Facts You Didn't Know About Myanmar People

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Myanmarinfo-icon people, more commonly known as the Burmese, are some of the friendliest, happiest, and most hospitable people you’ll ever meet. In fact, former US President Hoover once said that the Myanmar people are the only genuinely happy people all over Asiainfo-icon

Furthermore, a travel guidebook has described the people of Myanmar as friendly, generous, gay, and good-humored. With the many good qualities that were written about the Myanmar people, it’s not surprising why so many travelers consider Myanmar as their favorite destination in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar is not like any other country you’ll visit in Southeast Asia. A big part of the country remains untouched. In fact, Myanmar’s tourism industry is still in the infancy stage. It’s not as crowded and touristy as Thailandinfo-icon where everything seems to be of Western standards. 

Visiting Myanmar feels like traveling back a few decades in time, and you’ll positively be surprised by the wealth of historical sights and impressive ancient structures you’ll discover in the country.

Brief History of Myanmar

The recorded history of Myanmar starts from the Mon people.
The recorded history of Myanmar starts from the Mon people.

Myanmar has one of the most complex histories in all countries in Asia. The earliest recorded history of Myanmar dates back to the first civilization in 300 BC, during the Mon Kingdoms. Here’s a brief history of the Myanmar people and its country:

  • The Mon people settled in the country around 300 BC. These people are not original settlers of Myanmar, but they are migrants from nearby places. They settled in Myanmar and established their kingdom in the city of Thaton.
  • In the 7the century, the Pyu people established their own kingdoms at the plains and hills of Myanmar. These places are soon divided into cities and are now known as the cities of Sri Ksetra, Mongamo, Binnaka, and Halingyi. All these time, Myanmar was part of an overland route to Indiainfo-icon coming from Chinainfo-icon.
  • Around 849, the Burmese locals founded their own Pagan Kingdom. This powerful kingdom remained isolated until the reign of King Anawrahta. Myanmar’s overall unity was achieved when King Anawrahta won over the Mon kingdom in 1057.
  • In 1364, the Pagan Kingdom collapsed, and the Myanmar people established a new kingdom in the city of Ava. Yet, in 1527, the Shan people overran them and the remaining survivors have settled in the city of Taungoo.
  • In 1753, King Alaungpaya, a Burmese leader, pooled all cities of Myanmar and founded a capital in Rangoon, which is now known as the city of Yangon.  

Although the west has already heard of Burma at that time, it was the famous explorer Marco Polo who discovered Myanmar and introduced the country to the west.

Burmese Culture

Family is an integral part of the Burmese culture.
Family is an integral part of the Burmese culture.

The Burmese culture is widely influenced by its main religion, Buddhism, as well as the Mon people, who first settled in the country during the 300 BC. Myanmar culture and lifestyle is profoundly influenced by the culture of its neighboring countries of China, India, and Thailand. 

Read more: Beliefs and Traditions of Myanmar

Here are some of the most interesting things about Burmese culture.

  • Family plays an essential role in Burmese society. The father is the head of the household and is responsible for providing for the basic needs of the family. Generally, the Myanmar people don’t often leave their parents household until they marry.
  • Myanmar traditions are centered on Buddhism, which is the main religion of the country. And just like other Buddhist countries, the head is considered a sacred part of the body and the feet are considered the lowest part. Therefore, touching anyone in the head is unacceptable. In fact, even ruffling the hair of a child is regarded as a grave insult.
  • Although the women of Myanmar enjoy similar legal rights with the men, the men often have a higher religious status. Thus, women are usually prohibited from entering specific sacred sites in Myanmar. The women are expected to focus on taking care of the kids and the household while the men have to focus on working hard to provide for the family.
  • Some of the traditions and customs in Myanmar came from the British colonial period. For instance, the country follows the English system of accounting and legal system and some Burmese families observe a traditional teatime.
  • The traditional greeting in Myanmar consists of a slight bow and palms are placed in a prayer-like position, similar to that of Thailand. Greeting with a smile is also customarily acceptable in the culture of the Myanmar people.

The Myanmar People

Most of the Myanmar people wear longyi, a long skirt.
Most of the Myanmar people wear longyi, a long skirt.

Myanmar is among those countries that have great ethnic diversity. The Burmans make up the largest group and represent more than half of the Burmese population. They are concentrated in the Valley of Irrawaddy River and at the country’s coastal strips. 

Read more: My bus journey around Myanmar

Here are some interesting things about Myanmar people:

  • One of the things you’ll notice in Myanmar is that women tend to have white paint on their faces. This is known as thanakha, a traditional Burmese cosmetic, which is applied to protect the skin from the harmful rays of the sun. But unlike the commercial sunscreen products, thanakha is made from natural sources and has long been used since the early times.
  • You’ll notice a lot of red spots in the streets and pavements of Myanmar, and this is actually a betel nut. Myanmar people are used to popping green betel nut leaves into their mouths and would chew them for a while before spitting. This is one of the oldest traditions of the country, which is still being practiced by many today.
  • Most of the men and women in Myanmar are dressed in longyi. This is a sheet of clothing that’s worn like a long skirt. Longyis come in different styles and designs, from casual to the most ornate ones, usually worn on special occasions like wedding ceremonies.
  • You’ll notice that in Myanmar, most people tend to carry things on their heads, especially the women. Carrying things this way is very popular in the country as the locals find it more convenient since it frees up both their hands. This is usually common in vendors carrying a large amount of food in their head to sell in the market, bus terminals, and other public places.

Myanmar Food

Burmese cuisine is varied and everyone may find something for their taste.
Burmese cuisine is varied and everyone may find something for their taste.

Myanmar food culture is varied. Savory dishes tend to be a bit too sweet or oily for the foreign taste; however, they are usually delicious. 

Here’s a list of some of the best Burmese traditional food to try:

Burmese curry - Myanmar has its own version of curry, which consists of beef, mutton, shrimp, fish, or pork. The curry spread also includes a tart salad, fried vegetables, soup, rice, and a large tray filled with fresh herbs and vegetables. 

Mohinga - Mohinga is a Myanmar traditional food. This dish is very popular that it’s usually present in almost every gathering and important occasions. It’s made from rice noodles served in a hearty and herbal-based broth. The dish is also complemented with a crunchy pith of banana. Although mohinga is usually served at breakfast, some of the Myanmar people would eat it at any time of the day.

Nan gyi thoke- like most Asian countries, Myanmar’s cuisines also include a wide variety of noodle dishes. One of the favorites is the nan gyi thoke. This filling dish is made of thick and round rice noodles with slices of fish cake, chicken, bean sprouts, and hardboiled egg.

Shan Noodles - this noodle dish is associated with the Shan ethnic group from the northern part of Myanmar. This dish consists of a thick porridge that’s made from chickpea flour and is served with thin rice noodles. It also consists of chunks of marinated meat of either pork or chicken, topped with chili oil, and served with pickled veggies for the siding.

Shan-style rice – another Burmese dish belonging from the Shan ethnic group is the shan style rice. Known in Myanmar as “htamin”, this dish is one of the country’s favorite. It’s made of rice that’s cooked in turmeric and then squashed in a disk topped with fish flakes and garlic oil. This dish is savory and oily and is served along with a siding of cloves of raw garlic, leek roots, and fried pork rinds.

Tealeaf salad - another famous dish in Myanmar is the lephet or the tea leaf salad.  The salad is created from fermented tea leaves and is prepared by mixing with sliced tomatoes, shredded cabbage, nuts, peas, dried beans, and then drizzled with garlic oil, chili, and garlic. Tealeaf salad can be served as an appetizer, snack, or along with a regular meal.

Sweet Snacks - the Burmese sweets, more commonly known as “moun”, are not eaten as a dessert, but rather as snacks. It’s usually consumed with tea either in the morning or in the afternoon. But unlike the usual sweet snacks in Asia, moun is not really packed with sugar. Instead, the sweet flavor of these snacks came from coconut milk, tapioca, and fruits. Another popular Burmese sweet snack is the hsa nwin ma kin. These are small cakes made from crumbly semolina flour added with ghee, coconut milk, and raisins.

Places to Visit in Myanmar

Dhammayangyi Temple is a massive Buddhist temple, one of the many temples in Bagan.
Dhammayangyi Temple is a massive Buddhist temple, one of the many temples in Bagan.

Myanmar is a truly spectacular country that’s filled with iconic sights to the brim. Visiting the Inle Lake is like stepping back in time, but wait till you get to Bagan, an ancient city surrounded with thousands of temples that it feels like you are stepping straight out of a fairy tale. 

Read more: Myanmar Destinations You Haven't Heard Of!

Some places you should experience in Myanmar are:

Bagan - Bagan is perhaps the most popular tourist destination in Myanmar, and that is for a good reason. This ancient city is filled with thousands of temples and pagodas spread out over a vast land area. The best way to experience Bagan is through a balloon ride, which offers a breathtaking view of the ancient city. If your time in the country is limited and can only visit a few places, Bagan should be in your priority. Looking for more travel ideas about traveling through Bagan? Don't worry, we get you covered!

Hsipaw - Hsipaw is a small town in Myanmar that’s known for the vintage train ride coming from Mandalay. It’s said to be one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world, something that you should experience at least once in your life. The town itself is a great place to explore and get a feel for Myanmar’s rural life.

Inle Lake – next to Bagan, Inle Lake is another popular tourist destination in Myanmar. Located in the southeast part of the city of Mandalay, the shallow lake is 22-km long and is densely inhabited by various local tribes. There are many things to do at the lake. You can go on a boat trip or explore the nearby attractions, such as the Phaungdawoo Pagoda.

Kyaiktiyo – Kyaiktiyo is another small town in Myanmar that’s worth of a visit if you have plenty of time. It’s famous for the Golden Rock Pagoda that’s impressively perched at the tip of a mountain. If you’re ready for some adventure, you can take the pilgrim path up to the rock, which should last from 4 to 5 hours.

Mandalay - as the major gateway of the northern part of Myanmar, the city of Mandalay is deserving of a visit for at least a day or two. Here, you can explore the Mandalay Fort, said to be the last royal palace of the last Burmese monarchy. The city is also surrounded by sacred Buddhist sites, as well as other historical sites like the Mandalay Hill and the Mahamuni Buddha Temple. Traveling through Mandalay without any specific plan or itinerary? Don't worry! Here are some travel ideas for Mandalay that will make your wanderlust soul filled!

Shwedagon Pagoda - the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda is located in Myanmar’s capital city of Yangon, so it’s hard to miss it since this is where you will most likely be arriving if you’re taking the plane to Myanmar. The pagoda is more than 2,000 years old and considered as one of the most sacred pagodas in the country. Made from hundreds of gold plates and encrusted with more than 4,500 diamonds, the Shwedagon Pagoda is definitely a sight to behold!

Plan your trip: A complete Myanmar 2 week itinerary!

Myanmar is definitely worth a visit. With its striking golden pagodas and fascinating natural charm, the country should be in everyone’s travel bucket list. And although tourism in Myanmar is slowly skyrocketing, there are still so many places in the country that remains untouched and undiscovered. You have to be there before everyone else does!

Carolyn Boston freelance content writer for aSabbatical.com
Travelling the world on a budget for several years without having a hefty savings account.