Myanmar (previously known as Burma) is one of those countries where one can see very interesting behavior that is different from the rest of the world. This is primarily due to the fact that Myanmar has been locked from the world for a good six decades since their independence. I spent 25 days in Myanmar across Yangon, Twante, Bago, Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake), Bagan, Mandalay and Mytikina. Below are some thing that I found interesting about Myanmar. I hope it is a great read for you and helps you understand something about this culturally vibrant country with the best people in South East Asia.
1) A lot of Myanmar cities have a colonial look and feel.
2) The national dress of Myanmar is the longyi. While the men wear more boxes and checks, the women wear more floral and colorful patterns. Everyone in the country wears their national dress proudly.
3) Nearly all of Myanmar people have red teeth as they love to chew the betel leaf and the betel nut. They also like to spit it anywhere on the roads.
4) Electricity supply is sporadic everywhere in the country.
5) The domestic flight tickets are more expensive than international flights of the same duration.
6) The Burmese have an obsession with the word ‘Shwe’ that stands for ‘GOLD’.
7) The water festival of Myanmar is one of the craziest festivals you can ever participate in.
8) There are so many Indians in Yangon and Mandalay that you think whether they are cities in Myanmar or India.
9) Even though the Myanmar Kyat is the national currency, tourists have to pay in US Dollars for their hotel accommodation, flight tickets, train tickets, ferry tickets and entrance to monuments or tourist destinations.
10) Nearly all the cities have ATMs that work with international cards. KBZ is associated with visa, while CB Bank is associated with Mastercard.
11) Cellphones are picking up craze in Myanmar and internet connectivity (though a tad slow) is available at all towns.
12) Healthcare, even for the locals is very expensive in Myanmar.
13) The National League for Democracy (NLD) headed by Aung San Su Kyi has a lot of supporters in Myanmar.
14) The Buddhists of Myanmar have a lot of animosity for Muslims of their country.
15) Street food is the norm in all towns and cities.
16) Thanaka (made from bark of a tree) is the national cosmetic for the face and also acts as a coolant.
17) Like the temples of South India, pagodas or phayas, the Buddhist temples are found everywhere in Myanmar. Sometimes, their high density bewilders people.
18) When entering a pagoda complex, people are not supposed to wear footwear or wear shorts or sleeveless clothes, but there is no rule that stops the people of Myanmar from smoking inside the temple complex.
19) Even though the people of Myanmar believe themselves to be stout followers of Lord Buddha, they do not believe in his principle of not drinking alcohol. This can be seen at around 5 pm when all the men start drinking beer or spirits in a communal fashion.
20) The people of Myanmar believe that development of their country is only a couple of years away. But, I tend to disagree as the country will take a decade to two to get its act right and be anywhere close to any of its neighboring countries.
21) China is helping Myanmar in setting up a lot of its infrastructure in return for its famous forests of teakwood, sandalwood and other hardwood.
22) Garbage disposal and recycling is still forgotten in Myanmar. One can see huge mounds of garbage all over the city and highways.
23) Myanmar drives on the right side of the road (like USA), but still has vehicles with right hand drive. It is only the new vehicles that come with left hand drive.
24) The unanimous voice in the country is that they want to grow and grow rapidly.
25) The trains in Myanmar have so much sideways movement that even ships rolling under monstrous waves and monsoon winds can be put to shame.
26) There are many models of Japanese and Chinese cars in Myanmar that I have never seen. May be, they used to exist before I was born three decades ago.
27) The art of hand made crafts still survive in many parts of the country.
28) There are places where they grow vegetables on water and not on land.
29) They make threads for the weaving industry from the stem of the lotus plant.
30) While most of the monks in Myanmar smoke and chew betel nuts, there are some monks who drink alcohol too.
31) Even though the country has started to open up, most of the people of Myanmar are still very poor.
32) Myanmar beer, owned by the government is more expensive than Chang beer, which is imported from Thailand.
33) Hotels in Myanmar are very expensive when compared to their quality, standards and service.
34) Burmese people connect their arms when placing, giving or taking anything from anyone.
35) Burmese people bend a little low while going between 2 seated people.
36) An owl is believed to bring good luck and money.
37) The government of Myanmar does not charge for the water during the 4 day water festival.
38) The people of Myanmar love to stare at tourists. It is may be because as a country they have been locked up for such a long time and have never seen people apart from their kind.
39) Myanmar’s favorite sport is played with a hollow ball made from bamboo cane.
40) There are mountains of jade and precious stones in the Kachin state of North Myanmar.
41) Chinese products (Motorcycle, TV, Electronics, Electrical Equipment) are very popular in Myanmar owing to their lower costs.
42) Even though Naypitaw is the capital of Myanmar, hardly any buses or trains lead to that city. It is like Myanmar’s ghost city.
43) There are some domestic airports that finish as soon as you take 10 steps out of the aircraft. It is here that your baggage is dropped at your car/taxi by the aircraft ground staff.
44) People of Kachin state closely resemble the people of North East India.
45) Most of the music in Myanmar is a copy of Western music. This applies to their film and individual music albums.
46) Myanmar is big on Karaoke. Karaoke shows attract big crowds in Myanmar.
47) Fish sauce is considered a delicacy in this country. All their favorite foods (including Mohingha noodles, their traditional dish) seem to have fish sauce in it.
48) There are plans to make Yangon like a Singapore and/or Hong Kong. Apparently, a Japanese company has won the contract to do the makeover.
49) Music is played on the aircraft flying domestic routes.
50) The men use a kissing sound to call other people like waiters in hotel, a cab driver, a tri shaw driver or even their subordinates.