Myanmar was a country run by military dictatorship, making it a pariah to the world. Military generals have been accused of forcing labour on all habitants, including children and aggressively relocating whole families.
In 2010 the people chose for a change, when general elections were held (for the first time in 20 years!!). The elections were boycotted by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, who evidently won these. Even though the military is not in charge anymore, a large part of the seats in parliament are still reserved for the military.
Back to the positive, because of the change in ruling Myanmar is now open for tourists (since 2011)! I went to this amazing country for a short visit in 2014, but even then tourists were a rare sight.
There might be other things that may surprise you, so before you go here are some facts that you might find interesting about Myanmar.
1. Money exchange is a big deal
ATM’s are hard to find, and even if you do find one it probably won’t accept your card. They however do love exchanging Kyat (the local currency) for US Dollars. Make sure you take some out before you fly into the country, and try to get as many big notes as possible. You will get way more Kyat in return for a 100 than for a 20 or a 50. Also, don’t forget to iron them because even though you will get crumpled, ripped, pasted together notes of Kyat in return. They do not accept notes that have more than a wrinkle in them. STOP RIGHT THERE, please read these tips before ironing your banknotes, I don’t want any destroyed dollar bills on my conscious.
2. Muddy faces
You’ll find many people in Myanmar with a yellowish/white dried up mud on their faces. This however, is not just some mud! It is thanaka, a paste made from the bark of several trees, the people put it in their face to protect their skin from the sun and as make-up.
Please be careful when you put it on your face, a friend of mine had a horrible allergic reaction, first try a little bit on your arm! Also, it actually protects you from the sun, so if you don’t want any weird dots on your face, make sure to put it just on the points of your face where the sun hits (forehead, nose, cheeks).
3. Public transport is crazy
Transport can be kind of crazy around Myanmar, especially in the big city during rush hours, it is better just to avoid it overall. Finding a tour agency or anyone to help you to get a ticket for these public transports are non-existent. Go to your accommodation and ask the staff, they will probably know the best ways to get around!
I mainly used taxi’s when it came to transport, or I just walked. Taxi’s are definitely affordable, just don’t forget to wager a bit of the price! Short journeys in the city should be around 1500 kyat (1 euro).
rush hour in Yangon
4. Skirts are worn by everyone
Men, women, children literally everyone wears skirts. These longyi’s (pronounced as lon-gee) are a specific type of sarong that is mainly made in Myanmar. The longyi for men and women are worn in different styles. Men tie it in the front where women should do it on the side. The longyi’s for men are also typically darker in color and of checkered pattern. There are also special patters only worn during special celebrations and occasions.
You can get these sarongs at almost any market, but also at little stands near big sights such as the schwedagon pagoda and all around old Bagan. The price depending on the quality should be between 4000 and 12000 kyat.
5. Shopping is unique
Myanmar doesn’t have any chain’s of convenience stores. So if you are traveling from Thailand to Myanmar, you should say goodbye to those 7/11’s. This can all be blamed on the military reign that only allowed domestic shops in the country. Due to the change in leadership there is a chance that foreign chain stores start popping up.
It is just as much fun to shop at the different markets all around. Just make sure that you set a good price before you buy anything. And if you are looking for food, don’t eat anything that looks like it has been lying there for a week, or anything that should be held cool. We don’t want any upset tummy’s!
6. 8 days a week
Yes you read that right. According to the local astronomy, there are 8 days in a week. There is Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday (till noon), Rahu (Wednesday afternoon till next morning), Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The day you are born is of great importance to your personality and life according to beliefs in Myanmar.
Monday = jealous
Tuesday = honest
Wednesday = short tempered but soon calm again (trait is intensified on Rahu)
Thursday = mild
Friday = talkative
Saturday = hot tempered and quarrelsome
Sunday = miserly
Each day also has a specific, planet, spirit animal and a cardinal point. Find out yours in the image underneath, and let me know in the comment what you are!!
I was born on a Friday, so you could say that I am talkative, my planet is venus, my cardinal is West and my spirit animal is a Guinea Pig!
7. Politics is a big no-go.
Even though the situation might seem solved by electing someone else than the military, talking about these changes is still dangerous. The military has its hand in almost everything, even in the new government. As said before, they have at least a quarter of the seats in the new government and with that a lot to say about everything that is happening. It is also hard to figure out if someone is for or against the military ruling and this can change a friendly local into an aggressive raging bull.
8. Being a lefty is kinda awkward
There is one rule that shall not be broken in Myanmar. Do not use your left hand for eating, shaking someone else’s hand, or any gestures at all. According to the burmese the left hand is used for washing your bum, not for eating food. So if you are a lefty, life might get a tad difficult in Myanmar. Try to avoid doing stuff with your left hand that have anything to do with another person or food in public!
9. Red mouth, red teeth, red streets
Vampires have invaded Myanmar! No just kidding, the burmese just like to chew this specific betel nut. It is wrapped in some green leaves together with tobacco and some spices. Chewing this stuff makes your mouth red, if you do it just one time it won’t change anything. The people in Myanmar however have been doing this for their whole life and it resulted in stained red teeth. This addictive stuff can also cause throat and tongue cancer, so don’t start liking it too much. Be warned, all the ingredients together can give quite a rush!
10. Safety? What is safety..
I’m not talking about your safety here, you will be mighty fine. The locals however, don’t give a crap about their own safety. Doing some construction work on just a rope or a bamboo stick is kinda crazy! But they seem fine doing it this way, haven’t seen any accidents…