Get to Know Myanmar: 10 Quirky Things About the Country

From monkeys that sneeze to face paint that acts as fashionable sunscreen, Myanmar is possibly the quirkiest and most fascinating country in the whole world. Here are 10 things about the country you should know as we kick off this Global Series.

  1. They summon a waiter by making a kissing sound… as if calling a dog or cat. Normally two or three kissing sounds will do the trick.
  1. The national beer is cleverly called “Myanmar Beer.”
  1. Traditional Burmese attire is a called a longyi. It’s a wrap-around skirt that is worn by both genders. The women tie their longyi’s on the side, and the men in the front.
©Eddy Milfort – Flickr, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

©Eddy Milfort – Flickr, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

  1. People are nuts about betel nuts. They wrap these reddish-brown nuts in green leaves along with other spices and sometimes tobacco, then pop them into their mouths to chew like gum.  It’s not a pretty sight though, as it makes their teeth red. Click on the video in #10 of this list to see what I mean.
  1. The local currency is kyat. One U.S. dollar is about 1,000 kyat right now, however the exchange rates within the country are settled by how clean your bills are. Also, the higher the bill, the better the exchange rate. Keeping your kyat bills in new condition is extremely important. If the bill is worn or even folded, it can be rejected.
  1. Myanmar is known for its salads, but these dishes are far from bland. Salads here are all about textures and condiments. Expect interesting ingredients like kefir lime, fermented tea leaves and long beans, topped with things like toasted crunchy peanuts, sesame seeds, lime and fish sauce. For every meal, several condiments will be brought to the table to further customize your dish to your liking, whether you prefer sweet, savory or spicy.
  1. The trains are extremely bumpy. Because the tracks are in such poor condition, it is often expected by the locals that their luggage may very often fall out…
  1. Think the United States is the only country not to adopt the metric system? Neither has Myanmar. They still use their traditional form of measurement.
  1. There are 135 ethnic minority groups in Myanmar. All of them paint their faces with “thanakha” – a yellow paste made from tree barks as a form of sun block. The women of the 50 tribes of Chin go one step further and tattoo their faces, each with a unique pattern representing their tribe. Historically the women protected themselves against invading kings looking for wives by making themselves unattractive to outsiders.  Today, the government condemns tattooing of young girls, causing this tradition to slowly die. I love this video on Remote Lands website that interviews some elders of a Chin Village about their inked faces… but don’t watch it while eating. The lady’s betel nut- filled mouths don’t make for the most appetizing site!
©Roberto Santini – Flickr, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

©Roberto Santini – Flickr, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

  1. Nestled in the hills of Shan state is Inle Lake – home to tiny stilt villages and exotic, floating gardens and markets. The native Intha boatmen here stand on one leg at the edge of their teak boat and wrap their other leg around a large oar to paddle. With one hand free, they are able to catch fish with their coned nets. Watch this video to see what I mean, it’s a little long but has lovely shots of the lake… and something about the music and the smiling villagers just makes me happy.
©nedim chaabene– Flickr, Attribution – Generic 2.0

©nedim chaabene– Flickr, Attribution – Generic 2.0

  1. And just because it’s a little strange… here is a bonus: There is a monkey (just discovered in 2010) called the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey that sneezes when it rains. To view a picture and write up on this funny and seriously endangered animal – click here.


Feature Photo Credit: Thinkstock/iStock/Smithore
Longyi Dress: ©Eddy Milfort – Flickr, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Facepaint: ©Roberto Santini – Flickr, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Inle Lake: ©nedim chaabene– Flickr, Attribution – Generic 2.0

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