Those who travel on extended trips through Southeast Asia usually tend to notice that sometimes the novelty can wear off; the landscapes begin to look the same, the cities begin to feel the same, and the temples all begin to seem the same.
However, after traveling extensively in many countries throughout Southeast Asia, one thing is for sure: Myanmar is in a category of its own. There are quirks in the country of Myanmar that are unmatched anywhere else; even after becoming disillusioned and familiar with SE Asian life, Myanmar provides a breath of fresh air with unique people, customs, dress, and more. Though some silly and shallow, here are some of the funny quirks you can expect out of the country of Myanmar.
1. Everyone, men included, wears skirts
Usually termed “longyi” in Myanmar, these long pieces of cloth are usually worn in a similar fashion as a long skirt. They are usually made from one cloth strip that is two meters long, which is then sewn in to a circle. People wrap them around their waist, and then tie them in a not to hold up the fabric. This style was introduced a couple hundred years ago, and is still widely worn today.
2. Tree bark sunscreen
Mostly worn among women and children, this sort of sunscreen is referred to as “thanaka.” It is a paste made from ground up tree bark (and water), which is then applied to faces (and sometimes arms) as sunscreen. Having yet to see this anywhere else in Southeast Asia, it is quite a shock to see everyone’s face painted with this yellowish-white cream. It is recommended to wear any available sunscreen especially when travelling during the dry/hot season (10 safety travel tips).
3. Betel Nut
While betel nut is chewed in most SE Asian countries, there is nowhere that chews as much as in Myanmar.
For those unfamiliar with this habit, it is a Southeast Asian form of what is commonly referred to as chewing tobacco. The seed of the areca plant is placed inside betel leaves and wrapped up (usually with other spices, like clove or cardamom); people then put it inside their lip to get a buzz. Due to the color of the nut itself, the teeth of humans that use it are usually dyed redish-orange.
4. Burmese Cats
There are cats everywhere in Southeast Asia, but you will find more adorable kittens in Myanmar than anywhere else – guaranteed!
One of the strangest and most amazing things to see in Myanmar is the Burmese Cat Village in Inle Lake. As the original birthplace of Burmese cats, a couple of people created a space to breed this particular species in order to repopulate the country with it. Where else in Southeast Asia can you go play with hundreds of kittens at a time?!
5. Arts & Crafts
Myanmar is home to an amazing amount of local crafts; handmade umbrellas, amazing woven silks, lotus fibers…you name it, and the Myanmar people have a special and beautiful way to make it. They are geniuses in pottery, in jewelry, in puppets, in tapestries…everything. While strolling the markets can get a little repetitive elsewhere, prepare to see souvenirs and crafts you haven’t seen anywhere in Southeast Asia.