in the country for around 2,000 years.
This kind of traditional cosmetic is made from thanaka tree. The wood and root including the bark of thanaka is collected, dried off, and sold anywhere in Myanmar. To use it, people grind the wood on the surface of a flat stone called ‘kyauk pyin’ with some water to get a creamy light yellow paste. This paste is then applied to their cheeks, nose or chin, and forehead. Sometimes, it is just simple with a stretch on the nose and two round covers on their cheeks but sometimes it becomes art with sophisticated painting of flower, leaf, and so on.
Apart from gaining beauty, Thanaha powder is considered a type of skin-care medicine that helps to protect skin from sunlight, remove acne, and bring health to their skin.
This practice is very popular for women and children, however, you can sometimes see men use thanaka, too.

Myanmar people

5. Burmese men also wear sarongs (skirt)

In Myanmar, either in cities or countryside, you will see Burmese men wearing something like a sarong that is called ‘longyi’.
Longyi is a sheet of cloth worn around the waist down to the feet in a cylindrical shape. The longyi is held in place by folding the fabric and tucking the end of the sheet into a knot on one side or in the front just below the navel.
For foreign travelers, it looks similar for both men and women but actually, it is a bit different by the way they are worn and the color, patterns between genders. Longyis for males are called paso and generally plain colors while those for females are called htamein with multicolor and more patterns.
Burmese men wear longyi anytime, for any activity and at any occasions. When doing active works or playing sports, the lower portion of longyi is often rolled up and bunched together between the legs making something like a short.
Along with longyis, Burmese men are often seen wearing flip-flops or hnyat-phanat, a similar kind that is traditional sandal in Myanmar. Even in offices or the President at an international meeting, it is common to see this type of traditional dress and appearance.

Burmese man wearing longyi

6. Myanmar has its own system of measurements

It can be confusing for you with the unit of measurement in Myanmar. So far, Myanmar is one of three countries that have not yet applied the International System of Units (the metric system). While the other two, the US and Liberia, use the Imperial system, Myanmar has its own traditional system of units.
Although the imperial units like feet, yard, mile or metric unit like kilometer sometimes used on the government webpages, gallon and inches or pound may be used sometimes for foreign travelers, the old Burmese system is used domestically within the country. 
By that system, a lan equal to 1.8288 m, a kawtha is 1.28016 km, a petha is 1.02058 g, a peittha is 1.63293 kg, a hkwet is 1.27859 litter and so on. With a long list of measurement units of local system, it is really a confusing and challenging game for you. However, you can estimate things your way when doing a purchase or a pocket scale can come in handy.

7. Most people chew betel leaves

Chewing betel leaves is a common practice in Myanmar, especially among the older people. The further you go to countryside, the more popular this tradition is. The most evident feature of this practice is that you can see reddish stains on people’s mouth.
Betel leaf is coasted with quicklime, wrap around areca nut along with some tobacco and a piece of bitter bark then chewed for its juice. This mixture has a pungent taste and contains stimulant that can make people addicted like smoking. Actually, when chewing betel leaves, people just swallow a little of the juice as too much of it can make one dizzy. That is why you see quite often light brown stains on the street floors that look like blood but they are actually the liquid people spit out.
Chewing betel nut is believed to kill bacterium, bringing fresh breath and beautiful color on the chewer’s lips. A bite of betel nut can bring the effect as you drink several cups of coffee or alcohol at one time. Try it once to know how it is if you dare!

8. Cheroots making and smocking

Another interesting fact you find in Myanmar is the tradition of making and smocking cheroots. Cheroots here is quite different from those of western cigars as it is not made of tobacco but kind of leaves that called thanal-phet, sometimes even corn husk and silk like in some villages in Bagan. Burmese cheroots size is varied from a size of a cigarette, a cigar or sometime huge like a stick that can be a feet long. Some kinds of dried wood can be also added to the ingredient and honey or something sweet also coasted on the cheroot for flavor.

smocking cheroot in myanmar

9. Myanmar Time Zone is UTC +6.30

While the other countries in the mainland of Southeast Asia apply the time zone UTC +7 Myanmar, as it is always unique, apply the time zone UTC +6.30, perhaps to differentiate it from the others. So, remember to adjust your watch when you travel to Myanmar from neighboring countries.

10.  Myanmar has finest rubies in the World

Said to be the rarest and most valuable member among the corundum family found around the World, Burmese rubies are considered the best for their color which range from pink red to a vivid pigeon blood, somewhat similar to red traffic light, which is regarded as the finest color for ruby.
The source of top quality Burmese rubies is the Mogok in northern Myanmar. This place is known as the World’s premier source of rubies for centuries. Another place is Mong Hsu which located about 250km east of Mandalay.
Rubies from Mogok is said to have the highest level of purity and saturation that provide wonderful red glow when viewed in natural light. Stones over 1 carat are extremely rare and has the highest prices in the gemstone world. The most famous of them all, the ‘Graff Ruby’ ring, set a new world record when it was sold at the price of USD 8.6 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2015.

Myanmar bestselling tours

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