10 interesting facts about Myanmar (Burma)

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is the largest country in the mainland of Southeast Asia, recently emerging up as a new favorite destination for travelers worldwide.

Apart from very rich traditional culture, Myanmar is the land of stunning natural settings with immense, fertile plains along the Irrawaddy River that surrounded by impressive mountains along the border with Thailand, China, and India, spectacular beaches overlooking the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

Exploring fun facts about Myanmar is a kind of life experience to an authentic land. And, Myanmar has always more to discover than what you have heard about it.

Let's dive into some interesting facts about Myanmar that perhaps not many people know!

1. Yangon is not the capital of Myanmar

Yangon, also known as Rangoon, is a must-visit tourist destination and the largest city in Myanmar. It often serves as the main entry point for travelers exploring the country. From 1948, when Myanmar regained its independence from British colonialists, Yangon was the country's capital until 2006, when the military government established a new capital in Naypyidaw, located approximately 370 km further north.

Although not currently the administrative center of the country, Yangon is still the largest industrial and commercial center in Myanmar, the main destination for travelers. That’s why people often get confused about it, which is understandable.

Something about the new capital Naypyidaw: This is the third-largest city in Myanmar after Yangon and Mandalay, with a population of nearly a million people. The city covers a large size, well organized with different zones such as residential zones, ministry zone, military zone, diplomatic zone, hotel zone, shopping zone, recreation zone, and so on. There are also a new airport, bus and railway stations to connect to other cities. Roads are large and news however, since the population is small, mostly administrative men and government employees so, the city look quite empty and is not a destination for travelers.

Yangon colonial area

First fun fact about Myanmar: Yangon is not the capital of Myanmar

2. Tea is eaten in Myanmar

Myanmar produces one of the best tea in the world. Yet, tea plays a very important part in Burmese’s culture and daily life. People drink tea during their breakfast, when someone visits their home, at parties and gatherings, in tea shops, and so on. Tea can be drunk any time of the day.

More than that, in Myanmar, tea can be eaten like salad and is considered a kind of ‘national snack’ or national delicacy. This kind of tea leaf is called ‘laphet’ and is a kind of fermented or pickled tea.

To make laphet, young tea leaves and buds are steamed briefly to soften them. The softened tea is then packed into containers such as bamboo tubes or clay pots, and pressed with weights to extract water. The tea is left to ferment naturally for 3-4 months until the color of the pulp changes from green to light yellow. The pulp is checked regularly during fermentation to ensure it is in good condition. Once fermented, the pulp is washed, massaged, and drained before adding regional flavors such as ground chili, minced garlic, peanut oil, lemon juice, and salt.

Serving home visitors with ‘Laphet’ is a traditional Burmese gesture of hospitality. Laphet is also served as food (salad) before and during the meals, used as offerings for monks and during ceremonies. 

It is usually served along with other kinds of stuff such as roasted peas of different kinds, crisp fried garlic, peanut, sesame, crushed dried shrimp, shredded ginger, dried fruits, and so on.

A common saying in Myanmar goes: “Of all the fruits, mango is the best, among all the meats, pork is the best and, of all the types of leaves, tea leaves is the best”. This tells you how the Burmese people love laphet and how important role this ‘national delicacy’ plays in their life.

Once in Myanmar, you will see this practice anywhere and for sure, will have chances to taste it and experience this interesting tradition.

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3. Shwedagon Pagoda is not only gilded entirely with gold leaf

Situated on the top of the 51-meter high Singuttara Hill, with its own height of 112 meters, the Shwedagon is the largest and highest stupa in Myanmar. This pagoda is said to contain relics of Buddha and is considered the most sacred monument, the symbol of Myanmar. Architecturally, this is one of the most splendid and sophisticated Buddhist works in Myanmar.

This masterpiece of Buddhist architecture is regarded as one of Myanmar's most magnificent and sophisticated works. The entire structure is covered with more than 40 tons of gold plates, giving it a striking and radiant golden appearance.

In addition to its golden exterior, the stupa is adorned with countless precious gems and stone. The umbrella crown of the temple, situated near the top, is embellished with over 5,000 diamonds and 2,000 rubies. At its apex sits massive diamond weighing 76 carats.

A visit to the Shwedagon pagoda is a must-see for all travelers to Myanmar. It is particularly breathtaking in the evening when it appears to be a magical floating object against the backdrop of Yangon's skyline

Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon

2nd fun fact about Myanmar: Shwedagon Pagoda is not only gilded entirely with gold leaf

4. Burmese men also wear sarongs (skirt)

In Myanmar, either in cities or countryside, you will see Burmese men wearing something like a sarong that is called ‘longyi’.

Longyi is a sheet of cloth worn around the waist down to the feet in a cylindrical shape. The longyi is held in place by folding the fabric and tucking the end of the sheet into a knot on one side or in the front just below the navel.

For foreign travelers, it looks similar for both men and women but actually, it is a bit different by the way they are worn and the color, patterns between genders. Longyis for males are called paso and generally plain colors while those for females are called htamein with multicolor and more patterns.

Burmese men wear longyi anytime, for any activity and at any occasions. When doing active works or playing sports, the lower portion of longyi is often rolled up and bunched together between the legs making something like a short.

Along with longyis, Burmese men are often seen wearing flip-flops or hnyat-phanat, a similar kind that is traditional sandal in Myanmar. Even in offices or the President at an international meeting, it is common to see this type of traditional dress and appearance.

Burmese man wearing longyi

5th fun fact about Myanmar: men wear longyi anytime

5. Burmese special make-up style

When you are traveling in Myanmar, it is very common to see local people have something painted on their faces. This unique traditional make-up style is called Thanaka and is believed to have been popular in the country for around 2,000 years.

Derived from the thanaka tree, a traditional cosmetic widely used in Myanmar involves collecting the wood, roots, and bark of the plant, drying it out, and selling it throughout the country. To create the cosmetic, the wood is ground on a flat stone surface known as 'kyauk pyin' with water, resulting in a smooth, light yellow paste.

People apply this paste to various parts of their face, including the cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead. The application can be simple, with just a stretch on the nose and two round circles on the cheeks, or more complex, featuring intricate floral and leaf designs.

Whether applied minimally or with artistic flair, thanaka paste remains a beloved and prominent cosmetic tradition in Myanmar.

Apart from gaining beauty, Thanaha powder is considered a type of skin-care medicine that helps to protect skin from sunlight, remove acne, and bring health to their skin.

This practice is very popular for women and children, however, you can sometimes see men use thanaka, too.

Myanmar people

one of 10 facts about Myanmar: the unique traditional make-up style called Thanaka

6. Myanmar has its own unique system of measurements

It can be confusing for you with the unit of measurement in Myanmar. So far, Myanmar is one of three countries that have not yet applied the International System of Units (the metric system). While the other two, the US and Liberia, use the Imperial system, Myanmar has its own traditional system of units.

Although the imperial units like feet, yard, mile or metric unit like kilometer sometimes used on the government webpages, gallon and inches or pound may be used sometimes for foreign travelers, the old Burmese system is used domestically within the country. 

By that system, a lan equal to 1.8288 m, a kawtha is 1.28016 km, a petha is 1.02058 g, a peittha is 1.63293 kg, a hkwet is 1.27859 litter and so on. With a long list of measurement units of local system, it is really a confusing and challenging game for you. However, you can estimate things your way when doing a purchase or a pocket scale can come in handy.

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7. Cheroots making and smocking

Another interesting fact about Myanmar that you could find is the tradition of making and smocking cheroots. Cheroots here is quite different from those of western cigars as it is not made of tobacco but kind of leaves that called thanal-phet, sometimes even corn husk and silk like in some villages in Bagan. Burmese cheroots size is varied from a size of a cigarette, a cigar or sometime huge like a stick that can be a feet long. Some kinds of dried wood can be also added to the ingredient and honey or something sweet also coasted on the cheroot for flavor.

smocking cheroot in myanmar

8th fun facts about Myanmar: the tradition of making and smocking cheroots

8. Most people chew betel leaves

Chewing betel leaves is a prevalent tradition in Myanmar, particularly among the elderly population, and is more commonly observed in rural areas. The telltale sign of this practice is the reddish stains visible on people's mouths.

To prepare betel leaves, they are coated with quicklime and wrapped around areca nut, along with some tobacco and a piece of bitter bark. The mixture is then chewed to extract its juice, which has a pungent taste and contains a stimulant that can be addictive, much like smoking. When chewing betel leaves, people usually swallow only a small amount of the juice, as excessive consumption can cause dizziness. As a result, light brown stains, which may resemble blood, can often be seen on the streets from the liquid that people spit out after chewing.

Chewing betel nut is believed to kill bacterium, bringing fresh breath and beautiful color on the chewer’s lips. A bite of betel nut can bring the effect as you drink several cups of coffee or alcohol at one time. Try it once to know how it is if you dare!

9. Myanmar Time Zone is UTC +6.30

While the other countries in the mainland of Southeast Asia apply the time zone UTC +7 Myanmar, as it is always unique, apply the time zone UTC +6.30, perhaps to differentiate it from the others. So, remember to adjust your watch when you travel to Myanmar from neighboring countries.

10.  Myanmar has finest rubies in the World

Said to be the rarest and most valuable member among the corundum family found around the World, Burmese rubies are considered the best for their color which range from pink red to a vivid pigeon blood, somewhat similar to red traffic light, which is regarded as the finest color for ruby.

The source of top quality Burmese rubies is the Mogok in northern Myanmar. This place is known as the World’s premier source of rubies for centuries. Another place is Mong Hsu which located about 250km east of Mandalay.

Rubies from Mogok is said to have the highest level of purity and saturation that provide wonderful red glow when viewed in natural light. Stones over 1 carat are extremely rare and has the highest prices in the gemstone world. The most famous of them all, the ‘Graff Ruby’ ring, set a new world record when it was sold at the price of USD 8.6 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2015.

Myanmar is a captivating and multifaceted country that offers a range of interesting facts to discover. Despite having undergone significant transformations over the centuries, its rich history has endured and continues to shape the country as it develops rapidly today. The 10 fun facts discussed here only provide a glimpse into the vibrancy and uniqueness of Myanmar.We hope by learning a little more about Myanmar, you have gained an appreciation for it as much as we do.

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