Fun Facts About Myanmar – Explore This Intriguing Nation

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Editorial Team

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is the largest country in Southeast Asia. It regained independence from British colonialists in 1948 and has since captured the attention of travelers with its captivating culture and breathtaking landscapes. From its shimmering pagodas to its unique traditions, Myanmar offers a treasure trove of intriguing facts to discover. Let’s delve into some lesser-known aspects of this fascinating nation.

Yangon is not the capital of Myanmar

Contrary to popular belief, Yangon is not the capital city of Myanmar. In 2006, the government officially moved the capital to Naypyidaw, a city located in the heart of the country. Naypyidaw is the third-largest city in Myanmar, with a population of nearly a million people, and is known for its immaculate infrastructure and wide avenues.

Tea is eaten in Myanmar

Tea holds a special place in Myanmar’s culinary culture. It is not only sipped but also eaten like a salad. Known as “lahpet,” this national delicacy consists of fermented tea leaves mixed with a variety of ingredients such as peanuts, sesame seeds, fried garlic, and dried shrimp. This unique way of consuming tea adds a vibrant burst of flavors to the traditional Burmese cuisine.



Shwedagon Pagoda is not only gilded entirely with gold leaf

The Shwedagon Pagoda, located in Yangon, is one of the most revered religious sites in Myanmar. Its beauty is not only attributed to the fact that it is gilded entirely with gold leaf, but also to its dazzling umbrella crown. The crown is adorned with over 5,000 diamonds and 2,000 rubies, making it a truly mesmerizing sight to behold.

Burmese men also wear sarongs (skirts)

When it comes to traditional attire, Burmese men are not left behind. They often don a traditional garment called a “longyi,” which can be described as a sarong or skirt. The longyi is worn not only for comfort but also as a display of cultural pride. It comes in a variety of colors and patterns, making it a vibrant and stylish piece of clothing.

Burmese special make-up style

Myanmar is famous for its unique makeup style called Thanaka. This traditional cosmetic paste, made from ground tree bark, has been popular for around 2,000 years. The Burmese people apply Thanaka to their faces in decorative patterns, not only for its aesthetic appeal but also for its cooling properties in the hot climate.

Myanmar has its own unique system of measurements

In Myanmar, you’ll encounter a traditional system of units of measurements that are distinct from the metric system used in most countries. Measurements like lan, kawtha, petha, peittha, and hkwet are used for different purposes, from measuring land and weight to trade and agriculture. This unique system reflects Myanmar’s rich heritage and traditional practices.

Cheroots making and smoking

Cheroots, the traditional cigar-like cigarettes in Myanmar, have an interesting twist. Unlike regular tobacco cigarettes, cheroots are made from leaves like thanal-phet, corn husk, and even silk, offering a variety of flavors and aromas. These hand-rolled cigars come in a range of sizes, from cigarette-sized to feet-long sticks, and are an integral part of Myanmar’s cultural heritage.

The Myanmar Water Festival

One of Myanmar’s most vibrant celebrations is the Myanmar Water Festival, known as Thingyan. This annual festival marks the Myanmar New Year and involves dousing each other with water. The festival is a joyful time of cleansing and purification, where locals and visitors alike join in the water fights and enjoy traditional music, dance, and delicious food.

Conclusion

As you can see, Myanmar is a country that embraces tradition, preserves its cultural heritage, and captivates visitors with its unique customs and landmarks. From the glittering Shwedagon Pagoda to the enticing flavors of lahpet, Myanmar offers a wealth of experiences waiting to be explored. So, if you’re looking to embark on a journey infused with history, spirituality, and natural beauty, this intriguing nation should be at the top of your travel list.

Key Takeaways:

  • Myanmar’s capital is Naypyidaw, not Yangon.
  • Tea in Myanmar is not only sipped but also eaten as a salad called lahpet.
  • The Shwedagon Pagoda is gilded with gold leaf and adorned with thousands of diamonds and rubies.
  • Burmese men wear a traditional garment called a longyi, similar to a skirt.
  • Myanmar is known for its unique makeup style called Thanaka, made from tree bark.
  • Myanmar has its own traditional system of units of measurements.
  • Cheroots in Myanmar are made from leaves and come in various sizes and flavors.
  • The Myanmar Water Festival, Thingyan, is a vibrant celebration of the New Year.

Yangon is not the capital of Myanmar

Many people mistakenly believe that Yangon is the capital of Myanmar. However, this vibrant city, formerly known as Rangoon, served as the country’s capital from 1948 to 2006. Today, Yangon retains its significance as the largest city in Myanmar and a major economic and cultural hub.

Spanning an area of approximately 77 square miles (199 square km), Yangon is home to a diverse population. According to a 2007 estimate, the city’s population was around 4,090,000. With its strategic location, Yangon plays a crucial role in Myanmar’s foreign trade, handling over 80% of the country’s international trade activities.

Yangon is a bustling center of various industries, including rice mills, sawmills, textiles, soap production, rubber, aluminum, and iron and steel sheet manufacturing. It serves as a key export gateway for Myanmar, with major exports including rice, teak, and metal ores.

The urban area of Yangon covers 598.75 km2 (231.18 sq mi), with a metropolitan area spanning 10,170 km2 (3,930 sq mi). As of the 2014 census, the urban population of Yangon was 5,160,512, resulting in a population density of 8,600 people per square kilometer (22,000 people per square mile). The metro population, including the Yangon Region, is 7,360,703.

Yangon is a melting pot of various ethnicities and religions. The city is home to diverse communities, including the Bamar, Burmese Chinese, Burmese Indians, Chin, Rakhine, Mon, Karen, Shan, Kayah, and Kachin people. Religions in Yangon comprise Buddhism (with a 91% majority), Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and other faiths making up the remaining percentage.

Despite no longer being the capital, Yangon continues to play a significant role in Myanmar’s economic and cultural landscape, contributing to the country’s GDP, which was valued at US$10.7 billion in 2016. However, it is important to note that only 26% of Myanmar’s population has access to electricity, highlighting the ongoing development challenges the country faces.

Tea is eaten in Myanmar

In Myanmar, tea is not just a beverage, but also an integral part of the cuisine. One unique way in which tea is enjoyed is through pickled or fermented tea leaves called laphet. Laphet is considered a national delicacy and is often served as a salad, known as Tea Leaf Salad or La Phat Thoke.

Tea Leaf Salad, or La Phat Thoke, is a traditional Myanmar dish that is enjoyed as a snack, appetizer, or paired with rice. It showcases the unique combination of flavors and textures that Burmese cuisine is known for.

Laphet, the pickled tea leaves used in the salad, go through a fermentation process that can last for 3 to 4 months. The result is a tangy and slightly bitter flavor that is complemented by various ingredients and condiments. Some popular additions to the Tea Leaf Salad include roasted peanuts, crispy fried garlic, toasted sesame seeds, dried shrimp, and shredded coconut.

Laphet Grades Annual Yield Tea Consumption Tea Leaf Picking Time
‘Golden bracelet’, ‘Extraordinary weft’, ‘Weft’, ‘Top grade’, ‘Medium top grade’, ‘Medium grade’, ‘Low grade’ 60,000-70,000 tons of fresh tea product 52% green tea, 31% black tea, 17% pickled tea April to May, extended until October

The Tea Leaf Salad is often enjoyed alongside other traditional Myanmar dishes. For breakfast, locals often start their day with Mohinga, a flavorful fish and rice noodle soup considered the national dish. Nan Gyi Thote, a popular traditional breakfast choice, is also commonly found in local tea shops and street vendors in the early morning.

Tea plays a significant role in Myanmar’s culture and daily life. The country’s tea shop culture is vibrant, with tea shops serving as popular gathering places. People gather in tea shops to enjoy breakfast, engage in business meetings, socialize with friends, discuss politics, and catch up on the latest news. Traditional Burmese tea, often combined with condensed milk, is a favored choice in these lively tea shop settings.

Shwedagon Pagoda is not only gilded entirely with gold leaf

The Shwedagon Pagoda, located in Yangon, Myanmar, is a magnificent Buddhist monument that stands out as a prominent landmark in the city. Standing at a majestic height of 112 meters (367 feet) and perched 170 meters (560 feet) above sea level, this sacred site surpasses the maximum height of buildings in Yangon, adding to its significance as a cultural icon.

Legend has it that the Shwedagon Pagoda was constructed over 2,500 years ago, potentially making it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world. Its historical prominence dates back to the 16th century when it became a renowned pilgrimage site, attracting devotees from near and far.

While the pagoda is famously known for its gilded exterior, covered entirely with genuine gold plates, it also showcases the mesmerizing beauty of precious gems and stones. At the top of the pagoda’s umbrella crown, a diamond-encrusted bud sparkles with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies, adding a touch of opulence to this sacred structure.

The spiritual rituals performed at the Shwedagon Pagoda are equally captivating. Visitors can participate in the blessing ceremony, which involves pouring water over a Buddha statue on the planetary post associated with their day of birth, symbolizing purification and luck.

Notably, the Shwedagon Pagoda has undergone several enhancements over the centuries. In 1775, King Hsinbyushin raised its height to 99 meters (325 feet), further solidifying its grandeur. As time passed, hundreds of monasteries were added to the site, creating a spiritual complex encompassing the stupa atop Singuttara Hill.

The vastness of the Shwedagon Pagoda’s campus is truly awe-inspiring, covering a total area of 46.3 hectares. The top terrace alone spans 5.66 hectares, providing visitors with ample space to explore and appreciate the architectural marvels and tranquil surroundings.

A Glimpse of Eternal Beauty

To truly appreciate the extraordinary beauty of the Shwedagon Pagoda, one must witness its splendor as the day transitions into night. As darkness falls, the pagoda is softly illuminated, casting a mesmerizing glow over the entire complex. It is a sight that stirs the soul and leaves a lasting impression on all who have the privilege of visiting this remarkable treasure.

With its grand stature, historic significance, and embellishment of gold leaf and precious gems, the Shwedagon Pagoda stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of Buddhism in Myanmar. It showcases the country’s rich cultural heritage and remains a sanctuary of spiritual devotion for locals and pilgrims from around the globe.

Burmese men also wear sarongs (skirt)

The national costume of Myanmar, known as the longyi, is not limited to women. Burmese men also embrace this traditional attire, which is often mistaken for a skirt. The longyi is an ankle-length wraparound skirt that is worn around the waist and reaches the feet in a cylindrical shape.

It is a common sight to see Burmese men confidently donning the longyi in various settings, including offices and formal events. The longyi is not only a symbol of cultural heritage but also a practical and comfortable garment that suits the warm climate of Myanmar.

During the Pagan dynasty, cotton was the primary textile material used in Burmese clothing, and this tradition continues today. The longyi is predominantly made of cotton, allowing for breathability and ease of movement.

The longyi’s popularity is not limited to Myanmar. It has gained recognition and appreciation in neighboring countries such as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The versatility of the longyi allows it to be worn in various daily activities, including sports games, making it a functional and adaptable garment.

Unique Longyi Styles and Cost

Various ethnic tribes in Myanmar have their own unique longyi styles, reflecting different patterns and weaves. These distinct designs showcase the vibrant diversity of Myanmar’s cultural heritage.

When it comes to the cost of a longyi dress, a common price range in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, is between US$15-30. This reasonable price allows both locals and tourists to embrace the beauty and tradition of Burmese clothing.

Despite modern influences and Western fashion trends, traditional longyi attire is still widely worn in Myanmar. However, in recent years, there has been a noticeable trend of decreased usage among young people, highlighting the impact of globalization and evolving fashion choices.

Image of Burmese Men in Longyi

To visually illustrate the prevalence of Burmese men wearing the longyi, here is an image showcasing their confident style and pride in traditional attire.

Burmese special make-up style

Thanaka is a traditional make-up style that has been cherished by the Burmese people for centuries. This unique beauty practice involves applying a paste made from the bark of the thanaka tree to the face. But it’s not just a cosmetic trend – thanaka also holds remarkable skin-care properties.

For over 2,000 years, Burmese men, women, and children have been using thanaka cream to enhance their beauty and protect their skin from the harsh sun. The practice starts as early as kindergarten for many children, and its acceptance among peers remains prevalent during high school. Thanaka has become synonymous with Burmese culture and is a cherished part of their everyday routine.

Studies have revealed that thanaka bark is not only antioxidant and anti-inflammatory but also possesses the ability to absorb harmful UV rays and inhibit tyrosinase, a key enzyme involved in skin discoloration. The cream gives a cooling sensation, offering relief from the hot and arid climate in Myanmar, and acts as a natural anti-fungal agent. Its versatility extends beyond cosmetic purposes as it helps remove acne and promotes smooth, healthy skin.

The popularity of thanaka extends beyond Myanmar’s borders, as many cosmetic companies in Myanmar, Malaysia, and Thailand are incorporating thanaka into their products and marketing them globally. Its traditional charm coupled with its skin-care benefits has made thanaka a sought-after ingredient in the beauty industry.

The traditional make-up style of thanaka is deeply rooted in Myanmar’s heritage. From its long history dating back to the mid-11th century to its usage in modern times, thanaka remains a symbol of natural beauty and cultural pride. While some Burmese women may opt for whitening creams as they age, the perception of thanaka as a product exclusively for peasants or working-class individuals is changing. Men and children have also embraced the thanaka trend, further solidifying its status as a cherished tradition in Myanmar.

Myanmar has its own unique system of measurements

Myanmar, a country known for its rich cultural heritage, is also distinguishable by its unique system of measurements. While many countries have adopted the International System of Units (SI) metric system as their official system of weights and measures, Myanmar continues to uphold its traditional units. This can sometimes lead to confusion, especially for visitors who are used to the metric or imperial systems.

In 2010, Myanmar was one of the few countries that had not yet adopted the SI metric system as its official system of measurements. However, preparations were underway, and as of October 2013, Myanmar was in the process of transitioning to the metric system.

The traditional Burmese units of length, mass, volume, and money are unique in their ratios to their metric and imperial/US counterparts. Let’s take a closer look at some of these units:

Length Units

In the Burmese system, length units span a wide range, from small units like sanchi (79.375 μm) to larger units like yuzana (20.48256 km). This diverse range of length units showcases the intricacies of Myanmar’s traditional measurement system.

Mass Units

The Burmese system of mass measurement includes units such as yway lay (136.078 mg) to larger units like achein taya (163.293 kg). These units provide a unique perspective on how weight is measured in Myanmar.

Volume Units

In terms of volume, the Burmese system encompasses a variety of measures, from smaller units like la myu (79.9118 mL) to larger measures like tin (40.9148 L). Myanmar’s traditional units of volume offer an interesting contrast to the metric and imperial systems.

Money Units

Even Myanmar’s currency adopts its own distinctive measurement system. Money units in Myanmar have equivalents like 1 pya = 1, 1 mu = 10, 1 mat = 25, 5 mu (nga mu) = 50, and 1 kyat = 100. These unique equivalencies further highlight the uniqueness of Myanmar’s measurement system.

While Myanmar’s transition to the metric system is underway, it’s essential to understand and appreciate the country’s traditional units of measurement. This knowledge can help avoid confusion and promote a deeper understanding of Myanmar’s cultural heritage.

Examples of metrication in Myanmar can already be seen in various aspects of daily life. Weather forecasts are given in Celsius, petrol is sold in kyat per liter, and speed limits are expressed in kilometers per hour. The Ministry of Commerce in Myanmar is also working towards simplifying foreign trade by adopting the kilogram for domestic trade, which is conducted exclusively in metric units.

To better grasp the intricacies of Myanmar’s unique measurement system, refer to the detailed table below:

Traditional Unit Metric/Imperial Equivalent
Sanchi (length) 79.375 μm
Yuzana (length) 20.48256 km
Yway lay (mass) 136.078 mg
Achein taya (mass) 163.293 kg
La myu (volume) 79.9118 mL
Tin (volume) 40.9148 L
1 pya (money) 1
1 mu (money) 10
1 mat (money) 25
5 mu (nga mu) (money) 50
1 kyat (money) 100

Understanding Myanmar’s unique system of measurements adds another layer of fascination to this remarkable country. Embrace the diversity and richness of Myanmar’s cultural traditions, including its measurement system, to truly immerse yourself in its vibrant heritage.

Cheroots making and smoking

Cheroots, a traditional smoking product, have a long-standing history in Myanmar. These unique cigars, unlike their Western counterparts, are not made of tobacco but are crafted from leaves such as thanal-phet or corn husk. Cheroots have been a popular form of smoking in Burma and India, gaining popularity among the British during the days of the British Empire.

The word “cheroot” itself derives from the French word “cheroute,” which originates from a Tamil word meaning “roll of tobacco.” This name reflects the traditional practice of shaping and rolling the leaves into the distinctive cheroot form.

Cheroots hold significant cultural and social value in Myanmar. They are not only a smoking product but also a symbol of tradition and heritage. These handcrafted cheroots come in various sizes and are often produced locally by cottage industries or domestic companies in Myanmar.

In 2007, according to data, 81.2% of tobacco users in Myanmar preferred cheroots, solidifying their position as the most consumed tobacco product in the country. In fact, cheroots constitute a substantial 49% of all tobacco products consumed in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s rich cultural and traditional practices are interwoven with the cheroot-smoking tradition. Smoking cheroots is deeply ingrained in daily life, serving as a common pastime and a way to connect with others. It is seen as a way to relax, socialize, and enjoy moments of leisure.

With the decline in the real prices of tobacco products in Myanmar, cheroots remain an affordable and accessible choice for smokers. Moreover, the high sensitivity to price changes among smokers, with a price elasticity of demand of -1.62, demonstrates that affordability plays a crucial role in consumption patterns.

However, it is important to note that smoking, including cheroot smoking, poses significant health risks. Over 600,000 deaths each year, including nearly 130,000 child deaths, are attributed to second-hand smoke exposure. Smoking prevalence in Myanmar is high, with over 50% of the population over the age of 15 reported to be smokers, particularly among men.

Efforts to raise awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco use, including cheroot smoking, are crucial. This includes promoting public health policies, enforcing legislation such as the Tobacco Product Law, and educating individuals about the risks associated with smoking.

Statistic Data
Cheroots’ popularity in Myanmar 81.2% of tobacco users preferred cheroots (2007 data)
Cheroots’ consumption share Cheroots constitute 49% of all tobacco products consumed in Myanmar
Smoking prevalence in Myanmar Over 50% of the population over the age of 15 is reported to smoke
Price elasticity of demand -1.62 (high sensitivity to price changes among smokers)

The Myanmar Water Festival

The Myanmar Water Festival, also known as Thingyan, is one of the biggest festivals in the country. It is a joyous celebration that takes place during the Burmese New Year in April. People take to the streets for a massive water fight, symbolizing the cleansing of the past year’s sins and welcoming the new year with a fresh start.

Thingyan typically lasts for four to five days, occurring in the middle of April. The festival is part of the summer holidays at the end of the school year and is observed as a public holiday throughout Myanmar. Water-throwing is a distinguishing feature of the festival and can be done throughout the first four days.

The festival holds a significant cultural importance and is often compared to similar water festivals in neighboring countries like Songkran in Thailand, Sinhalese New Year in Sri Lanka, Vishu in Kerala, and Bihu in Assam, India. The name “Thingyan” is derived from the Sanskrit word saṁkrānti, meaning the “transit [of the Sun from Pisces to Aries].”

Thingyan has a rich historical background, with an earliest stone inscription dating back to 11 AD during the Tagaung Kingdom in Myanmar. The eve of Thingyan, known as Pre-day, involves religious activities, with Buddhists expected to observe the Eight Precepts, including having only one meal before noon.

Water throwing during Thingyan is a major highlight of the festival. It involves various devices such as garden hoses, water pistols, and water balloons, along with traditional methods. Modern-day celebrations often feature temporary water-spraying stations known as pandals, which double as dance floors.

Traditional snacks play a significant role in Thingyan, with popular treats like mont lone yay baw (glutinous rice balls with jaggery) and mont let saung (sticky rice bits in jaggery syrup with coconut milk).

During the festival, various regions across Myanmar celebrate Thingyan, with the largest festivities taking place in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw. On the last day of the festival, it is customary for people to release live fish into rivers or lakes as a gesture of good deeds.

To fully enjoy the festival, it is recommended to wear clothes that dry easily and protect belongings in waterproof bags. There are certain guidelines to follow, such as refraining from splashing water on monks, elderly people, pregnant women, young babies, and individuals wearing white shirts and brown longyis. It is also advised not to play water near pagodas, avoid wearing revealing clothes, and prioritize safety by avoiding drinking and driving during the festivities.

Conclusion

Myanmar is a destination that offers travelers an array of unique experiences and cultural immersion. With its diverse population, rich history, and breathtaking landscapes, the country captivates visitors from around the world. Whether you’re exploring ancient pagodas in the Bagan Archaeological Zone, witnessing the vibrant celebrations of the Water Festival, or venturing into the stunning limestone caves of Hpa-An, Myanmar never fails to leave a lasting impression.

As the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, Myanmar boasts impressive dimensions and a population that exceeds 54 million people. This vast nation is home to over 100 ethnic groups, each with their own languages, cultures, and traditions. Buddhism prevails as the dominant religion, shaping the daily lives and spiritual beliefs of the people.

Myanmar’s commitment to preserving its cultural and natural heritage is evident in its efforts to protect its diverse wildlife and historical sites. From the majestic elephants and tigers to the over 2,000 pagodas in Bagan, the country’s commitment to biodiversity and heritage preservation is commendable.

For those seeking an unforgettable travel experience, Myanmar is a destination that truly offers something special. Explore its intriguing cities, immerse yourself in the local traditions, and marvel at its stunning landscapes. A journey to Myanmar promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure filled with cultural immersion and unique encounters.

FAQ

Is Yangon the capital of Myanmar?

No, Yangon is not the capital of Myanmar. The capital was moved to Naypyidaw in 2006. Yangon remains the largest city in Myanmar and a popular tourist destination.

How is tea consumed in Myanmar?

In Myanmar, tea is not only consumed as a drink but also eaten as a snack. A type of tea called laphet is fermented or pickled and served as a salad. It is considered a national delicacy and is often offered to guests as a gesture of hospitality.

What are some interesting features of the Shwedagon Pagoda?

The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is not only famous for being gilded entirely with gold leaf but also contains precious gems and stones. The umbrella crown of the temple is adorned with thousands of diamonds and rubies, making it a breathtaking sight, especially when illuminated in the evening.

What is the traditional garment worn by both men and women in Myanmar?

In Myanmar, both men and women wear a traditional garment called a longyi. It is often mistaken for a skirt as it is worn around the waist and reaches the feet in a cylindrical shape. The longyi is commonly worn by Burmese men in various settings, including offices and formal events.

What is thanaka and how is it used?

Thanaka is a unique traditional make-up style in Myanmar that has been popular for over 2,000 years. It involves applying a paste made from the bark of the thanaka tree to the face. Thanaka is not only used for cosmetic purposes but is also believed to have skin-care benefits, such as protecting the skin from the sun and improving its health.

Does Myanmar use its own system of measurements?

Yes, Myanmar uses its own traditional system of measurements, which can be confusing for visitors. While some imperial and metric units are also used, the local system has its own unique units of measurement for length, weight, and volume. It is advisable to familiarize yourself with these units or use a conversion tool to avoid any confusion.

What are cheroots in Myanmar?

Cheroots are a type of traditional smoking product in Myanmar. Unlike Western cigars, they are not made of tobacco but are instead made from leaves such as thanal-phet or corn husk. Burmese cheroots come in different sizes and are often handmade. Smoking cheroots is a common practice in Myanmar and is deeply rooted in its culture and traditions.

What is the Myanmar Water Festival?

The Myanmar Water Festival, also known as Thingyan, is one of the biggest festivals in the country. It is a joyous celebration that takes place during the Burmese New Year in April. People take to the streets for a massive water fight, symbolizing the cleansing of the past year’s sins and welcoming the new year with a fresh start.